Weezer’s debut landed in 1994 and set a new benchmark for bedroom-dwelling, would-be rock stars everywhere. Fronted by the unassuming Cuomo Rivers and his trademark Buddy Holly glasses, they’d recorded ten songs worth of chunky riffs, hair-metal solos and delicate, Brian Wilson-esque harmonies. Formed only two years earlier, they rehearsed tirelessly in a garage practice space until they were well-drilled, blending overdrive-soaked guitars with catchy power-pop choruses and tight grooves.
A succession of well-made videos helped the band’s Blue Album go multi-platinum, and they were all set to be the next Nirvana. A poorly received follow-up and numerous hiatuses meant their chances of world domination dwindled, but Cuomo refused to quit.
His songwriting addiction has kept the band alive for over thirty years, and his steadfast workrate and knack for irresistible hooks means Weezer continue to amass new die-hards. Read on to find out why they’re so many people’s favorite band.
14. El Scorcho
Weezer’s sophomore release was recorded by one-time Mercury Rev bassist turned producer David Fridmann, who was revered for nailing expansive sounds. The band wanted their second album to sound like The Flaming Lips. According to Fridmann, they’d record each song nine times and piece together the best parts into one complete take. This method explains Pinkerton’s raw, live feel, and ‘El Scorcho’ captures the fast and loose urgency of a band who wanted to sound edgier than their commercially successful debut. With playful lyrics about asking a girl to “go to the Green Day concert”, Rivers also references his secret love for hip-hop by borrowing Chuck D’s line “I’m the epitome of public enemy.”
Between their second and third album, Weezer took a five year hiatus that a lot of fans didn’t think they’d return from. Once they did come back, though, they were back for good. The end of the ‘00s saw three releases in as many years, with eighth album Hurley hitting shelves in 2010. Opener ‘Memories’ explains exactly what Rivers’ misses when his band is inactive: “pissing in plastic cups before we went on stage,” and “playing hacky sack back when Audioslave was still Rage.” A three minute pumping rocker featuring huge keyboards, the band recorded the album for iconic punk indie-label Epitaph and hired the infamous stunt pranksters from MTV’s Jackass to sing gang vocals in the fun-loving video.
12. The Good Life
The response to 1996’s Pinkerton was, for most listeners, a mixture of confusion and bewilderment. A few years later the reappraisals came, and for good reason. Listen to ‘The Good Life’ and it’s hard to see what people missed in the first place. Cuomo penned most of its songs while studying at Harvard University, not long after having corrective surgery to adjust one of his legs. The ordeal left him needing extensive physiotherapy, and he wrote this song about longing to not “be an old man anymore, it’s been a year or two since I was out on the floor.” Built around a crunchy riff and a thumping bassline, the singalong chorus about yearning to rock out was once described by Rolling Stone as being “catchier than syphilis.”
11. Back to the Shack
It’s no secret that Cuomo loves metal. The meaty opening section of 2014’s ‘Back To The Shack’ could easily be mistaken for Iron Maiden by the casual listener, but it soon morphs into a more familiar Weezer sound. Here, Cuomo gets wistful about the ‘shack’, his old practice space at Amherst House in LA (which is also the location of the Blue Album’s ‘In The Garage’). The lyrics describe “rockin out like it’s ‘94”, and they even put their old producer Ric Ocasek behind the mixing desk in an attempt to capture their old sound. This song uses a meta approach lyrically, to speak directly to the band’s long serving fans and address some of Rivers’ more experimental shortcomings. “Sometimes I’ve gone over the edge,” he explained to one interviewer.
10. My Name Is Jonas
The opening riff of 1994’s Blue Album is one of Weezer’s most iconic. Played on Cuomo’s 1974 Gibson J-45, the folky intro lasts barely ten seconds before heavily distorted power chords crash in over the top of it. The Paul Simon-esque fingerpicked part returns throughout the song, whenever the seismic electric guitars are allowed to breathe, giving it a quiet-loud dynamic that would become one of the band’s trademarks. The lyrics “words of deep concern from my little brother” were apparently inspired by Rivers’ sibling and his involvement in a car accident, and they’re woven into a cryptic tale about the frustrations of adulthood.
9. Keep Fishin’
Weezer’s first two albums share similarities thematically. Both tackle loneliness, frustration and the heartaches of college-age rejection. The songs were carefully constructed power-pop arrangements, owing to Cuomo’s diverse musical tastes. He was fascinated with metal shredding, but also had a deep appreciation of classical music and loved the theatrics of opera. This broad range of influences would emerge again on later albums, but for the band’s third and fourth albums, Rivers was happy to keep it simple. ‘Keep Fishin’ is taken from 2002’s Maladroit, and begins with rolling drum fills reminiscent of Green Day’s ‘Longview’. An energetic, pop-punk number about the object of Rivers’ desire being in love with someone else, it’s Weezer at their most direct.
8. Pork And Beans
Annoyed that he had to interview while on a Japan honeymoon in 2008, Rivers told MTV that “really, for the moment, we’re done. And I’m not certain we’ll ever make a record again.” It wasn’t the case, much to the delight of Weezer fans, and was instead an off-hand response to being bothered while holidaying. ‘Pork and Beans’ was the first single from that year’s Red Album, an answer to Geffen suggesting Cuomo write something more ‘commercial’ sounding. This song proves River’s ability to do exactly that. Here, his deadpan humor makes a comeback, self-deprecating about the need for “some Rogaine to put in my hair”. Featuring yet another anthemic chorus, it became one of the band’s biggest singles.
7. Pink Triangle
The lullaby sounding guitar and glockenspiel beginning to Pinkerton’s ‘Pink Triangle’ might have been included purely to reflect the child-like naivety of its narrator. Weezer’s second album was personal, often to a fault, as Cuomo went to great lengths to describe his need to have his feelings reciprocated. In a letter to the band’s fanclub before the record dropped, Rivers explained “there are some lyrics on the album that you might think are mean or sexist.” ‘Pink Triangle’ is neither, and instead deals with Cuomo’s realization that the girl whose tattoo inspired the song’s title isn’t, like he thought, hetrosexual. “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian,” he sings. The band’s final single with original bassist Matt Sharp, it’s a fast paced, confessional rocker that might occasionally induce wincing.
6. Hash Pipe
After the harsh panning Pinkerton took in the mainstream press, Cuomo was jaded, trapped by the repetitive nature of touring life and burnt out by failing to recreate the success of the band’s first record. It was five years before he felt ready to emerge and face the world again. ‘Hash Pipe’ is the third song from 2001’s Green Album, and it seems Rivers was still unwilling to compromise. Weezer aren’t often called a punk band, but the chugging riff that kicks this song off would have anyone believe otherwise. It shouldn’t surprise you to hear Geffen weren’t too pleased Cuomo’s first choice for a comeback single after five years was one named after weed-smoking apparatus.
5. Undone – The Sweater Song
Another song for the ‘classic intros’ list, ‘Undone’ starts with a casual snare roll fill and a circular, jangly guitar riff tuned half a step down. Cuomo claims he was aiming to sound like the Velvet Underground, but later realized he’d ripped off Metallica’s ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’, saying his “metal roots just pump through unconsciously.” However intentional, the band ‘s early lyrics are often funny. ‘Undone’ was the first Weezer song Cuomo wrote in 1991, and despite its jocular words, he fully intended for it to be taken seriously. All the things that attracted listeners to the Blue Album can be found here — conversational dialogue about a college party “after the show”, nonchalant verses that break into fuzzy, loud guitar sections, and plenty of solo virtuosity from Cuomo.
4. Beverly Hills
Before he formed Weezer, Cuomo played in a glam band called Avante Garde. Find some pictures of Rivers from that era (like the cover of his solo Alone II album) with big hair, and you might not believe it’s the same person. But the music he adored as a youth finds its way into many of his songs, and none more so than ‘Beverly Hills’. With loud, spacious drums that land somewhere between Kiss and Queen, it’s a stadium-rock daydream about living the life of a Hollywood star.
3. Island In The Sun
One of Weezer’s cleanest sounding songs is also one of their catchiest. Its overt accessibility is maybe the reason Cuomo didn’t originally want it on the album — he was talked into it by producer Ric Ocasek, frontman of legendary Boston power-pop band The Cars. After a list of possible engineers, including Jerry Finn (of Blink-182 fame), they decided to rehire the man who’d give their debut its classic feel. Originally, ‘Island In The Sun’ was heavier sounding, but Ocasek had the band practice it until it felt right rhythmically, and it became a largely mid-tempo affair that saves the distortion pedal for its choruses, as Cuomo sings “we’ll run away together, we’ll spend some time forever, we’ll never feel bad anymore.”
2. Say It Ain’t So
Cuomo claims he imagined the band’s debut with no title. The particular shade of blue he chose was one his walls were covered in as a youth, and he claims the “nostalgia for the lost innocence” inspired the album. Officially titled ‘Weezer’, it wasn’t until around a year later the frontman realized fans had christened it the Blue Album. ‘Say It Ain’t So’ is the record’s darkest lyrically. The line “this bottle of Stephen’s, awakens ancient feels” is a direct reference to Cuomo’s stepfather, and the song finds Cuomo addressing the alcoholism he’s been around, juxtaposed with the jazzy, ska-like guitar upstrokes of the verses. The choruses stomp, with squelching feedback straight from the Pixies songwriting handbook.
1. Buddy Holly
At number one is the band’s most well-known, and most performed song, ‘Buddy Holly’. The melody came to Cuomo when he was walking through his college campus one day, but he struggled with the words. Originally, the song went “ooh-wee-ooh I look just like Ginger Rogers.” It was also intended to have more of a new wave sound, inspired by Rivers messing around on his friend’s Korg keyboard. The finished version keeps some of the key sounds in, opens with the hilarious “what’s with these homies dissin’ my girl” line over the top of fuzzy guitars. With new lyrics, it became about Cuomo’s resemblance to the late Texan songwriter. Made legendary by a Spike Jonze directed video that puts the band into sitcom Happy Days, it remains one of the ‘90s most seminal rock songs.