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Worry Rock

I’ve always found it funny how Green Day has played such a large (if largely unrecognized) role in the lore of Weezer. Most blatant is Rivers Cuomo’s choice to namecheck the band in the second verse of “El Scorcho” — “I asked you to go to the Green Day concert / You said you never heard of them / How cool is that!?” — which might seem a bit esoteric, or maybe just an example of Cuomo giving props to one of his colleagues in the mid-90s alt.rock nation. But a leaked essay from Cuomo’s fall ’04 term at Harvard reveals an anecdote from the Blue tour that reveals that the reference to the pop-punk phenoms may have a place in Pinkerton‘s pantheon of personal effects:

When I first became successful, I never had physical relations with fans. Even when women came to my hotel room, sometimes ten or fifteen at a time, I never made a move. The women would forget that I was there and talk excitedly amongst themselves, often about other bands, as they raided the mini-bar. “Isn’t Green Day great??” one would ask, cracking open her tenth Heineken. “Omigod, yeah, and the lead singer’s soooo cute!!” I would just lie in bed until I fell asleep, alone.
—Rivers Cuomo, “A Mad and Furious Master,” 10/18/04

While Weezer’s 1994 debut album would go on to sell several millions of copies, Green Day’s Dookie — which came out just a few months before Weezer’s Blue Album — rocketed the trio into an entirely different stratosphere of superstardom (to date, it has sold over 15 million copies worldwide). As  the band became an omnipresent rock’n’roll sensation, insofar that Cuomo couldn’t escape them among *his* own groupies, it must have been hard for him not to get a bit jealous. This puts the “El Scorcho” vignette into a whole new light: Cuomo, knowing firsthand how much girls love Green Day, asks his crush to go to their concert with him, knowing there’s no way he’ll be turned down. But, to Cuomo’s astonishment, his love interest has never even heard of Green Day — how cool is that!? Cuomo must have been very relieved to know that this particular lass was not going to run her mouth about that dreamy Billie Joe as soon as he got her into the bedroom.

But “El Scorcho,” for all its witty pop culture references (Public Enemy gets one, too), still failed miserably as a single, as did the long maligned album that it represented. Cuomo chalked another one up for ole Billie and knew the score, taking to the old “can’t beat em…” adage: for the next few years, while Pinkerton steadily accrued itself a young legion of fervent supporters, Cuomo embarked to shed his operatic, intricate writing style in favor of the more repetitive, strophic rockers that were then dominating arenas worldwide.

Cuomo would later cite Oasis and Nirvana as his main templates during this period, but Green Day’s influence is written all over The Green Album. Sly (perhaps even unintentional) references to the band abound, from the pop-punk proto-Green sketches of the Summer Songs 2000 to the titles of album track  “Glorious Day” and b-side “Brightening Day,” from the mid-album “Knock-Down Drag-Out” (which directly nicks its title lyric from a Green Day song) to the bright green cover of the record itself. We could go on all day — but the bottom line is, the gambit worked brilliantly (at least from a commercial standpoint), as the record went on to go platinum and reestablish the band as pop rock mainstays (though the hits, “Hash Pipe” and “Island In The Sun,” actually represent the greatest deviation from the record’s pop-punk paradgm). For a time, the record even managed to be a smash with the critics: a 73 on Metacritic isn’t bad for 28 minutes of overproduced, no-frills guitar pop.

If the reference in “El Scorcho” foreshadowed Cuomo’s eventual worship at the alter of Green Day, this cover of “Worry Rock” — donated to 2003’s A Different Shade of Green tribute album — was the confirmation after the fact. It’s a bit of a concession from Cuomo himself: the “knocked down, dragged out fight” in “Worry Rock” is where he got his “knock-down drag-out war.”

Here, he more than atones for the petty theft. But instead of beating Armstrong at his own game, Cuomo levels the playing field by adhering to a style that one would seldom associate with either icon’s respective band. The airy, beautifully produced arrangement is a rare acoustic studio recording in the band’s repertoire, translating the samey guitars and bombastic amps of Green Day’s by-the-numbers original into lithe, pliant strings, spry steel hollow-bodies and minimalist, roomy percussion. Cuomo turns in a heart-on-sleeve vocal performance that Armstrong failed to achieve in favor of his faux-Brit punk affectations, and even changes the operative word of the “edgy” piss-take in the refrain — “fucked without a kiss again” — to a pining “hugged.” Lo, the inner beauty of what was once some mid-album filler rises elegantly to the surface.

The song came at a strange time in the band’s history, during the ’03 era wherein the members of Weezer sifted in and out of the picture among a rotating cast of session musicians from Geffen’s rolodex. As such, I’m not exactly sure who plays what on this performance, something that Karl Koch’s Recording History does little to illuminate. In addition, MTV.Com reported— exactly one day before this cover was recorded at Rod Cervera’s studio — that the band was soon hitting the recording booth to do a series of covers, and possibly some reworked Weezer songs (Cuomo cited Maladroit cuts “Slave” and “December” as possibilities, plus “maybe some old songs”).

“We might do them acoustically or with an orchestra,” Cuomo said at the time. While we never heard of this project again, “Worry Rock” is clearly the lone (surfaced) artifact from this period. And yet, it bests the vast majority of Weezer’s work in the new millennium across the board, from arrangement to performance to production (which slays the mixes of Make Believe, Maladroit and The Green Album, while also giving The Red Album a run for its money). It certainly makes me want to hear more.

The band’s 1997 version of the Pixies’ “Velouria” is often hailed as Weezer’s greatest cover, and the fans might not be wrong on that one. But as breathtaking as that recording is, it gains considerable currency from the strength of the original it does little to re-imagine. And while I do think Weezer made an incremental improvement over their indie rock heroes with that particular triumph, here Cuomo takes a song and completely transforms it, re-envisions it, brings it new life (or, in this case, life for the first time). “Worry Rock” is more in line with what a truly great cover should be, and that’s exactly what it is.

[Special thanks to temporary TVS Research Assistants ohjonas and BrokenBeatenDown for their archival help with this post.]