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Buddy Holly

Undone — The Sweater Song” was the first Weezer song to capture the imagination of the alt-rock nation (and in 1994, it really did have enough of a set perimeter and population to be called a “nation”), but “Buddy Holly” was the first to make the band pop superstars. And though the infallible melody and charming pop cultural lyrics played their part, it’d be hard to contest the fact that it was the Happy Days-themed music video — one of the greatest of all time — that put the song over the top. Likewise, it also happened to boost Jonze’s career into the stratosphere, and like Weezer, he’s entered a new league of mainstream popularity that at the time would’ve seemed impossible: as Weezer gets ready to release its own attempt at a hypercommercial blockbuster, Raditude, Mr. Jonze is tearing up the box office with his feature-length motion picture Where The Wild Things Are.

But that’s all in the distant future. For now, in 1994, there is The Blue Album, and there is its crown jewel single “Buddy Holly,” and boy is it ever something. In the first 8 seconds alone, a series of remarkable trademarks are established: first, there are those chugging, heavily down-stroked rhythm guitars; Rivers Cuomo’s geeky faux-rap parody that comes with a smile in the brilliant form of the opening couplet, “What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl? / Why do they gotta front?” — sung in a melody so damn good that it transcends the kitsch entirely; and that striking little synth lick  that had folks asking Weezer “where’d the keyboards go?” as late as seven years later.

Four quick lines — all in just under fifteen seconds — and with a warm little swell of feedback, we’re into the pre-chorus, a heavenly sweet swirl of “woo-hoos,” more winning melodies, a bright and tasteful little guitar lead, and a rising falsetto line — “and that’s for ahh-all time!” — so perfect that the band could never quite recreate it live. And in just another 15 seconds, we find ourselves propelled into that immortal chorus: “Oo-wee-oo, I look just like Buddy Holly! / Oh-oh, and you’re Mary Tyler Moore / I don’t care what they say about us anyway / I don’t care about that!” You can *hear* the grin spread ear-to-ear on Cuomo’s face, and the vocal melody is so special, has such a goshdarn sway to it, that it makes the moment immensely danceable all by itself.

And then a little thing happens between a harmony of the synthesizer and the lead guitar that in 2001 we’d call a “melody solo” (ex. The Green Album), but here it’s not a solo at all, just another little piece of ear candy to carry us happily into the second verse. Things continue as so wonderfully expected (albeit with the notes of the little synth interjection switched up), but in extending the chorus by two bars Cuomo leads us into the thrillingly onomatopoetic bridge — “Bang! Bang! / Knock on the door! / Another bang bang, you’re down on the floor!” — amidst a sugar rush of falsetto backups and hip-shaking stabs of distorted harmonics (just controlled and sugarcoated enough so that even your mom could rock out to them). Cuomo concludes with a great big melodic shout — a reflection of the giddy joy he felt in realizing how damn good of a song he had written here, no doubt — which is lovingly doubled by an electric lead that segues seamlessly into one of the most astutely melodic and economical solos in the entire Weezer discography, capped by a squealing arc that reaches towards the heavens before landing back into Pat Wilson’s crash cymbal, Cuomo walking into the final chorus as if he came in on a cloud. The song concludes with a liberating repetition from the opinions, judgments and ‘disses’ of others — “I don’t care about that!” — with the icing-on-the-cake handclaps layering in, and that’s a fucking wrap. Who needs the the 3-and-a-half minute single? This is pop perfection in 2:40.

It’s also worth noting that while the power of this song is universal, Cuomo did not sacrifice personal detail, intelligence or musical quality in its crafting. On the personal tip, the little line “your tongue is twisted, your eyes are slit” could mean any number of things (most obviously, “you’re a mess, girl”), but is also a sly reference to what will become an increasingly obvious motif in Cuomo’s love songs — his Mary Tyler Moore is, against all odds, an Asian chick.

It makes Cuomo’s recent comments about sacrificing personal detail — turning a song kernel about how he loves his daughter into a song about bagging a girl who may or may not be legal (“I’m Your Daddy”) — seem a bit odd. The Cuomo of ’94 had no problem marrying the personal and the popular into one, so why, fifteen years later, is he convinced it has to be one or the other? Food for thought, at the least.

As this song has been played ad infinitum ever since (and even before) it became one of the band’s all-time most recognizable hits, there are almost too many performances and versions to note. But here are a few that come to mind:

On 2007’s Alone: The Home Recordings Of Rivers Cuomo, fans got a chance to examine this song in an embyronic, solo Cuomo demo state. The rhythm of the song is slowed down to an almost mentally damaged pace, Cuomo’s young voice straining to fit the tempo and sounding rather disabled in this process. It’s interesting to hear, though, how early he had all the pieces in place — albeit at the wrong speed, and with a slightly extended solo plus a fun little bit of tambourine on the chorus. I remember that Karl notes in the Recording History that there were other early versions of “Buddy Holly” that were even more painfully slow, but I find it hard to fathom. It would be interesting to hear from a historical standpoint though, much like this rough and early take.

The song became so emblematic of the Weezer sound and image that it has enjoyed performances at many tapings and special sessions long past the Blue era. There’s a 1995 Paris Black session version that is pretty fantastic; a 1997 Y100 Acoustic Sonic Session take that is certainly worth a hear, although the band cheats and sneaks in that famous synthesizer; a 2005 AOL Sessions version that commemorates the horribly melodramatic, faux-metal intro that they regrettably starting using to introduce the song as early as 2000 and took until 2008 to die — which adds a worthless and cheesy thirty seconds to the beginning of the song, and ruins the first fifteen seconds of the song proper; etcetera, etcetera.

Two other noteworthy instances of the “Holly:” the 2008 semi-release (really, who could find a copy of this thing?) Not Alone, which documented Cuomo’s pre-2000 and rarities-focused live hootenanny collaboration with about 200 fans in a California record store,  featured the song in both of release formats (DVD and CD EP), though the performance is predictably sloppy and not worth more than one curious inquiry. And although it’s not officially Weezer/Cuomo-related at all, the UC Berkeley Marching Band did a show in September of 2001 that included miniature covers of a small handful of Weezer tunes that are worth being remembered simply because of how fantastic they are — and the take of “Buddy Holly” is pure big band bombast, really showing just how classic and durable that melody is. I wonder if Cuomo’s heard it.