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Don’t Worry Baby

We could stay up all night counting the Beach Boys references in Rivers Cuomo’s work. And depending on how things go, we might even conclude that Weezer’s Blue debut can be interpreted as, at least in one sense, a sort of alt-rock/Gen X homage to the golden California boys who, by the time Cuomo discovered the band at the onset of his 20s, had grayed and frayed into a fragmented, retirement-home shadow of their former selves. There’s the lazied up, early-’90s slacker take on the Boys’ immaculate harmonies that grace nearly every track (the Matt Sharp falsetto of “Say It Ain’t So” being my personal favorite), which, when set against Cuomo’s late-’80s guitar metal affections, feel like something of a dark and wonderful perversion of the perfect world and innocent youth Brian Wilson sang and wrote about in the mid-’60s. (Hell, “Undone — The Sweater Song” might capture the kind of lunacy Wilson descended into better than any of his own work did! …SMiLE notwithstanding.)

If you’re looking to get specific, “Only In Dreams” features a lyrical reference to “Then I Kissed Her,” and “Holiday” contains at least three very intentional references to Wilson and the Beach Boys (gold star to the first to identify all three in the comments!). Cuomo even wrote his own surfing song in “Surf Wax America” — though references to kegs and I’ma-do-the-things-that-I-wanna-do defiance modernize it as a slacker anthem in its own right (irony and all…perhaps early claims that Weezer was a cleaned up, radio-friendly Pavement weren’t completely offbase). There’s also the matter of how Pinkerton centerpiece “Across The Sea” has an intro that melodically mirrors that of the Beach Boys’ brilliant “You Still Believe In Me,” which is worth a quick comparison if you haven’t made the connection yet. And as Cuomo notes in the Alone II booklet, Wilson’s use of syncopated and non-syncopated beats in the vocal melody were a big inspiration — one most notably apparent in the fantastic “No One Else.”

The Beach Boys song that taught Cuomo that technique is “Don’t Worry Baby” — and you can hear him practicing it in this April ’93 home demo cover, which finally saw release this past November on Alone II. It’s a pretty serviceable, predictably crunchy Weezer update of the old classic — Cuomo brings the big drums and fuzzed-up amps, but does it in a way that’s tasteful and just restrained enough. His lead vocal is a fine tribute, but the most intersting thing going on vocally is the choir of backing vocals he recorded to fill out the Boys’ five-part harmonies. Cuomo made theoretical homework out of dissecting and notating each one of their melodies, and even sped up his 8-track tape, chipmunks style, to hit notes his voice couldn’t otherwise manage — which may account for why some of it sounds a little off-key. (We ought to give the young man a break, though; he never imagined his older self would be releasing this someday.) Cuomo also adds his own little touch with the injection of a brief guitar solo, nicely breaking up the pace of the song before quickly disappearing.

All in all, it’s a fun and catchy little glimpse into a gifted young musician’s creative process, and one that I’m glad we fans got to here. Of course, this makes one wonder whatever happened to that cover of “Surfer Girl” Cuomo recorded two summers later, or that clutch of Beatles covers he churned out around the same time…