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Superfriend

I hesitate to call any one lost Weezer song “the one that got away,” because there are so many: Green era demos like “No Way” and “Burning Sun,” the Make Believe version of “Love is the Answer” (later desecrated by Raditude trendchasing and Sugar Ray’s Sugar Rayness) and other tantalizing outtakes of ’05 like “Last Chance” and “You’re the One,” pretty much the entirety of Rivers Cuomo’s Homie project and various ’97/’98 compositions, and on. All of these have been heard in some fragmentary form or another, and yet the promising full picture to which they allude remains unreleased, uncirculated, just out of reach. One of the biggest reasons so many die-hard Weezer fans remain is because the band’s vault of lost gems looms so large.

“Superfriend” has long been such an artifact, and in some ways it’s one that’s simply unrecoverable. It was first mentioned to fans as a part of the incompleted rock opera Songs from the Black Hole, Cuomo’s original vision for Weezer’s second album and something of a very rough first draft for what became Pinkerton. Though the details of the song lean heavily on contextual detail from that scrapped project’s storyline, it was essentially written as a duet between two of the main characters, Jonas (Cuomo) and Laurel (to be voiced by Rachel Haden of the band called “that dog.”). Jonas is in something of a sexual relationship with Laurel, but he denies her love as she is little more to him than a “superfriend” — or”friend with benefits,” in high school parlance.

Die-hards began pining for “Superfriend” as soon as its origins were revealed, on the basis of it being a key piece of what some fans irrationally believed was a young Cuomo’s answer to Brian Wilson’s unfinished SMiLE opus (the main difference being that Wilson had almost completed recording SMiLE by the time he abandoned it in 1967, whereas Cuomo hadn’t even passed the writing/demoing phase when he ditched Black Hole). Audible details of the song first surfaced in 2004 on Weezer’s Video Capture Device DVD, which included spotty and patchy footage of the band recording a rough take during Pinkerton studio sessions — as well as a brief clip of Cuomo playing a classical arrangement of the vocal melody on an acoustic guitar.

The inconclusive footage gave glimpse enough for fans to conclude that “Superfriend” was indeed a lost classic worthy of its vaunted era, but it wasn’t until the 2007 release of Rivers’ Alone home demos compilation that fans could get a closer look. The juvenile charm of this embryonic version is indeed something of a treasure, but it still left most wanting more: Cuomo’s drumming is particularly sloppy, his falsetto background vocals (meant to represent the female lead vocal) sound like sour milk, and it lacked the dramatic key change climax heard in the VCD clip. It was clear that this take was a dashed-off demo that the Cuomo of ’95 would’ve never imagined being officially released, and did little to sate fans’ desire for the full band picture.

With the deluxe edition re-release of Pinkerton less than a month away, it’s now clear that such a thing no longer exists — if it ever did. In gleaning the archives for outtakes, band historian Karl Koch discovered that the ’96 full band recording seems to have been erased long ago. And even if it were to be uncovered in some unlikely place, it’s a very rough and incomplete rehearsal run-through, far from the glory of a finished and fully produced Cuomo-Haden duet.

That leaves us with the unfortunately shambolic demo — which, despite the shortcomings, gives a plenty fine sense of what the song was meant to be. It’s a disarmingly personal and juvenile song, perhaps even uncomfortably so (opening lines: “What the hell am I doing, thinking with my willy? / Knowing I don’t love her / I tell her no / Then kiss her toes…”), something that the Black Hole opera’s character construct couldn’t hide even if it were in place. The melody’s absolutely wonderful, though, and the chorus’ teen angst appropriation of the “rain, rain go away” nursery rhyme (“pain, pain go away” — of course) actually works, against all odds. The counterpoint in the second verse is absolutely botched by Cuomo’s lazy falsetto attempt, but it hints at what might’ve been a very nice touch.

If anything, that’s the way “Superfriend” might well be “the one that got away.” While songs like “You’re the One” or “Rosemary” were completed in some form and will likely surface someday, the best that can be said for “Superfriend” is that it’s a good sketch of what was to be a great song.

36 Comments

  1. s.o.s. wrote:

    The full band version of Superfriend is probably my most wanted Weezer song of all time. It’s gut-wrenching to know a proper recording doesn’t exist, but at least now I have some closure. The VCD version hints that it could have been an all-time great Weezer song.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  2. Art Vandelay wrote:

    [“… a brief clip of Cuomo playing a classical arrangement of the vocal melody on an acoustic guitar.”]

    What about noodling on an acoustic guitar makes it a “classical arrangement”? Explain this to me.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  3. ThomYorke wrote:

    I think you’re overly harsh on the quality of the Alone performance; I find it endearing, not “lazy.”

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  4. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    A full-band Superfriend sounds like it will never happen, which is heart-breaking. I’m glad we have Rivers’ demo though. Even though it’s not perfect, the strength of the melody easily carries the sometimes pitchy vocals (which themselves carry a sort of lo-fi demo charm). It’s no full-band version, but I love it nonetheless.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  5. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    As an addendum to my previous comment: I noticed that it made the Grand Playlist, yet I would probably put it up in The Very Best, personally.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  6. Burgess wrote:

    What a great melody on the verses. Catchy with a hint of sadness. The “tell her no / kiss her toes” changeup is so nice. I don’t think the chorus is QUITE up to snuff, and the bridge and ending on the demo aren’t quite up to Pinkerton-level, but still, I really, really wish there was a full band version.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink
  7. Soyrev wrote:

    I don’t know, I love lo-fi stuff: Guided By Voices, ’70s dub, “Time Flies” and most of the Alones, etc. But something about this version of “Superfriend” just turns me off. “There’s good dissonance and then there’s bad dissonance,” to paraphrase Cuolmes himself, and I hear a lot of the latter in the falsetto here…plus the rhythm can barely keep it together at times, and not in a good way. It’s a great song but I can only appreciate this demo insofar as the effort Cuomo put into it.

    Art: =(

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  8. Burgess wrote:

    I admit the demo itself is not that great. You just have to use your imagination and hear a Weezer ’96 version.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  9. th0mb0y wrote:

    Every time the SFTBH wound is re-opened it hurts all the more. This song had loads of potential. I’m afraid the only way we will hear a full-band realization of the song is if someone does a cover of it (SFTBH whole-album cover, anyone?) Or if Rivers comes to his senses sometime down the road and actually finishes the album a la Brian Wilson and SMiLE.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  10. Soyrev wrote:

    “(SFTBH whole-album cover, anyone?) Or if Rivers comes to his senses sometime down the road and actually finishes the album a la Brian Wilson and SMiLE.”

    Either of these would require Rivers to go back and actually finish writing it. Would you want a 2010 Cuomo SFTBH?

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  11. terrellx wrote:

    I thought the Character of Maria sung by Joan Wasser was the “Superfriend” whom Jonas just ‘boinks’ and Laurel was the girl Jonas actually loved?

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  12. th0mb0y wrote:

    I’m sure you know this already, but there are fairly complete versions put together by fans all over youtube. I realize it isn’t 100% legit, but a fan-made cover of one of those versions could be pretty inspiring. Might be worth a try.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  13. OOS wrote:

    Spot on here, Soy, I agree completely: a good sketch of what could’ve been great, but never was. It’s unfortunate, though to be honest I never found SFTBH to be much of a draw, especially in it’s tracklist 2 version.

    It’s still upsetting that the full band demo no longer exists, but personally there are other songs i’m far more interested in.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  14. knightboat wrote:

    As a massive SFTBH devotee, I have to say that this song is pretty great. Such a fine melody. I do love the charming, hesitant vocals and overall feel of the demo (that intro is gorgeous) but I agree that it’s a bit undercooked. It’s probably the least confident recording of any SFTBH tracks we’ve heard, especially compared to YWGWMT (which explains why YWGWMT ended up on Gimme Skelter).

    It is a shame that we’ll probably never get a definitive version, like IJTOTLOMD. The true “holy grail” version would probably have been the soundcheck with Rachel Haden.

    Karl once told me: “I recall a soundcheck in ’95 in Phoenix, where Rivers had Rachel come up and do a duet with her on a rough run through of Superfriend. It was devastatingly pretty.”

    Sadly, Karl didn’t have a video camera to capture this moment…

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  15. Soyrev wrote:

    “I thought the Character of Maria sung by Joan Wasser was the “Superfriend” whom Jonas just ‘boinks’ and Laurel was the girl Jonas actually loved?”

    Man I really don’t know. I always get the who’s who of SFTBH confused. Would help if it weren’t all Rivers singing all the parts.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  16. knightboat wrote:

    I’ve always understood the song to be Laurel and Jonas discussing Jonas’s relationship with Maria.

    Superfriend coming after Tired of Sex is Jonas moving away from “meaningless” sex with Maria to a girl that he thinks he can love (and would later be described as ‘Perfection’ in Devotion).

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  17. Art Vandelay wrote:

    Doesn’t Rick Commodore himself explain the song in the Alone liner notes? Didn’t anyone buy that fucker?

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  18. Soyrev wrote:

    All the more reason for my post to focus more on the history of the song as a figment of the die-hard fans’ liberal imaginations, Art!

    You’re probably right though, Knightboat. I’ll update that soon, or at least include a note.

    Friday, October 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  19. OOS wrote:

    Just to ask, with the rumored A3 tracklist, will we have all the SFTBH tracks?

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  20. OOS wrote:

    Okay, nevermind just answered my own question. We will get the rest of it! Hopefully it doesn’t get shelved though.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  21. Thrillhouse wrote:

    I was a tad let down with this one too, but i do love it nonetheless. This is also the first time i remember Karl himself really hyping a song up the fanbase directly. Didn’t he say this, and Falling For You, were his 2 favorites? I assume then that he meant the full band version that he heard them rehearsing.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  22. Ludicrosity wrote:

    Reading this post makes me sad: I didn’t realize Karl had said the ’96 rough take/rehearsal had been lost and that really fucking sucks. Professional studio quality/mixing or not, I just wanted to hear the arrangement they’d come up with because the VCD footage definitely hinted at something epic.

    And putting this on the grand playlist is pretty generous considering we wouldn’t be that impressed with it if we hadn’t known it’s greater potential before hearing this demo. I don’t disagree with grand playlist but putting it on
    The Very Best would be based on potential and that’s not a good enough reason imo.

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink
  23. clore wrote:

    This is one of those songs where I could make the argument that it should be classified as “The Very Best” just as easily as I can make the argument for it only being worthy of “The Grand Playlist.” Tough call.

    I love the version we do have and all of its imperfections. Very endearing, as Mr. Yorke mentioned already.

    Great post!

    Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  24. arfentul wrote:

    I’m sad we only got one paragraph devoted to actually describing the song. The guitar tone is sooo delicious, I love this song… it should be in TVB :\

    Monday, October 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  25. Burgess wrote:

    Man, the guitar on the intro is so Weezery in all the best ways.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink
  26. Other No One wrote:

    No one can argue that a full band version of Superfriend can be topped by any demo, simply because it’s an amazing idea. The lyrics, melody, and sheer concept of this song could have been a classic recording of the 90s.

    However, I really REALLY like this demo. It’s kind of a right time/right place thing for me. I remember picking up Alone on a snowy night in December while on break from college and just driving home alone in my car, listening to it. It was a pretty amazing experience and since then, Alone has become a staple of road-trips upstate and to Vermont. Superfriend is still on of my favorite tracks on the album.

    I think it’s quite ironic hearing the song sung with a sense of personal intimacy between Rivers and…well…himself. There’s sort of a sadness to it that I can’t quite define.

    However, taken out of the context of winter and road-trips I DO have a hard time listening to this one. It just doesn’t have the same effect during the spring, summer, or fall.

    I hope that makes sense…

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  27. Ludicrosity wrote:

    Speaking of lost songs, anyone listen to the stream of Tragic Girl yet? I quite like it.

    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  28. Mr. Sweeney wrote:

    Ludicrosity, it’s one of his very best.

    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
  29. Oldmancane wrote:

    I would say Tragic Girl might be the best song Weezer has released since Butterfly.

    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Permalink
  30. OOS wrote:

    Not quite one of his best in my opinion, but fuck yes. Easily top 10 post pinkerton. And another great track to add to the “WHY WASN’T THIS ON GREEN” pile.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  31. Soyrev wrote:

    Agreed w/ OOS, though of course it wasn’t on Green because it was another product of the sound/mindset Cuomo was trying so hard to destroy then.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  32. Ludicrosity wrote:

    I sincerely hope that his willingness to finish the track, coupled with the positive buzz will help show Cuomo what fans really want to hear; not the drek he’s pushed out ever since. I admit that Green was a good album, Make Believe might’ve been saved somewhat with better production, Red had its moments and Hurley is easily the fourth best thing they’ve ever done. Even so, Tragic Girl obliterates it all — just the emotion and great lyrics… wow.

    Also I hear the Memories tour is selling-out instantly. I am not holding my breath or convinced at all that this will get Rivers’ head out of his ass regarding songwriting but one can only hope he’s noticing and will maybe try to balance things a bit better moving forward…

    … although he also called Hurley dark and the next one light and bubble gum-like in comparison so I’m still scared.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  33. Ludicrosity wrote:

    Also, I am surprised he didn’t feel the need to “fix” the vocals in Tragic Girl… hearing him get off-key at times sounds great after all the auto-tuning the band has used over the years.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  34. Oldmancane wrote:

    Uh, ignore my comment 29: I’ve since changed my mind. A lot. But it’s still a great song. That “ain’t no butterfly girl” just tears me to pieces every time.

    Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  35. DJS92491 wrote:

    Saw that the band that is touring with Weezer, Best Coast, had a female lead vocalist named Bethany Cosentino. She performed Island in the Sun with Weezer. It kinda had me thinking…would she make a good Laurel? I’m not saying that Weezer can just play Superfriend out of nowhere on the Memories Tour, but I will say that the thought of it is exciting…

    Friday, December 3, 2010 at 3:58 am | Permalink
  36. Bitterandalone wrote:

    It’s interesting to read these comments a few years later.

    Just look at that: Now we really have Bethany Cosentino singing with Weezer!

    It’s no Superfriend, but I really like Go Away and EWBAITE in general.

    Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

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