"The Pretender" is a song by the Foo Fighters released the first single from the group's 2007 album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. It is one of Foo Fighters' most successful songs; peaking at number 37 on the US Billboard Hot 100 (making it their third Top 40 single), only "Learn To Fly" and "Best of You" beat its position on the Billboard Hot 100.
Dave Grohl first showcased the song, which had the working title "Silver Heart", during pre-production of Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, but the song did not see much development. According to producer Gil Norton, "The chorus was there, but the verse and the middle hadn't been written. Not to mention the song was much slower." During a ten-day break from recordings in April 2007, Grohl listened to the monitor mixes and thought that the record needed another uptempo song, so he spent his time developing "Silver Heart". The band then recorded a demo for "The Pretender", which Norton approved, leading to the song getting a proper recording the following day.
Grohl described "The Pretender" as "a stomping Foo Fighters uptempo song, with a little bit of Chuck Berry in it." The song is written in the key of A minor and showcases the shifting dynamics which Grohl wanted to employ on Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, starting with a very stripped-down introduction, featuring Grohl on guitar and vocals along with a small string section. Then comes an escalating hard rock sound, interrupted by breakdowns and escalations in the bridge, including a repeat of the intro. Mixing engineer Rich Costey stated that making all these dynamics work, as well as balancing the instruments, was challenging, as Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins always want more focus on their instruments. The amount of guitar overdubs also worried Costey – "The guitars on 'The Pretender' are quite full on, with countermelodies and so forth, and they all tend to be in the same range, so it gets quite dense. The challenge of this type of mix is to retain the power of the track, yet define a space for everything. Handling the guitar balance was a slight chore, and in comparison the drums and vocals were quite easy."
Grohl has admitted that the Sesame Street song "One of These Things is not Like the Others" may have subconsciously influenced his writing of the song.
In a 2007 interview with XFM, Grohl stopped short of explaining the meaning behind "The Pretender", but alluded its roots go to current political unrest. Grohl noted: "That's the thing with lyrics, you never want to give away specifics, because it's nice for people to have their own idea or interpretation of the song. But, you know, everyone's been fucked over before and I think a lot of people feel fucked over right now and they're not getting what they were promised, and so something to do with that."
Grohl also told XFM "The Pretender" was not initially planned for the album and happened really quickly:
That song didn't happen until later on in the session. We didn't go into making the record with that song and it happened after we recorded a lot of stuff. Up until that point, I didn't know if we had a good opening song or not. So after we recorded it, I thought, "oh this is perfect, we have the song to open the record," and it just became everybody's favorite song. ... It's the type of song that I look forward to opening shows with and it came together really easily. We put that song together in, I don't know, a day, whereas a lot of the other songs we worked on for weeks.