If you were among the 90 million or so Americans who tuned in to Super Bowl XLI, you were no doubt left with a few questions to go along with your Monday morning hangover: Is Rex Grossman just Neil O’Donnell reincarnated? Do people honestly find Carlos Mencia funny? And what was Prince doing working a version of the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” into his high-octane halftime set?
Well, we may not have the answers to all those quandaries — though we do suggest guzzling some Pedialyte to cure that crippling crapulence. But we can try to get to the bottom of the whole Prince/Foo thing, the roots of which actually reach all the way back to 2003, when the Foos recorded a version of the Purple One’s scandalous “Darling Nikki” (from his breakout 1984 album, Purple Rain) and released it as a B-side on the Australian version of their “Have It All” single.
Though it may have only been intended for our friends Down Under, the Foos’ version of “Nikki” actually began to accumulate radio play here in the States and even became a set-closing staple at Foo Fighters shows in 2004.
“Whenever we finish an album [in this case, the band’s 2002 effort, One by One], we just think it’s fun to do a couple of covers,” Foo drummer Taylor Hawkins explained. “Dave loved ’Darling Nikki’ because it was really funky. And so we just recorded our version in my garage, and somehow it ended up getting played on radio — which was weird, because we just did it as a sort of joke.”
And while the band — and its fans — yukked it up, Prince was less than pleased, telling Entertainment Weekly that he didn’t appreciate the Foos (or anyone else) covering his work, and that Grohl and company should “write [their] own tunes.”
“We wanted to put it out here in the States, but Prince wouldn’t let us,” Hawkins said. “I heard that he didn’t like our version. Or maybe he just didn’t like us doing it.”
Fast-forward nearly three years to January 29, when a studio version of Prince melding a version of “All Along the Watchtower” with the Foos’ “Best of You” made its worldwide debut on Howard Stern’s Sirius satellite radio show. Reportedly sent to Stern by someone in Prince’s camp, the mash-up was greeted with enthusiasm by not just Stern (“I got chills”), but a large portion of the blogosphere too.
So when Prince took the glyph-shaped stage at Miami’s ProPlayer Stadium during halftime on Sunday, it seemed rather likely that he’d be performing the tunes — and he did, working both numbers into a jam-packed medley that also included Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Baby I’m a Star” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.”
But it also raised a series of questions — chief among them, was Prince covering the Foos because he’s a fan or because he was firing a return salvo over the bow of the S.S. Foo?
“Dude, I have no idea why he did it, but I’d love to find out,” Hawkins laughed. “I mean, the thought went through my head that maybe he was doing it as a sort of ’F— you’ to us, or maybe he really likes the song. Either way, it was pretty amazing to have a guy like Prince covering one of our songs — and actually doing it better than we did.”
Hawkins said he was clueless about Prince’s plans to work “Best of You” into his Super Bowl set. “I was watching the game at our producer Nick Raskulinecz’s house, and since he’s doing the new Rush album, all the guys from the band were there,” he said. “I mean, I’m outside smoking a cigarette with [Rush drummer] Neil Peart and someone sticks their head outside and goes, ’Uh, dude, Prince is doing your song.’ ” Hawkins said he hasn’t heard from anyone in Prince’s camp about the cover (neither has MTV News, which made several attempts to contact him about his Super Bowl medley).
Hawkins said the entire band is thrilled — if a little puzzled — by the cover. And with the Foos in the very early stages of work on a new album, there’s always the possibility of the band firing up the tribute machine one more time, trying to rankle Prince again.
“We’re just getting started on a new album, just demoing and stuff right now,” Hawkins said. “But maybe we’ll get cracking on a version of ’Purple Rain’ to see if maybe he’ll hate it even more.”