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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.


18 Comments

  1. GuessWho wrote:

    I’m more of a Say It Ain’t So person myself. I came from a more alt-rock background than pop, so Buddy Holly’s a bit on the cheesy side for my tastes.

    Friday, November 6, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
  2. I agree with you, soyrev…it’s one of those songs that you don’t really listen to unless you’re listening to the entire album or it comes on the radio…but when it does its amazing, even if you’ve heard it a million times. If Weezer is going to be remembered by the world as a whole with only one song, it is probably going to be this song.

    Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  3. Soyrev wrote:

    I must agree, Blue will be remembered as the quintessential Weezer sound, and this is the quintessential Blue song.

    Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  4. yim_yecker wrote:

    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 —

    –I lol’d.

    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.

    — In this case, I feel like this song was already made. The Angel and the One is an amazing display of his emotions regarding his wife (and I like to think it’s also about his baby). It’s not a commercial hit, but why should he keep making “my baby” songs when songs about getting the girl sell so much better? The man’s gotta make a living, you know.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  5. yim_yecker wrote:

    Obviously I know why he should keep making “my baby” songs. They’re amazing. But I’m not exactly condemning him for “I’m Your Daddy”.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  6. Ludicrosity wrote:

    I think the point is that he used to be able to make meaningful songs that were also catchy in a pop sense. To me something like I’m Your Daddy comes off as trying a bit too hard: Especially when you consider the fact the man is almost 40-years-old I believe? Late 30’s anyway. The idea that non-personal and catchy pop have to be separate things is the issue here because that’s obviously not true — Buddy Holly, Say It Ain’t So and Undone (The Sweater Song) and pretty much all of Blue prove that.

    Pinkerton ruined Rivers as a songwriter imho. Instead of evaluating the experience in a constructive way he simplified it and came away thinking “personal and developped is bad — short, structured and non-personal is the way to go” because of the failure. He completely missed why it didn’t do well commercially (it was a drastic and dark change from Blue for one) and came to an illogical conclusion that over-exaggerated the need for mainstream acceptance.

    I understand Rivers needs to earn a living but you can’t tell me that comparing the sales of Blue to the recent tripe the band has been putting out doesn’t prove that this mindset hasn’t worked. There’s piracy and that’s changed things but none of these songs are as iconic as their old stuff and I think that also speaks volumes as well.

    I’m not saying Rivers should do Blue or Pinkerton part deux: His insistance that impersonal lyrics and cliches are better than things that resonate personally is bullshit.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Permalink
  7. Soyrev wrote:

    Truth all around, but I think “The Angel and the One” is primarily about meditation.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  8. yim_yecker wrote:

    It saddens me how much sense you make, Ludic. Besides Blue & Pink, there is but a glimmer of his personal feeling on Make Believe: Pardon Me. The Red Album got me excited when it released. The 2nd half of Heart Songs in particular made me think he was getting back to his roots. In a way, I can see him trying… his recent efforts on the Alone songs (I Was Scared Stereogum Session, Paperface acoustic) keep me from expecting the worst. Just as an example, I sense he’s on the verge of tears when he sings I Was Scared. However, the pink elephant in the room for me is Raditude. I never really addressed it, but now that I’m thinking about it, Rivers went through a total relapse making this one and there really is nothing personal on the record.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Permalink
  9. yim_yecker wrote:

    Soy, I’m really interested for your future post on The Angel and the One. I know nothing about it besides that I love it. It’s all part of the appealing mystery aspect of this band. At this point, a lot is unexplainable. I’m on the edge of my seat for any insight you may have or find.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Permalink
  10. Thegreatestscorch wrote:

    The Angel And The One is actually one of my favorite weezer songs. And i know i’m going to be horribly beat for this one but i think it is the best weezer album closer :x. Just that last couplet, the peace, shaloam part always gets me

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 3:18 am | Permalink
  11. Ludicrosity wrote:

    I must say that The Angel And The One has grown on me a lot as of late… I was listening to Red a few times last week and was surprised by how much I enjoyed TAATO. I think that the expected build at the end that winds up not happening takes some getting used to. Once you’re used to it though, it becomes more powerful than a cliched rock out would’ve been. The part where they sing “peace shaloam” and the full power of the band kicking-in really sends it home.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  12. Ludicrosity wrote:

    BTW I agree that Red did show some promise: Pork & Beans was catchy and obviously personal; to me it’s one of the most fleshed-out and well-written songs on the album. Also, Heart Songs, Everybody Get Dangerous and Troublemaker are mostly crap musically but they at least have some depth lyrically (aside from a few bad lines here and there of course.) They aren’t anything groundbreaking but they do fit the pop format Rivers wants but still did so while containing some meaning.

    On the flip-side though, some of the best songs from Red were not based on personal things: Ms. Sweeney, The Spider and Pig so who the hell knows? I think the main point is that present day Rivers is trying very hard to be something he’s not, instead of letting his experimentation, curiousity and personal situations into his lyrics. It impedes his true ability and he needs to just make songs for the sake of making songs! His arguement that separating personal emotion from song to create hits is still ridiculously flawed.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  13. Lams wrote:

    i’ll defend with my life that TRA is great, maybe even better than TGA (and definitely better than anything between). But is he still using that argument, about good songs having nothing to do with personal experience or something? when was the last time he talked about that? It’s just a shame that only one year after TRA, they had to make Raditude…

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  14. Ludicrosity wrote:

    I dunno if I’d say that TRA is better than Green but it’s definitely more interesting. It’s leagues better than anything since TGA, that’s for sure. Even if I think TGA is the better album (which I am not entirely convinced I am to be honest) I sometimes think that TRA gets more shit than it actually deserves. Maybe that’s because it’s between the turd sandwhich of Make Believe and Raditude, I don’t know… I just can’t say that TRA is any worse than anything post-2001.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink
  15. yim_yecker wrote:

    It’s more like KFC’s Double Down if you’re talking about two turds with delicious bacon in between them.

    Friday, June 11, 2010 at 12:37 am | Permalink
  16. DJS92491 wrote:

    This is without a doubt a crown jewel musically, but just as much can be said about the deeper meaning inside of the simplicity of it’s lyrics.

    As far as the origin and composition of the song goes this review covered both areas perfectly, but maybe it takes a personal connection to the song like I have to understand the intent of the lyrics and why the song was written in the first place.

    So yeah, we know the origin. Rivers’ band mates making fun of his friend, but it really isn’t that simple. I have a friend with a very “the world is against me” attitude, and she looks to me a lot for support when she’s down.

    This song is a great summary of how I feel when I know that I’m the source of her uplifting, and it really amazes me how simple Rivers was able to make lyrics out of everything I feel I am for my friend in the darkest of situations.

    Just wanted to add some new insight to an already amazing song. Excellent work on your review, and I’m looking forward to your future entries. =w=

    Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 2:48 am | Permalink
  17. yim_yecker wrote:

    I like the iTunes originals version a lot. It was released sometime in 2010 and it’s pretty damn good, definitely my favorite version of the song after the album. There’s also a great interview in between almost all the tracks. I got a little enjoyment listening to all the 30 second samples.

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink
  18. andybedingfield wrote:

    It is good. I listened to the original in the car on a road trip today and it’s one of those nearly perfect songs that is pretty hard to mess up.

    Friday, March 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

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