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The Organ Player

Billy Joel has always had a surprisingly strong influence on Rivers Cuomo, at least as far as this side of the new millennium is concerned. There’s the matter of Joel’s “Leningrad,” the introductory piano figure of which Cuomo shamelessly cribbed for the main melody line of 2001 b-side “I Do” — a surprisingly nice listen, if you can ignore the outright theft at play. Then there’s Make Believe closer “Haunt You Every Day,” which Cuomo wrote in response to producer Rick Rubin’s prompt to write a song like Billy Joel would. But I think Mr. Joel’s influence is most clearly felt — and beneficially employed — in this 2002 outtake, “The Organ Player.” (Get it?)

There are two versions of this song, and I will begin by discussing the first (and better) of the two. When this song was posted to weezer.com as part of the band’s ongoing efforts to share unfinished work with the fans (a trend that began with the Maladroit sessions and was continuing through summer of 2002, with the band’s early and abortive efforts at making their fifth album), it must have been quite the treat. Of the couple dozen songs the band scorched through on 7/2/02, “The Organ Player” is the uncontested victor: of the lot, only the faux-reggae leanings of “Hey Domingo” and the gently contemplative “Lullabye” compare; forgettable turds like the revised “Superstar” and “Booby Trap” pale laughably.

“The Organ Player,” to be sure, didn’t only stand out for its songwriting quality, but also for its surprisingly unique and successful arrangement. With a gentle tom roll, Pat Wilson escorts into a calming soundscape colored by a warmly bittersweet electric guitar and a comfortable bed of Rhodes-flavored keys. It’s immediately welcoming, and soothes the listener into being ready to take in one of the most experimental Cuomo lyrics ever recorded:

The people come and lay down on the ground
They want to hear all the beautiful sounds
Of the organ player
But in the crowd, there’s a bitter young man
He can’t accept what the other ones can
That the song is greater than him

I call it “experimental” because it’s a decidedly third-person narrative in a catalog of songs that are, both at their honest best (“Across the Sea“) and most gratingly facetious (“The Girl Got Hot”), thoroughly first-person affairs. Of course, it could just be a storytelling technique — the “bitter young man” could be Cuomo himself, at a younger age — but either way, it’s wonderfully effective. The lyrics are simple, direct, poetic, and carried by a melody that immediately resonates. There’s an intriguing sense of drama and conflict here — the cynic versus the music — and it quickly engages the listener’s imagnation. What happens next?

The song shifts into a brief interlude wherein Cuomo describes the venomous young man’s presence (while some wonderful Brian Bell “ahhh” backups float by like grey clouds), then continues more directly with the verse narrative, comparing that same venom to “arrows of flame” and identifying the source of the young man’s bitterness as being a sort of inner turmoil separate from the music. The interlude figure returns as Cuomo compares his disposition to “Casting necromancer’s spells, summoning demons from hell,” but appends a delicately building bridge: “The tones rise up,” he sings, as do those of the organ keyboard in his own song. “And spill his cup / He can’t defeat this tune.”

Gorgeously, the song breaks into an airy, lightly reverbed guitar solo that sounds as though it’s soaring up through the pink sunset sky above the concert — one of the most effetively understated guitar solos of Cuomo’s career.

Another verse, and the melodies rise
A perfect tune doesn’t need a disguise
‘Cause there is no fighting
And nature says what is high and is low
Father Time will reveal what is shown
As the bitter man is falling
To his knees

Through a soaring mantra of the line, “On his knees,” the song arrives at its conclusion and the imaginary concert ends triumphantly. It’s a great and unique entry into the Weezer canon, and one that seems to be regrettably overlooked by both the band and its fans.

Not helping its case for longevity, I suppose, is the 7/16/02 cut the band made two weeks later. The amps are tastelessly cranked up in volume and gain, which has an unfortunate domino effect: Wilson’s nuanced drums are dumbed down and loudened up to compete with the guitars, and worse yet, Cuomo’s key vocals are obscured in the mire. Equally problematic is the fact that the keyboards — once representative of the organ — are either completely obliterated in the mix, or else weren’t even played at all (hence the thickening of the guitars). Head-scratcher moves abound, making this a take truly worth forgetting at best, a reminder that this band truly knows how to butcher a great song at worst.

Either way, in celebration of the proper cut, it’s worth noting that while the Early Album 5 sessions were wisely scrapped forever, this song was a true winner and should’ve been held over for the eventual Make Believe like its contemporary “Perfect Situation” was. Failing that, this is the kind of experimentation I wish the band would pursue more often, especially on decidedly “experimental” outings such as The Red Album…But in any case, it’s a good memento from an otherwise largely disposable session, and proof that true gems exist in all eras of this band’s long and mysterious life.

39 Comments

  1. Soyrev wrote:

    The Very Best? You gawddamn right!

    Two things I wanted to note but didn’t feel was worth mentioning in the post itself:

    1) “Summoning demons from hell”…very similar lyric to one found in “Superstar!”

    2) It occurs to me that this tackles a topic similar to that of “Space Rock,” but in a much more tasteful, artistic way. Perhaps this is Cuomo still finding ways to deal with his fans’ reluctance to accept his new music?

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 8:51 pm | Permalink
  2. s.o.s. wrote:

    The Organ Player is definitely my favorite A5 demo. The lyrics are easily some of the best from the era and the song has a certain wispy yet endearing quality about it. I agree that it should be in “The Very Best,” although I’m not sure all of A6 will 🙂

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  3. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    Wow, I’ve always listened to the 7/16 version of it and have been unimpressed. Just spun the 7/2 version and I like it a whole lot better.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  4. CrippyBoy wrote:

    Pretty good tune, though not a “very best” one in my opinion. What irks me is how he concludes the verses (sans the “knees” outro, of course)with that vocal climb. Some would say I’m being nitpicky, but it detracts mildly from the song for me. Besides that, the quality of the solo, prechoruses, and chorus easily nudge this song into B+ territory.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  5. Catfamine wrote:

    Outstanding post, Soy! Really enjoyed your comments here and on “Spider” (a song I’m not nearly as fond of) as well.

    You touched on this at the end your review, and it really does cause a lot of head scratching: How do songs like “Organ Grinder” get snuffed out when “Everybody Get Dangerous” and “My Best Friend” get a pass? And how would Pinkerton-era Cuomo sit through the meetings when these tracklist decisions were being made? WTF happened to Weezer’s critical faculties in the 21st century?

    Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 10:30 pm | Permalink
  6. waitingandwaiting wrote:

    That was a well written post, I’ll write more later…

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 4:02 am | Permalink
  7. snm wrote:

    The music sounds like Pachelbel’s Canon and the lyrics are definitely about the little bitches.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  8. Joe Blow wrote:

    “The bitter man shoots his arrows of flame” is a pretty good lyric – it can be taken in the context of being ‘flamed’ on message boards (and if so, is much better than other references to this in songs like Space Rock and American Gigolo), but it is also open to broader interpretation (a large part of why it’s better than those other aforementioned references).

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink
  9. ThomYorke wrote:

    Good point, Joe Blow. Lyrically, this song actually has some depth to it, and I also agree that it’s probably written about the dynamic between Rivers and the online fan base at the time. Yet, it nice and subtle here with some room for interpretation – not to mention musically the arrangement matches the lyrics “vibe” well. Good stuff.

    Rivers seems to really take our opinion to heart sometimes, which is why I always think twice before I post. It seems silly, but even when it doesn’t alter the manner in which he writes, he’s always quietly paying attention so much so that he was writing multiple songs about it during this era.

    The A5 demos really had some good stuff that could have been fleshed out to become great on a real album. Organ Player, Prodigy Lover, Private Message, and The Victor would have been welcome additions.

    Then again, A5 demos have a well-known history of DE-volving as they tinkered with them, so maybe it’s better that they didn’t. I wonder what it was exactly that made them suddenly dump this batch of songs that had some real gold in there?

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  10. clore wrote:

    I listened to this song so much back in the day when it was posted on weezer.com, and it was always my favorite of all of the demos. Even though I think this song is over too quickly, I still wholeheartedly agree with your crowning it “The Very Best.” How the band scrapped a song like this and put “My Best Friend” on Make Believe, I will never comprehend.

    Also, that is interesting that the lyrical matter can be interpreted as the “little bitch” fanbase vs. Rivers’ music. I never looked at it that way, but now I don’t know how COULDN’T have seen it! Brilliant post, as usual.

    Friday, August 14, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  11. Low wrote:

    “gem”? if this is a gem than it only proves that there is nothing in the vaults. it’s a little decent tune, but please.

    it kinda has green-album vibe to it, anyone else hears it? i always imagined that this is what green would end up if they tried to turn it into less formulatic bunch of songs.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 3:52 am | Permalink
  12. Soyrev wrote:

    Your email address is entertaining, Low.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 6:24 am | Permalink
  13. clore482 wrote:

    Get ready:

    http://www.amazon.com/If-You-Are-Wondering-Want/dp/B002LPVB0K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1250437359&sr=8-1

    uh oh. uh oh….

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  14. Soyrev wrote:

    Because I am too lazy to get a new post going, and “Organ Player” seems to be dead in the water already, feel free to comment on the new =W= tune here.

    As for me…Not really having it. As I was just telling LOTM:

    at the same time, this song doesn’t sound like weezer of any form to me
    and that would be okay if it were really good
    but if i heard this from some new, adolescent pop punk band (which, lets face it, is what they’ve been going for w/ all the new songs), i would never think twice about it
    and, even as a weezer song, i probably won’t think twice about it
    i’ve listened to it a few times today and i don’t think i ever need to hear it again

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  15. ThomYorke wrote:

    I’m more upbeat about this one. Although the versus are just alright, that chorus is a monster. I mean, I’ve been humming it all day. The lyrics seem appropriate given the chorus, and it just has a fun, innocent vibe to the whole thing.

    This seems to have a lot more conviction behind it too, unlike IYD and GGH would seemed completely contrived to me. It’s hard to put my finger on, but there’s something much more uplifting about this song. The harmonies are solid too. I could do with less of Rivers “rapping” in verses these days, but it works fairly well in this case.

    Overall, I dig it. I can handle this kind of pop, even if the production is a little polished for my taste.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  16. Charlie wrote:

    I like the new song a lot. Seems to be a perfect fit for the new happy go-lucky Rivers. The length is perfect, the sound is good, and his vocals are dynamic and upbeat just like the tune, incredibly catchy chorus too. I love the guitar during the verses. Gives me hope for a solid album.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  17. clore wrote:

    I just listened to the whole thing not too long ago. It’s really catchy, yet this is NOT the Weezer we know.

    I think as a standalone tune, I prefer it to EGD and definitely CDW. Taken into the context of the album, however, with tunes like GGH and IYD accompanying it, this song is just another preteen power-pop/throwaway song that could have been just as effective if the Jonas Brothers came up with it.

    How can the same man who created “Only in Dreams” put out songs like these? It blows my mind.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  18. CrippyBoy wrote:

    Meh (in regards to the new song).

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Permalink
  19. OOS wrote:

    I like the verse’s quite a bit, but then the chorus just goes into standard pop-rock territory.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink
  20. ThomYorke wrote:

    Really? I can’t get enough of that chorus. In fact, it’s probably one of my favorite choruses they’ve written in ages.

    The song really captures that whole innocense and fun that the band rarely neails these days. I can’t remember the last time I heard a Weezer single and felt that good afterwards. It’s just such a great “girl song,” which once upon a time they used to write a lot more of.

    It’s pretty cheesey, but in kind of a cute way that works and makes me smile. Sure it’s mainstream pop, but it’s got some heart to it. I can’t help but like it.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  21. waitingandwaiting wrote:

    I like the new song. Back to the organ player, in A5 demos, were they just run throughs so had no conviction in the performance or was Rivers just being uninvolved purposefully. I always get the organ players melody stuck in my head at random times but can never remember the song details.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  22. Soyrev wrote:

    I don’t know, W&W. I feel like there’s just the right level of emotion in “The Organ Player.”

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  23. ThomYorke wrote:

    I think the word I’m searching for regarding the new single is “endearing.” Sweeney made me feel the same way. The line between “embarrassing” and “endearing” can be thin, but I think he’s on the right side of that line for a change.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  24. clore wrote:

    The more I listen to the new single, the more I am beginning to like parts of it, but am I still not convinced this is a good song (if that makes any sense). I think Rivers knows how to write a successful pop song, and this shows no lie. Rivers, a Harvard graduate in English Lit (right?), who has a record of creating some of the most brilliant works of rock music for this generation should be putting out better than this.

    Brian Bell’s backup vocals are stellar as usual, and it is obvious this song would not be the same without him. However, there is a part toward the end where it sounds like it’s quadruple-tracked Rivers, and it’s horrendous.

    Also, Thom — I understand and agree with what you are saying. I think this song, “Sweeney,” and “Let’s Sew Our Pants Together” have the same “endearing” quality. LSOPT and Sweeney are in a whole different league, obviously.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  25. clore wrote:

    Here are my final two cents about the song —

    1. I think the song title is clever. I enjoy how awkwardly-worded it is to fit the song’s subject. If only the song were better. And on that note ..

    2. I don’t know what it is, but I think this song could have been pretty effective as a Homie song. And a good one. There’s something about this version that I’m not digging, whether it’s the lifeless production value, the tempo, etc. I can’t really put my finger on it. I’m trying to imagine this song with a slower tempo, a more raw production value, and a rad harmonica or accoustic guitar solo (maybe even in place of one of the sections toward the end).

    Besides, this chord progression is just ASKING for a solo. C’mon.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  26. Brownerton wrote:

    Has there been a Weezer album that was liked right away? Even Pinkterton got trashed initially. Weezer fans really are little bitches.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink
  27. Charlie wrote:

    I had the same thought about the new single being like a Homie song. Same story-telling, similar humor.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  28. ThomYorke wrote:

    Clore – Perhaps it’s the production that irritating you the most? I’m no big fan of it either, but I guess I enjoy the melody so much I’m over looking it.

    It’s less obvious than MB production, but it’s still too much. Man, what I wouldn’t give to force this band to always create their work in low-fi. Just turn up the damn amp and rock!

    Anyway, I’m still standing by my mostly positive review on this one, but I can’t disagree with you on the usual Weezer production woes.

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  29. ThomYorke wrote:

    P.S. – interesting point on the Homie comments. How much of Homie would you hate though were it produced just like this?

    Monday, August 17, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  30. Soyrev wrote:

    The good Homie songs are infinitely better works of art than this thing, and that would be apparent no matter what the production. Could this song benefit a lot from being Homie-fied? Yes. But just about any Weezer song from the past decade could benefit a lot from some changes in production and slight tweaks in songcraft, so this is nothing new. As a song standing on its own merits, it doesn’t hold up.

    ALSO: Rivers needed Butch fucking Walker’s help to write this thing. I mean, seriously?

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  31. clore wrote:

    Butch Walker — let’s look at his track record for fun.

    Bowling for Soup – Drunk Enough to Dance
    SR-71 – Tomorrow
    Avril Lavigne – Under My Skin
    Lindsay Lohan – A Little More Personal
    Katy Perry – One of the Boys
    Pink – Funhouse

    Yikes.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  32. Soyrev wrote:

    Not to mention he’s the 35-year-old dude who sings about making high school girls mixtapes. Clearly his presence has been rubbing off on the old fogey Cuomo-san.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  33. Charlie wrote:

    The new album is titled “Raditude” and the cover might be seen in the beginning of this new webisode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZPQ_kK40Nw

    I have no comment.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  34. Soyrev wrote:

    Although I’ve warmed a bit to the track itself, the album title/cover is a no go for me. Like Red, the presentation of the record will place a lot of pressure on its contents, and like Red, I have little faith that they’ll be able to meet them. I mean, if the three Korea songs wind up on the disc, it’s sunk from the getgo. And it pretty much eliminates the chance of anything of TAATO-like sincerity and quality being on the record, or coming across the right way.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  35. clore wrote:

    Did Rivers seriously use Rainn Wilson’s suggestion as the new album title? Both of their Twitters do not suggest otherwise. This is so bad that if I had no idea what would be in the album, I would guess that Weezer would be pulling this off as some sort of ridiculous pop/rock parody/joke.

    Soy, the album may indeed be doomed from the get-go, but remember, TAATO DID appear on the same record as Troublemaker, TGMTEL, Pork and Beans, and Everyone Get Dangerous. I’d at least put the new single above all of these songs except TGMTEL, which doesn’t really say much. And given Weezer’s inability to sequence correctly or to tracklist consistent song content as of late, it may actually work to our advantage this time in giving us a gem or two.

    Also, I’m not sure if we know the catch to these songs yet. Do we know for certain if Rivers is writing these songs (lyrically or musically)? I can’t really see Bell, Shriner, or Wilson writing in this style.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  36. Soyrev wrote:

    It’s been a nice run but I’m thinking the songblog is on the verge of a little hiatus. I’m headed back to school in a few days and will have a lot on my plate, and I don’t think additional glimpses of Raditude will be all too inspiring…

    So hang around, re-read some old posts and threads, maybe comment it up a little — but we might not be getting the next installment for a little bit. Sorry folks.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  37. OOS wrote:

    Well, as long as it keeps going eventually, i’m good. I just hope that Raditudes suckiness won’t force this thing to close down. Also, just to ask (again), will Revenant be going back on soon?

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  38. skiz65 wrote:

    I remember this was the second EA5 demo i downloaded (after the equally great Lullabye). Specifically, i the first ones i downloaded were the ones with the keyboards. I was floored, especially after all the mind numbing Maladroit demos that i was used to downloading. Cuomo seemed to be taking some real chances lyrically, while coming up w/ some damn pretty melodies, and wrapping things up w/ some nice band arraingements. Of course i then had to sit though a good portion of utter crap EA5 demos, but this one and a few others were real nice gems. I’ve been digging through those demos again lately, and the really great ones still hold up. Good blog entry, you really summed up what makes this songs great. A “Very Best Of” song from 2002?!?!?! I might have to agree!

    Monday, May 3, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink
  39. Joish wrote:

    This sounds very Stephen Malkmus/Pavement, most notably in the vocals.

    Great review. I’m just now catching up on this steaming mass of demos from 2001/2002 and it’s nice to have somebody help find the diamonds in the rough.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

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