Not many rock bands make it to their third act. When Weezer first appeared on the scene they were a bunch of metal-loving nerds who combined the guitar-shredding antics of hard rock with the emotional intensity of grunge. In these early years, the band recorded two of the most essential albums of the 90s: their self-titled debut (affectionately nicknamed the “Blue Album” and the follow-up, Pinkerton. But Pinkerton took time to catch on, and a discouraged Weezer nearly broke up. When the band regrouped in 2000, they picked up where they left off, cranking out irresistibly catchy alternative rock that experimented with mainstream pop sounds. They took another hiatus in 2010, returning with 2014’s remarkable Everything Will Be Alright in the End and kicking off the third wave of Weezer. That wave is still going strong, with the release of two more self-titled albums (the “Teal Album” and the “Black Album”) and another album, Van Weezer, on the way. To celebrate their remarkable run, we’re counting down the best Weezer songs across their impressive discography.
Think we’ve missed one of your best Weezer songs? Let us know in the comments section, below.
20: ‘The End of the Game’
The lead single for the forthcoming Van Weezer does not disappoint. Befitting the album’s title, ‘The End of the Game’ opens with the kind of electrifying finger-tapped guitar that Eddie Van Halen perfected before giving way to glorious hard rock riffage. It’s easily the hardest-rocking Weezer song in years, and it’s given fans high hopes for the album to come.
19: ‘Keep Fishin’’
Can Maladroit still be called “underrated”? Critical opinion of the album has warmed considerably since its release, to the point where it’s now seen as a top-five Weezer album. ‘Keep Fishin’’ is one of Maladroit’s highlights; everything about the song, from the call-and-response vocals to the crunching guitar, sinks its hooks into you.
18: ‘El Scorcho’
Sometime in 1995, Rivers Cuomo invited a girl to go see Green Day with him. She declined, but it inspired the following line in ‘El Scorcho’, “I asked you to go to the Green Day concert / You said you never heard of them”. The song’s spacious, oddly funky sound makes it stand out on Pinkerton and one of the best Weezer songs. It’s become a staple of their live shows and it’s sure to be on the setlist when it’s safe for the band to tour again.
17: ‘The British Are Coming’
‘The British Are Coming’ is easily one of the best songs ever written about Paul Revere’s midnight ride, not that there were many to begin with. Cuomo dials back the wall of distorted guitars that adorns many of Weezer’s songs, opting instead for something more dynamic and melodic. The result is one of the best Weezer songs – and something that the other Paul Revere (the musician and leader of The Raiders) would have killed to have written.
16: ‘The World Has Turned and Left Me Here’
Cuomo describes ‘The World Has Turned and Left Me Here’, and the song that immediately precedes it, ‘No One Else’, thusly: “‘No One Else’ is about the jealous obsessive a__hole in me freaking out on my girlfriend …‘The World Has Turned and Left Me Here’ is the same a__ole wondering why she’s gone.” While Cuomo’s lyrics on Pinkerton can sound problematic by today’s standards, this song is a reminder that he’s not promoting misogyny so much as thoughtfully probing it.
15: ‘LA Girlz’
Cuomo may never record another album like Pinkerton, but a song like ‘LA Girlz’ strongly suggests that he still has it in him to make another one that sounds like Pinkerton. ‘LA Girlz’ rides in on a wave of guitar feedback and peaks with an anthemic solo. But the song also offers some of Cuomo’s darkest, weirdest lyrics since Pinkerton: “The kids are asleep / We’re haunting their dreams”.
Even if it contains some of the best Weezer songs, Pinkerton is a fraught record. When Cuomo wrote it, he was in physical and emotional pain, recovering from surgery to lengthen his leg and feeling disillusioned with the life of a rock star. Appropriately, ‘Getchoo’ is a fraught, desperate song, written from the perspective of a guy in what sounds like a toxic relationship. The music is as thrilling as the narrative is unsettling, and every time Cuomo yells “GETCHOO!” in the chorus, it sounds like a breakdown – mental as much as musical.
13: ‘Island in the Sun’
Arriving five long years after Pinkerton, Weezer’s “Green Album” marked a return to the simpler, quirkier songs of the “Blue Album”. It also kicked off the tradition of Weezer releasing multiple self-titled records, all known by the colour of their covers. In contrast with the relentless, chugging metallic riffs of lead single ‘Hash Pipe’, ‘Island in the Sun’ is much more laid-back. It’s a simple song, even for Weezer, but it doesn’t need much to get stuck in your head.
12: ‘Burndt Jamb’
It’s quite possible that ‘Burndt Jamb’ is the silliest name of any of Weezer songs, which is a shame because the song – for want of a better word – rocks. It plays almost like a mutated version of ‘Island in the Sun’; it’s a similarly pleasant sing-along that gets interrupted by a surprise guitar solo, but the song is even shorter, and the solo is even wilder.
11: ‘Buddy Holly’
To think, Cuomo almost left ‘Buddy Holly’ off the “Blue Album”. Granted, it’s a more serious song than the giddy guitar would have you believe. Cuomo penned it in response to his friends teasing his Asian-American girlfriend. Ultimately, producer Ric Ocasek – convinced Cuomo to keep the song by leaving “WE WANT BUDDY HOLLY” notes all over the studio. Thank goodness he did, otherwise we wouldn’t have one of the best Weezer songs on record.
10: ‘Foolish Father’
Everything Will Be Alright in the End saw Cuomo (briefly, at least) return to writing more personal material. Even if he hadn’t sung about making up with his estranged father on the self-referential ‘Back to the Shack’, listeners would have figured there might have been an autobiographical inspiration for ‘Foolish Father’. Its imploring lyrics, “Forgive your foolish father / He did the best that he could do,” are among the most emotionally affecting Cuomo has ever written.
9: ‘Only in Dreams’
The closing number on the “Blue Album” is arguably Cuomo’s finest moment as a guitarist. ‘Only in Dreams’ builds until it bursts, and then it does it all over again. The last three minutes of the song are more or less an extended double guitar solo. Impressively, Cuomo played both solos himself; after wiping Weezer’s original guitarist from the track, he re-recorded the part in a single take.
8: ‘California Kids’
From the melody at the start of ‘California Kids’ – reminiscent of the one that opens ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ – to the title of its final song (‘Endless Bummer’), Weezer’s “White Album” sounds like one long Beach Boys homage. That opening track isn’t just the best song of the lot, but the best pure pop song among Weezer songs since the 90s. ‘California Kids’ is the perfect synthesis of early Weezer grit with Brian Wilson gloss and an irresistibly catchy tune that can make even the dreariest afternoon feel like a day at the beach.
7: ‘Pink Triangle’
“I had a really intense crush on a girl and then I dreamed about her all through the fall semester. And then I found out she was a lesbian.” That’s how Cuomo once described ‘Pink Triangle’, a sterling example of how Pinkerton used irresistible guitar noise to exorcise some questionable behaviour. But maybe Cuomo isn’t wallowing in lust on ‘Pink Triangle’ so much as he’s trying to get it out of his system.
6: ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)’
‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’ is Weezer’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’: a multi-part epic that’s so crazy it just works. True to the song’s subtitle, Weezer takes an old piano hymnal and performs it in about a dozen different ways, imagining how everyone from Slipknot to Jeff Buckley to The Andrews Sisters would play it. Cuomo even raps along to it. It’s Cuomo’s personal favourite Weezer song, as it is for many of the band’s fans.
5: ‘My Name Is Jonas’
There’s a good chance that in the audience at any given Weezer show, there’s a guy named Jonas who goes nuts as soon as that acoustic jingle at the start of ‘My Name Is Jonas’ rings out. The opening song on Weezer’s first album is a goofy, absurdist yarn about Cuomo’s brother getting stiffed by his car insurance provider. The lyrics don’t make a lot of sense if you try to parse them – what kind of a name is Wepeel? Why are the workers going home? – but the song is an absolute joy among Weezer songs, right down to its climactic harmonica solo.
4: ‘Across the Sea’
There’s no downplaying what this song is about, so here it goes: ‘Across the Sea’ is Cuomo’s fantasy about a Japanese girl who sent him a letter. “I wonder how you touch yourself / And curse myself for being across the sea”, Cuomo sings. It’s easily the most unsettling song on Pinkerton, but as a portrait of obsession and isolation, it’s a masterpiece. Though the details in ‘Across the Sea’ are specific to Cuomo, many of his listeners could relate to his feelings of loneliness and shame.
3: ‘Say It Ain’t So’
It’s unfortunate that Pinkerton’s initial chilly reception discouraged Cuomo from writing more personal lyrics, because ‘Say It Ain’t So’ is a reminder of how excellent he is at it. Right from its opening lines, “Somebody’s Heine’ / Is crowding my icebox”, the song is a vividly written narrative piece. Cuomo spots a beer in the fridge and despairs, recalling his father’s alcoholism and wondering if his stepfather will walk out on the family too. Complete with a singalong chorus and heroic guitar solo, it’s a high-water mark not just for Cuomo’s songwriting, but for that of an entire decade, making for one of the best Weezer songs.
2: ‘Tired of Sex’
The title of Pinkerton’s opening track reads like some kind of boast at first. Imagine being a teenager, wondering about having sex and hearing your favourite rock musician say he’s sick of it. It doesn’t take long to realise it’s not that Cuomo doesn’t want sex, but that he wants love, and isn’t finding it. Musically, the song tears and bleeds almost like it’s alive, from the opening squall of guitar feedback, Matt Sharp’s lumbering bass and Cuomo’s anguished howls after the first chorus. ‘Tired of Sex’ is one of the most visceral songs the band has ever put to tape.
1: ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’
Alt.rock bands in 1994 were expected to sing about something: depression, alienation, addiction, anything that was supposed to resonate with listeners. Weezer’s debut single, on the other hand, was about a sweater unravelling. Nevertheless, ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ is the band’s masterpiece, marrying the simplicity of The Velvet Underground with the brutality of Metallica. The circular guitar riff gets larger and louder with every repetition until it swallows everything else in the song whole. Even Cuomo’s ridiculous lyrics take on a sort of profundity, becoming a metaphor for how stress can build until it tears someone apart. Aided by Spike Jonze’s amazing single-take music video, ‘Undone’ became a huge hit on MTV and alternative radio. It’s only fitting for this to be the top pick among the best Weezer songs; the band that so many of us love started here.