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Beverly Hills

It had been three years since anyone heard from Weezer. After 2001’s The Green Album and the following year’s Maladroit, both of which most die-hards had  initially despised, the Early Album 5 demos were aborted, and for three years, virtually nothing seemed to be happening with the band at all.

“Beverly Hills” was the single that ended the drought. As guitarist Brian Bell later revealed, that first sampling was nearly going to be “My Best Friend” (a disaster mercifully avoided), but it was “Hills” that was chosen to be the first radio single, and it prefaced Make Believe‘s official release by about six weeks (and its unofficial leak by about half that time). It is distinguished by being arguably one of the least-Weezer songs Weezer has ever released, and their biggest hit — in a little over eight months, it sold nearly a million copies on the iTunes music store, and was the top-selling digital song of 2005 according to Nielsen SoundScan. But between that simple, plodding, boom-boom-chop beat (which recalls Weezer’s own “Blast Off!,” Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and a thousand other tunes), the gratingly corny girl-vocal “gimme gimme!” backups on the chorus (recalling the Offspring’s art crime “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)”), and the Peter Framptonesque talkbox guitar solos (yes, plural) — the latter of which being perhaps the only interesting thing going on here, and for many the song’s saving grace — it all feels so very anti-Weezer. Cuomo once said that their breakout hit “Undone – The Sweater Song” was the most embarrassingly simple thing the band ever recorded, as it’s simply a basic I-IV-V-IV progression throughout. Granted, “Undone” is actually a fairly complex song, featuring two spoken word interludes, several fine instances of vocal counterpoint, what Sound Opinions talkshow host Jim DeRogatis called “at least three distinct movements,” a guitar-symphonic outro and new music piano postlude — but “Beverly Hills” features an even more simplistic harmony (I-IV-V), and does very little outside the realm of all but the most generic pop (except, tenably, the talkbox solos, which do very little outside the realm of generic Peter Frampton).

That said, I like “Beverly Hills.” It’s not Weezer proper, per se, and something about this song just seems so typical, so stupid, so very much the representation of everything the Weezer of the ’90s was entirely against. But there’s an efficiency to its stupidity, a musically honest communication of the song’s vapid message: it’s cool to be famous. Coming from someone who’s actually famous but, as he admits in the moment-of-clarity bridge, is by no means cut out to be, that message and its song possess some kind of scrappy charm. It’s hard to imagine ever reaching for the studio version, but the song itself wouldn’t be unwelcome on a setlist.

“Hills” features a return to verse-rapping uncharted by Weezer since “El Scorcho,” but the lyrics are mostly terrible (aside from the strangely vivid line, “Look at all those movie stars, they’re all so beautiful and clean / When their housemaids scrub the floors they get the spaces in-between”). Here the “Undone” comparison becomes all the more apt, because that was a single that was taken as a joke, while Cuomo would insist in interviews that it was actually quite heartfelt. No doubt in part thanks to these raps, the same thing happened in 2005 — it’s just a little harder to believe (or accept) in the case of “Beverly Hills.” In Cuomo’s own words:

I was at the opening of the new Hollywood Bowl and I flipped through the program and I saw a picture of Wilson Phillips. And for some reason I just thought how nice it would be to marry, like, an “established” celebrity and live in Beverly Hills and be part of that world. And it was a totally sincere desire. And then I wrote that song, ‘Beverly Hills.’ For some reason, by the time it came out – and the video came out – it got twisted around into something that seemed sarcastic. But originally it wasn’t meant to be sarcastic at all.

There is a bit of an admission that the meaning had changed here, though, which makes the prospect of hearing Cuomo’s original “Beverly Hills” demo somewhat appealing. Cuomo also stated, in his Fan Interview of 2007, that “Hills” is one of his two proudest musical achievements, saying, “With this one song we were able to transcend our little niche and connect with all kinds of people, young and old, from all kinds of backgrounds.” It’s hard to imagine that a band that had already sold several millions of records in America alone still considered themselves to have a “niche” audience, but it’s not difficult to sympathize with Cuomo’s pride: he had been hoping for a mega-hit of this proportion ever since Pinkerton tanked nearly a decade prior. If for nothing else, it is a wonder of craft for being such a relentless machine of a pop song, with such a specific purpose that is so perfectly and commercially realized that one could be forgiven for thinking its success was inevitable. These kinds of songs aren’t easy to write, and even if the end product is something that might make fans of “Across the Sea” sick, it’s worth crediting Cuomo for the platinum completion of an experiment he first began in 1997: how can one of the smartest songwriters of his time overthink his way into making one of the most accessibly dumb songs ever?

The music video takes place at the Playboy Mansion and features a brief cameo from Hugh Hefner, along with droves of Weezer fans dancing and singing. There’s an “(Early Mix)” of the song in circulation, in which the “gimme gimmes” are not done by a session vocalist/model, but rather the band themselves in falsetto (very preferable). Weezer also turned in a live-in-the-studio take for their 2005 AOL Session, which features the crude dude falsetto in overdrive (on the verses, even), and an extended talkbox solo — pretty good, actually. The band also played it live on Letterman, a rendition that included the extended solo, a pissed- and possessed-looking Cuomo, and a mostly superfluous female vocalist standing to the side of the stage, shaking a maraca and doing the “Pretty Fly” thing. There’s also a hilariously pitiful, literally pretty fly Jimmy Kimmel performance, wherein the band are elevated twenty feet into the air by acrobatic wires during the chorus, which happens accidentally during a low-key verse instead of the big chorus pay-off (Spinal Tap galore). Lastly, there’s a Radio Disney edit of the song in which the word “crap” had to be edited out, so that the opening couplet goes, “Where I come from isn’t all that great / My automobile isn’t all that great.” At the end of the day, that’s probably the most honest version of the song there is.