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Sheila Can Do (It)

Interesting that this sunny little gem was one of just six songs Rivers Cuomo wrote in 1996 — especially when you consider what the other ones were. The song keeps impressive company, being written between two considerable pairs: “Across the Sea” with “The Good Life,” and “Falling For You” next to “Butterfly.” Indeed, that’s more or less the best work of the best Weezer album, and when taken in context, a quality pop jam the likes of “Sheila Can Do It” becomes a little underwhelming. It’s not quite the slouch of the sparingly focused year — that would be the song Cuomo wrote next, “Sunshine O” — but as a warm slice of late summer alt.country, it doesn’t quite fit in with the dead-of-December album Cuomo was finishing up with those four 1996 classics.

Cuomo knew as much, and “Sheila” would have to wait another year to get its public airing — come late ’97, by the time that everyone had given up on Pinkerton ever reaching the same commercial plateau as its predecessor had. That resignation push Cuomo into the deepening pit of depression and pop chart obsession that would develop for half a decade (before crystallizing into the radio success of The Green Album), but you’d have no idea judging by the stuff Cuomo was playing live with his band during his stay in Boston. Although these shows were simply billed as “Rivers Cuomo” shows — the title Rivers Cuomo Band was a fan designation that caught on and stuck over time — this was one of the songs Cuomo considered separate from the Weezer name, instead pegged for the playful Homie sideproject that he began to plan in his mind.

The Recording History notes two versions of this song, one being a solo Cuomo demo recorded at his Boston abode in September of 1997, and then a full band rehearsal tape from later that fall. We have neither, but instead bootlegs of both its public performances, in November of that year. Generally speaking, the tape we have of the 11/4 performance at the Middle East club makes it seem like it was a pretty magical evening, and “Sheila” is at the heart of that: Cuomo announces the title, and one of the girls upfront can be heard exclaiming, “That’s me!” Cuomo marvels good-naturedly at the coincidence, then cues drummer Fred Eltringham to play the intro roll. The song is actually one of the last Cuomo compositions to begin with the chorus for a very long time (“Dreamin’” is the first song on an album to start with the chorus since The Blue Album!), and its cheerful melody bends nicely to the shape of the carefree refrain, “Sheila can do it / I can do it / I don’t see the problem with that!” — one that seems to tickle the audience Sheila and her friends. (Can you hear laughter from the crowd just before the first verse, or am I just hearing things?) The nonmelodic verses are mouthed off with shouting enthusiasm and would probably be mislabeled as “rap” by bitching fans if it were placed on a Weezer record nowadays, but it serves as a nice contrast to the sing-songy chorus. And when Cuomo tears into that beautiful wordless bridge right after Kevin Stevenson’s rodeo guitar-wrangling solo, no one could ask for more melody: it’s such a pretty, anthemic rush of “la la la” perfection, and perhaps my very favorite moment in all the Homie songs.

The 11/21 version replaces the introductory chorus with a nice bit of harmonica whistlin’, and the dueling guitar solo burns the neck just a little bit redder, but it’s otherwise a pretty comparable performance. (Also notable because Cuomo begins by asking if the Sheila from the earlier show was there — she was.)

Regrettably, Cuomo seemed to have forgotten this song for a long time. When the Homie project dissolved in favor of a greater focus on Weezer’s comeback circa early 1998, this song seemed to disappear with it. The first time Cuomo’s mentioned it since wasn’t until July 24, 2008, when he briefly posted a list of his favorite home demos on his website — notable not only because it mentions a 1996 home demo of the song not mentioned in the Recording History, but also because it’s the only song out of 1996’s small (but considerable) crop to make the list. Either way, this is a good sign that we might hope someday to hear a recorded version of this song from Cuomo’s vaults, perhaps on a future Alone release.

In the meantime, just this past February superfans Jack Mergist and Ryan Rowland released an online-only album entitled HOMiE Vol. 1, a very well performed and recorded tribute to ten songs that were either Homie material or tunes Cuomo played live around the same time. The Mergist-sung version of “Sheila Can Do (It)” is arguably one of the fantastic album’s best, at once a faithful restoration of the bootleg versions while also a subtle and tasteful improvement: the vocal arrangement gets a healthy layer of meat added to the bone, and the new intro — which takes the bridge vocal melody and expands it into lush choral technicolor — is something that the Pet Sounds-worshiping Cuomo of the ’90s would have killed a man to pen. One still hopes that the best version imagined by that Cuomo gets to see the light of day sooner or later, but in the meantime, HOMiE’s brilliant substitute might be better than the real thing.

39 Comments

  1. Soyrev wrote:

    It was a very hard decision, whether or not this song is Very Best status. What I do when I have trouble deciding is load up the current list as it is, and there’s something I think even the lowest songs on the Very Best list — say, “Worry Rock,” “The World Has Turned,” “Why Bother?,” or a Homie peer “Hot Tub” — have something that this song does not. So as it stands I’m leaving this as a very, very high “Grand Playlist” selection. Perhaps some of you can do some convincing, but as it stands this feels right.

    Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  2. s.o.s. wrote:

    a more detailed comment coming later, but I’d definitely put give this the Very Best status. it’s one of the best (if not THE best) Homie songs…that melody after the solo is enough to vault the song from great to essential.

    Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  3. Allpwrtoslaves wrote:

    love this song.

    and im not sure if it belongs on the Very Best list. its great, but i personally didnt realize the true greatness of it till Jack did the cover. before that it wasnt one of the Homie songs i listened to often. sooooo DUNNO.

    Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 5:34 pm | Permalink
  4. MyNameIsJason wrote:

    TURN IT UP, TURN IT UP.

    all that need be said.

    Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  5. ThomYorke wrote:

    The playfulness of this era gives all of the Homie songs such unique character, and Sheila Can Do It is certainly one of the best examples of this.

    This song is just so damn catchy, and you’re right to point out how out of place it seems among the other Pinkerton era gems. I wonder what happened in his life to inspire this in the midst of the rest of Pinkerton’s inspiration?

    Great song, and the HOMiE cover work totally does it justice. Here’s to hoping this is on the next Alone release.

    Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 8:29 pm | Permalink
  6. OOS wrote:

    I’d say go for Very Best status with this one. One of the best Homie songs, and that “la la la” vocal bridge is incredible. Right after the guitar solo, it’s the perfect build up of tension and release. It’s also a surprisingly interesting song considering that, at a surface level, it’s simply a nice piece of summer pop.

    Also, 1996 was awesome. Between the 6 songs, theres not a bad one in the bunch.

    Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  7. Voroo wrote:

    Personally I’d put this in the very best list, but I’m a fan of the fun songs like this over others. I don’t know if will be better than the HOMiE version if it is ever released, I have a feeling it won’t be :X. Anyway, great song!

    Monday, May 11, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  8. waitingandwaiting wrote:

    I’d wait till we hear Rivers Demo before choosing it status.

    But its such a great, even toss away lines such as ‘same pistasio’ are fun and much more interesting and entertaining than Greens lyrical nonsense.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  9. Soyrev wrote:

    Odd to me that this one’s slow to get some discussion going — definitely one of the best Homie songs, as well as being a definite post-Pinkerton highlight.

    In any case, I think for now I’ll keep it to Grand Playlist. Waiting to hear a non-live Rivers version is probably a good idea.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  10. NoobcakesMcGee wrote:

    Haha, what’s to comment about, it’s a song that’s amazingly catchy and easy to like, with no lyrical debates a la Devotion we’re all pretty much in agreement.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  11. blueguy wrote:

    i really think this was the cover album’s (HOMiE) best effort (it’s also their most creative addition). while they did an amazing job, my brain didn’t melt like some folks on a6 upon hearing it. one of the few songs i never skip and crank up every time.

    i feel redundant saying it – but GOD DAMN it for not having this Fun Time, O Sunshine on the TGA – along with better production, varied instrumentation (and minus some clunkers) it could have been Amazing.

    just wait for odds and ends and we get to hear all sorts of great stuff that got crapped on later on. but whatever, at least rivers is in the mood to share old stuff now – we shouldn’t complain. (oh wait…i just did that…nevermind…)

    the only reason it shouldn’t be a “Very Best” is because the cuomo versions we have are poor quality. once a quality demo version is out there (and it’s good, not like the disappointing PGITWWW) then, it should be properly re-filed. Btw, the PGITWWW demo on Alone 2 – was like a kick to the groin…after the build up of finally thinking we were going to hear a quality version….we get..this…shitty vocals, irritating guitar tone with no dynamics. i pray those homie demos are really out there….sorry, i’m a little cranky today so I’ll quit bitching….

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  12. OOS wrote:

    Yeah, some Homie definitely should’ve made TGA, though, like i’ve said in several of these threads, Green could’ve been just as good as Blue. So much fantastic material never used.

    On the topic of this song, I just love the banter before it comes on live.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  13. ThomYorke wrote:

    YAAAAAY!

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  14. CHUCK wrote:

    we better get this demo.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  15. OOS wrote:

    That, and 1,000 Years. I can’t believe that those and I’ll Think About You are the only Homie/RCB songs on Rivers 4/5 star demo list.

    Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 6:19 pm | Permalink
  16. Melack wrote:

    Amazing song. Top five Homie song for me and that means I think it should be on “The Very Best” list. That’s how much I love the Homie era.

    I like to think that in the middle of writing the core of Pinkerton Rivers got a reaction to write something very opposite.

    He probably knew these songs wouldn’t be on Pinkerton but by writing them he got a small reaction to the stuff he was writing for the new album. These more goofy songs probably developed him as a songwriter and sometimes you need to look at the other side of a coin to understand the first side.

    And yeah Jack’s version is incredible and should be even more proof that this is a “Very Best”, even though it’s not Rivers.

    This song should have represented the new Weezer after Pinkerton weather it was named as a Homie song or not.

    Sadly we got a Hiatus and later TGA instead.

    Friday, May 15, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  17. MyNameIsJason wrote:

    I agree with everything Melack said. This should be a Very Best.

    Friday, May 15, 2009 at 10:10 pm | Permalink
  18. HMC wrote:

    This is a pretty good song, but I’m gonna have to come out and agree that it is indeed just shy of being ‘The Very Best’-worthy.

    Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  19. Soyrev wrote:

    Melack has made the best case in Sheila’s honor, but I’m still not quite convinced…As much as I love Homie, I can only think of maybe a couple songs I’d throw in the Very Best. Now, the non-Homie songs that Rivers was working on at the time fare significantly better…

    Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  20. OOS wrote:

    Yeah, Rivers solo stuff was fantastic. I would love to hear the work from that era.

    Though, as far as Homie songs go, i’d say that Sheila Can Do It is upper half. Though I would put I’ll Think About You, and maybe Sunshine O ahead of it. Perhaps it’s because I really don’t like country.

    Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  21. Sick Nick wrote:

    My favorite Homie song. I’d love to someday hear his recording of it.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 7:14 am | Permalink
  22. MyNameIsJason wrote:

    Why have we seen this song’s title have “It” in parentheses so much?

    Where did that come from?

    Having “It” in parentheses suggests that “Sheila Can Do” is the official title, which would be dumb. What gives?

    Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  23. Soyrev wrote:

    It’s how it’s listed on the COR.

    Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  24. Sheila wrote:

    Oh my GOD! I am the “Sheila” from the 11/4 performance. We were going out for my birthday celebration and it was the icing on the proverbial cake. And just to correct the original author, I was not at the 11/21 show. 🙁 I wish that I was! I love that song! Because I CAN do it!

    Friday, June 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  25. Soyrev wrote:

    Whoa!!

    We’re in the presence of a celebrity here, folks! This is amazing, haha. Please stick around!

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  26. sandwiches wrote:

    great song. definitely one of the best from the bootlegs we have, and probably my favorite from the HOMiE album. Nothing to add that wasnt already said in Soy’s original post. I agree that waiting for an official demo to surface before giving it Very Best consideration. What a great era of Rivers music…

    also, very cool to see Sheila from the show pop in on this site. I’ve been listening to your “Thats me!” for years!

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  27. Chuck wrote:

    to be fair, the original incarnation of this song may sound something closer to “across the sea” and “the good life.”

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  28. Soyrev wrote:

    How do you figure that?

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
  29. Chuck wrote:

    i figure it could have easily been given a “homie” treatment. just like “longtime sunshine”.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  30. sandwiches wrote:

    interesting point, chuck. The Rivers Cuomo/Homie songs may have been entirely different beasts upon inception and then “countrifried” later on down the road. I never thought of that. It would make a little more sense looking at the songs surrounding it on the COR, especially for a song like Sheila.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  31. Soyrev wrote:

    Possible, but I kind of doubt it. It’s hard to say that with any real precedent, considering we don’t have the Homie version of LS, and the Homie version might not have been very countrified at all.

    But, I’m sure at least a few of the old stringers went through some kind of significant modification by the time they were played by the Homie band. For example, both the ’93 and the Homie versions get surprisingly emotional in the bridge, but they do it in very different ways (both musically and lyrically/thematically).

    Gosh. What great songs these were.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 10:35 pm | Permalink
  32. MyNameIsJason wrote:

    I really don’t think there was any country-fication.

    He just kinda called them country songs. I mean i guess they were a tad country, but they were more just happy songs with a catchy chorus and beat.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 11:57 pm | Permalink
  33. Thegreatestscorch wrote:

    One thing i think is interesting is that we consider these live, raw versions, great songs.

    What if they were turned into an album? Whats stopping what happned to green and make believe happening to these songs? Maybe its better they were not recorded

    Monday, June 22, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  34. OOS wrote:

    Yeah, I always thought that there was some kind of x-factor to the live recorded shows we have, something that doesn’t translate whenever we get a recorded version (like the Homie cover album, though it’s probably the best recording of those songs that exists). Don’t know why.

    In any case, if they used these and some of the RCB songs, i’d hope that they would’t screw up recording.

    Monday, June 22, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  35. Chuck wrote:

    im pretty sure im right.

    Monday, June 22, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  36. Soyrev wrote:

    The 1997 Rivers Cuomo still had a good sense of aesthetics — I’m sure if the Homie album had been released (completed?) it would’ve been as fine a representation of the songs as Blue and Pinkerton are of their songs.

    To wit, I think even Rivers’ home demos would be a fantastic improvement. I thought “I’ll Think About You” was a pretty solid song when we had the live versions, but after getting the Alone 2 recording it’s on a whole new level for me. I’m sure some of the other full-band demos they did would be just as nice.

    And I think the HOMiE cover album is an excellent representation of the songs it includes, personally.

    Monday, June 22, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  37. MyNameIsJason wrote:

    Hi Sheila. you are the bomb.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  38. Thegreatestscorch wrote:

    Yeah but what made him make the green album so overproduced was the failure of pinkerton. In ’97 Pinkerton was still a failure so maybe that would have changed the recording. I dont know its just a guessing game

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  39. Jack wrote:

    I don’t know how to say this. I really like this song. Its sounds weird, but the first time I sat and.. eh nevermind.

    I love this tune. I love Rivers. What an experience. Wish I could get a copy of Rivers approved lyrics.

    Sunday, August 9, 2009 at 12:02 am | Permalink

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