The band has a distinctive alternative rock sound, full of scratchy guitars and harsh – yet usually unthreatening – riffs. Lyrically, the band is not afraid to play with the LA stoner stereotype, and their songs often use the minutiae of their lives to examine grander topics.
The band has never been afraid to experiment with their image, and much of what they do is tongue and cheek or for comic effect – just look at the album artwork for Hurley. This has led to some discussion about whether the band is ever being truly sincere (they are). Still, this conundrum certainly makes following the band an interesting and compelling experience. It’s worth noting that several of the band’s albums are self-titled, and so are referred to by the main color of the album artwork.
# 10 – Thank God For Girls
The first single from the 2015 “White Album,” is, as the title suggests, an ode to the “fairer sex.” The song starts slowly, with just Cuomo and a piano backing track, but, as the first verse develops, the instrumental slowly builds – almost ominously – before a funky drum beat starts and the melodic sing-along chorus begins; full of soaring, squealing guitar runs.
Lyrically, the song is simultaneously juvenile, nostalgic and humorous. References like “Looking at the underwear page in the Sears catalog when I was fourteen” and a fixation on cannolis might come across as asinine in the hands of less skilled lyricists, but instead, these mundane elements have darkly humorous connotations and are contrasted with the bizarrely brilliant bridge. There aren’t many songs who’s middle section concerns itself with God’s creation of Eve from Adam’s rib using a “centrifuge machine” and a microwave “on the popcorn setting”.
Thank God for Girls is a great example of the way that Weezer songs might seem superficial on the surface yet usually hide hidden and progressive meanings, and, even more than that, it’s an absolute banger.
# 9 – Undone – The Sweater Song
Taken from the band’s debut, this 1994 single is a peculiar thing. As well as obvious Metallica influences, the song features two seemingly unconnected spoken word sections, and yet it is perhaps most notable for its ingenious monosyllabic verses.
Undone tells the story of a girl wanting to end a relationship, something which will break her partner’s heart – all symbolized by the increasingly loose thread of a sweater. The cleverly concise verses “It go / It gone / Bye Bye” symbolize Cuomo being so heartbroken (“Lying on the floor / I’ve come undone” ) that he is only able to communicate in this rudimentary way. Even so early in their career, Weezer had a knack for wordplay.
Cuomo has gone on record as saying that, though the song became popular on the assumption that it was tongue-in-cheek, he actually wrote it to be entirely sincere. However you look at it, this is an essential Weezer track.
# 8 – California Kids
Throughout their career, the band have made innumerable references to their home state, and, in many ways, The White Album is a love letter to California. Nowhere is this more evident than in the album’s opening track.
Bizarrely, the track originated from River’s Japanese language side-project Scott & Rivers, although he soon realized that, after translation and a little bit of fiddling, it would be perfect for The White Album. The song begins with a gentle intro, complete with ocean waves and seagull calls, and soon develops into an unapologetic surf inspired alternative rock track. Although the chorus contains the band’s typical rough and scratchy guitars, this is mellowed by a Beach Boys-like “Oo-wee-oo” and references to the stereotypically laid-back and idyllic LA lifestyle. The band explains “You don’t have to have the answers / Don’t you worry / ….The California kids / Will throw you a lifeline / … The California kids / Will show you the sunshine”.
It’s impossible not to imagine the bright, gorgeous sun and the cool ocean waves when listening to this track, reminding you that, no matter what problems you might have in life, like a beacon of calm, California will always be there.
# 7 – El Scorcho
This oddity of a track comes from the band’s second album Pinkerton (1996), and is most notable for its slightly non-sequitur verses and a bridge which switches the tempo to double-time.
The song concerns itself with Cuomo taking a liking to a half-Japanese girl (who, he later revealed, actually turned out to be half-Korean) and how his innate shyness affects their exchanges. The verses are odd, telling a story which doesn’t seem to fully make sense (skipping from the couple having a discussion about Green Day to him suddenly being at her house reading her diary,) however the chorus is pretty straight, almost as if it comes from a different track.
The songs weirdness is most evident on the bridge, which suddenly takes the song to double time, resulting in a frantic – if brief – hyperactive high-energy section. Although El Scorcho feels like three different songs crudely taped together, the track still works surprisingly well, taking listeners on an aural journey which manages to perfectly capture the intensity that crushes can have. The song performed quite badly at the time, but make sure you don’t miss out on El Scorcho.
# 6 – Hash PipeThis 2001 single was the first to be released from The Green Album, and it proved a hit with teenage listeners at the time thanks to its drug references. It seems likely these teen stoners weren’t picking up on the subtext of the song, which, according to Cuomo, is about a cross-dressing male prostitute. Interestingly it was the drug references, and not the song’s main subject matter which got the song banned from being played on the UK’s BBC Radio 1.
The verses feature Cuomo singing in a high falsetto voice, perhaps in an attempt to mimic the crossdresser, and, when this is contrasted with the harsh and grinding strumming of the guitar, it seems to perfectly capture the complicated and complex intricacies of the gender binary. Perhaps that’s a stretch for a song that is essentially about weed, but still, whichever lens you choose to view it through, no one can deny Hash Pipe is an absolute tune.
# 5 – Pork and Beans
Released in the summer of 2008, Pork and Beans is an angry response to record industry pressure for the band to create a more commercial sound. It seems Cuomo took this request quite personally and in the song is refusing to change his appearance or the band’s established sound in order to make more money for the record executives. Indeed, he “ain’t got a thing to prove to you” and is more than happy to “eat my candy with the pork and beans” and do things exactly how he likes.
Given the subject matter of the song, it’s ironic that the track actually went on to be a huge success. Of course, as you’d expect, it’s a very catchy track, with an earworm of a guitar hook during the verses and a huge sing-along chorus to really lose yourself in. But perhaps the song’s success is most down to its Grammy-winning video, which, like a shrine to the mid-00’s, is full of early internet memes. From Leave Britney Alone to the Numa Numa Guy and Peanut Butter Jelly Time, there are few elements of historic internet culture not referenced.
The video got the song a lot of attention – perhaps Cuomo was making a point? – but you shouldn’t let the entertaining video overshadow this accomplished power pop smash.
# 4 – Island in the Sun
Arguably the band’s most well-known song, Island in the Sun is taken from the 2001 Green Album. It is without a doubt the band’s most chilled-out single, with a stripped-back production consisting mainly of light guitar riffs coupled with drums and an irresistible “hip hip” vocal hook. Although heavy thrashing guitars appear during the second half of the chorus, Cuomo barely changes the tone of his voice, so they do little to detract from the song’s laid-back vibe, only serving to briefly hype up the listener before returning to the calm of the rest of the song.
This is the ultimate summer rock track; it’s almost impossible not to imagine yourself relaxing on an LA beach or driving down Sunset in a convertible. Island in the Sun gives listeners – no matter where they are – a sweet taste of the Californian summer.
# 3 – Say It Ain’t So
This devastating song about a family’s alcoholism, from the viewpoint of a teenager, serves as a harsh example to those who claim Weezer can’t be sincere. Taken from the band’s debut, the slow, dreamy, and subdued verses and interludes perfectly capture the feelings of detachment and loneliness that one imagines a teenager in this situation must feel. This is in sharp contrast to the brittle and more aggressive chorus in which Rivers’ seems to blame himself for the family’s situation; “My love is a life taker.”
The atmospheric disparity between the despondent verses and the angry choruses and guitar solo could be seen as symbolizing the changeable moods that alcoholism can bring about in its sufferers. This effect works really well and is a great example of how lyrics and instruments can seamlessly work together to create a narrative of things both said and unsaid.
Say It Ain’t So is a powerful and tragic song, managing to rank high on this list due to its agonizingly well-realized lyrics and an intense, clever instrumental.
# 2 – Beverly Hills
Weezer’s association with California is a key part of their brand, so you might be surprised to learn that this track concerns itself with Cuomo’s assertion that he – a geeky, average-looking guy – will never be able to fit in with the rich and famous of Beverly Hills. Although he doesn’t outright condemn the elitist society – instead, yearning to be a part of it – you can’t help but detect the slightest bitter edge to the song.
Musically the track has a bass and drum beat to rival Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and is full of discordant guitar shrieks. Hardcore Weezer fans will notice that the chord progression closely resembles a track from the band’s unreleased rock opera Songs from the Black Hole. That’s right; there’s a Weezer rock opera. The song’s guitar solo employs some epic use of the wah-wah pedal, and this reappears during the song’s final chorus – perhaps to represent the crazy, hectic lives of the California elite.
“Beverly Hills,” sounds almost like it’s been produced to soundtrack a glossy teen drama, and Cuomo has described it has his proudest musical achievement. Certainly, a song this exceptional is something to be truly proud of.
# 1 – Buddy Holly
There’s really no other song that could possibly top a list of the top 10 Weezer Songs. This magnum opus of a single sums up the fun, danceable, often silly, always relatable music of the band. With ominous, grind-y guitars throughout, there’s something almost baleful about the key of the song’s opening verse, but this soon makes way for a euphoric sing-along chorus. You can practically hear the crowds of excitable fans bouncing along to the “I don’t care about that” hook.
With a twisty snake of a guitar riff post-chorus and an almost rap-like bridge, the song doesn’t pause for even a second – except during a neat moment at the song’s crescendo when all but Cuomo’s lead guitar briefly drops out. This is a non-stop wall of perfect, pop-y alternative rock, and was even considered one of the 500 greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone.
Over twenty years after its 1994 release, Buddy Holly still massively resonates with music fans across the world. As such, this standout track is without a doubt Weezer’s finest moment.
Top 10 Essential Weezer Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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