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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.]

16 Comments

  1. Soyrev wrote:

    TVS, as I said, is debatable in my mind. It would add some flavor and variety to the mix, maybe good as a sort of late album track placement (maybe #8…wouldn’t want it to be the tune right before “O Girlfriend”), but I stand by my earlier reservations as well.

    As for “Burning Sun,” I’d agree if the remainder (majority) of the track that we haven’t heard is as good as what we have…But it wasn’t recorded during the Green sessions. I’d go through the Recording History right now and be more specific, but I’m pretty sure it’s from one of the many full-band demos Weezer were churning out at a hysterical pace in the latter of half 2000.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  2. OOS wrote:

    Wasnt 2000 part of the Green sessions, though?

    Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink
  3. Soyrev wrote:

    There were aborted recording attempts of some kind — abandoned at the behest of the label, I believe. What’s in this table is what was actually recorded for the “Green Album sessions” w/ Ric Ocasek:

    http://www.weezer.com/info/recording/WeezRecHist13.htm

    In terms of what we don’t have, there are aborted takes of just about everything that wound up on the album (and even “Teenage Victory Song”), and a take or two each of the mystery songs “Break Up,” “Homely,” and “No More Disappointments.”

    Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  4. waitingandwaiting wrote:

    Cryin and lonely should have been on Green, it would be the perfect fit because it sounds so clean but remains the style of greens writing. It would have been a great potential single.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  5. OOS wrote:

    Homely seems like it could be interesting, though then again this is Green era we’re talking about.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  6. Soyrev wrote:

    I hesitate to use song titles in this (or any) era as a reason to be intrigued. Just imagine how epic a title like “Glorious Day” sounds removed from context…and how unassuming the song is in actuality. The best/worst example of this trend is probably “We Are All On Drugs.”

    Then again, songs like “You Stupid Piece of Shit” and “Et Tu, Brute?” may very well be bad for all we know, but it’d be hard to imagine that they don’t at least have unusual lyrics. Are there any Weezer songs wherein the title isn’t at all mentioned in or indicative of the song, or are a lyric that’s a complete non-sequitur from the lyrics? “Trippin’ Down the Freeway” is the only one I can think of.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  7. clonus wrote:

    does 367 count? 😉
    and I’ve certainly learned not to judge unreleased weezer tracks by their titles. I thought “Cold Dark World” was going to be a cool song.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  8. GuessWho wrote:

    Pretty sure Burndt Jamb has nothing to do with burnt jam.

    Friday, March 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink
  9. Soyrev wrote:

    It does sound very much like a sunburnt jam session though! I think the title fits perfectly.

    “367,” true. Does that number correlate to the song’s number in Rivers’ COR or something? Also, I was wary of “Cold Dark World” from the second I heard the title…And indeed, it wound up being just the kind of melodramatic ‘dark’ crap the title first conjured up for me. Yet even worse.

    Friday, March 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  10. andybedingfield wrote:

    One of the best covers ever. Some that come to mind:

    Fire(Jimi Hendrix)-RHCP, they also did Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground of course

    All Along the Watchtower(Bob Dylan)-Jimi Hendrix(his versions of Like a Rolling Stone, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, and the Troggs’ Wild Thing are of interest as well)

    The Man Who Sold the World(David Bowie)-Nirvana

    Hurt(NIN)-Johnny Cash, actually preferable to the original IMO

    Feeling Good, both Muse and Michael Buble(best Canadian of all time) have great versions, Muse’s was a pleasant surprise live.

    I know this is off topic a bit but I thought I’d just see what everyone’s favorite covers are.

    Monday, February 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  11. yim_yecker wrote:

    Metallica’s cover of Queen “Stone Cold Crazy” is great in my book.

    I’m starting to like At the Drive-In’s cover of The Smith’s “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”

    Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann is fun and just a monumental recording. Actually, Brian Wilson’s whole new record of Gershwin covers is pretty sweet.

    Devo’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” originally by the Rolling Stones of course.

    I love 2 covers of “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, first played by Muddy Waters, I like Foghat’s and The Meat Puppets’ takes.

    Johnny Cash’s Personal Jesus is a lot of people’s favorite cover and for good reason.

    The Pixies do 2 covers I love, which are “Head On” (by the Jesus and Mary Chain) and “Winterlong” (by Neil Young).

    The Ramones “California Sun” (The Rivieras were known for that first) and also Joey’s solo recording of Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” rock.

    Stevie Ray Vaughn shreds (Jimi Hendrix’) “Little Wing”.

    I bought Punk Goes Pop vol. 2 on a whim, has a few interesting pop covers on it, and my favorite track from that is “Ice Box” by There For Tomorrow, which is a song by Omarion who I’d never heard of before the cover.

    Wheatus covers Erasure’s “A Little Respect” and kinda make it their own.

    You’ve already mentioned some great ones but I felt like expanding a bit!

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  12. andybedingfield wrote:

    Ah yes, all great ones. Specifically Personal Jesus! Rick Rubin isn’t always on the mark but he gave Johnny Cash some good ideas for covers.

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  13. Ludicrosity wrote:

    Matthew Good’s cover of Moon Over Marin by The Dead Kennedys is pretty sweet, very very different from the original. Also dig Metallica’s cover of Tuesday’s Gone quite a bit… really most covers on Garage Inc. are fantastic, Turn The Page, Astronomy, etc… etc… etc.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  14. Soyrev wrote:

    I have to suggest Al Green’s version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” It’s damn hard to cover a Beatles song well, but he nails this one.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  15. andybedingfield wrote:

    You’re right about that Soy, great cover. I would have mentioned Higher Ground by RHCP but as a bassist I can’t stand the awful mix and the way the bass is buried in a song that was meant to be funky. Love RHCP but every time it’s called the greatest cover ever I just say “what?”

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  16. andybedingfield wrote:

    I mean I mentioned it but don’t consider it one of my favorites by a long shot.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

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