More than any other band that originated in the 1990s, Weezer has been productive in middle age. This year, they have already put out three EPs for their seasonal-themed SZNZ series. The most recent dropped last month. The next one, SZNZ: Winter, will arrive (naturally) in December. This is after Weezer put out two proper albums, OK Human (an orchestral themed release) and Van Weezer (a hard rock pastiche) in 2021.
And, like many people who grew up on Weezer records in the ’90s, I have not kept up with any of this music. Not until now, anyway.
For the purpose of ranking Weezer songs, I have re-immersed myself in one of the zaniest catalogs in rock history. Songs Of Love And Hate might be the name of a Leonard Cohen album, but it also describes my experience with the Rivers Cuomo songbook. There are few albums I love more than 1994’s Weezer, also known as “The Blue Album.” And there are few albums I have reviewed more poorly than 2008’s Weezer, also known as “The Red Album.” There is not a band I ostensibly enjoy that I have also artistically canceled more times than Weezer. I love many Weezer tunes, but I probably hate more of them.
But let’s focus on the positive! Here is the list of my 40 favorite Weezer songs … lying on the floor, lying on the floor, my ranking’s done!
40. “Francesca” (2022)
I am going to do something I have never done before in one of these lists: I am going to get confessional about my process for writing one of these lists. I do this with the understanding that it will be viewed by some as stupidly self-indulgent and needlessly meta. But I like to think of it as doing my own version of Pinkerton, except I’m divulging my methodology rather than oversharing about a problematic obsession with half-Japanese girls.
I’ll start with a “Tired Of Sex”-style confession: I don’t really care about the rankings. I don’t really know what the difference is between a particular band’s 27th best song and their 31st best. And I believe that anyone who does claim to know that definitively is either incredibly smart, highly eccentric, or a robot. (Or, if you’re all three, Rivers Cuomo.) In my mind, the list format is a vehicle for packaging thousands of words of critical analysis that might otherwise seem unpalatable if presented in large gray blocks. On the internet, a winning formula is taking a dumb idea and executing it smartly. That’s what a list is. Most people do not want to read 7,000 words on a band from the 1990s. But they will suddenly change their minds if you put numbers next to every other paragraph in descending order. It’s a magic trick. I don’t pretend to understand it. But I know it works.
It might be unwise to admit this. In five years, I could feel so embarrassed by this disclosure that I’ll feel compelled to put out an album composed of extremely simple songs in which every guitar solo merely repeats the vocal melody. But I also know that the people most bothered by “not writing about the song you’re supposed to be writing about” don’t read the blurbs anyway. CTRL-Fing a list column and then complaining about the songs that “got no love” is as popular as “The Blue Album.” Reading the blurbs is for a more selective Pinkerton-sized niche. If you made it this far, I know who you are because I am that person, too.
Let’s skip ahead to the “Across The Sea”-esque revelation: I don’t always write about the “best” songs. Because the point is to cover the entirety of an artist or band’s career, I will sometimes include less than “best” songs as an excuse to poke into less celebrated corners of the catalog. Usually, this is relatively easy to justify, because the less than “best” songs are still pretty great. But with Weezer … I feared that this would be impossible. I actually joked with my editor about doing a worst Weezer songs list. Only I was about 35 percent serious.
“We don’t do that,” he replied.
So here we are. I did not want this list to be 95 percent mid-’90s favorites, deep cuts and B-sides, with the remaining five percent covering the next 25 years. But I also did not want to be put in a position in which I was forced to argue that “I’m Your Daddy” [extremely music critic voice] represents the stunning apotheosis of Cuomo’s troubled middle-aged period, in which his impulse to romanticize childhood was in conflict with the animalistic desires of an introvert not yet in control of his sexual demons. I might make a living dispensing opinions on songs, an odd vocation to be sure, but I still have at least a shred of dignity.
With that in mind, I approached the most recent Weezer release, SZNZ: Autumn, with severe trepidation. This was me doing my due diligence. I have not kept up with new Weezer albums for several years now. My breaking point was “The Teal Album” and the “Africa” cover Matt Damon pretended to like in that Saturday Night Live sketch I will try not to reference 27 times on this list. I did not expect SZNZ: Autumn to be any good. I was hoping for tolerable. But my hopes were not high.
But you know what … SZNZ: Autumn is pretty good! And I don’t think that’s just my diminished expectations talking! And I really like this particular song! The melody is pleasing, the guitars explode with reasonable power, and Rivers is begging a woman to love him. It’s a damn Weezer tune through and through. I can’t resist it. He did it to me. Again. Jesus.
39. “The Greatest Person Who Ever Lived (Variations On A Shaker Hymn)” (2008)
SZNZ: Autumn is good enough to annoy me. Because it made me check out the other two SZNZ releases, which I also found were better than expected. So, now I’m going to talk myself into caring about the forthcoming SZNZ: Winter, and I’ll probably think that’s decent as well. At which point Weezer will have me right where they want me, just in time for their next record released in the spring of 2023, which I’m guessing will be something like this: The Purple Album, a concept record about the rise and fall of Barney the dinosaur set to songs performed in the style of a barbershop quartet. And then I’ll be back just where I was, before they re-appeared.
“The Red Album” is the first time I gave up on Weezer. My loathing upon release was intense. I wrote a review in which I called it “breathtakingly stupid” in the first sentence. That was one of the nicer parts of the article. I hated Rivers’ mustache on the album cover. I hated the idea of a Weezer song called “Everybody Get Dangerous.” I hated “Pork And Beans,” a single even more insipid than “Beverly Hills.” I hated “Heart Songs,” and I especially hated how Rivers smirkily shouted out Debbie Gibson by mistakenly referencing a Tiffany song. (If you’re doing obnoxious shtick, at least make sure you fact-check it.)
Fourteen years later, I don’t think I was wrong about any of that. But I will concede that this multi-part epic is an example of the phrase “breathtakingly stupid” functioning as a compliment.
38. “This Is Such A Pity” (2005)
Speaking of “Beverly Hills,” I did not put “Beverly Hills” on this list. Why? Because I hate “Beverly Hills.” I hate “Beverly Hills” because it is a moronic song that I hate. This is poor critical reasoning, but an inarguable aesthetic judgment. To explain further would be redundant and self-defeating.
I do not, however, hate Make Believe, the record most often cited as a departure point for the original fanbase. As my friend Rob Mitchum pondered in his infamous 0.4 review of the album for Pitchfork, “Does Make Believe completely ruin not just present-day Weezer, but retroactively, any enjoyment to be had from their earlier work?” For a lot of people, it did. But I think that goes too far. Make Believe might have made the older albums sound worse for some fans. But “The Red Album” made Make Believe sound better to me. Besides, Make Believe has exactly two songs that I really like. This is one of them.
37. “Memories” (2010)
Six years after “The Red Album,” I was forced to go back on the promise I made to myself to never listen to this band again. I had to do it for professional reasons. Because I am committed to the public service of music criticism, I went back and listened to the albums that I missed, including Hurley … which was pretty good! And I don’t think that was just my diminished expectations talking! I especially enjoy this song, a transparent nostalgia play that conceals Rivers directly bitching about media jackals like me, the very people he apparently delights in confounding:
Messing with the journalists and telling stupid lies
They had a feeling that something was up
Because of the look in our eyes
In fact we didn’t know what we were doing half of the time
We were so sure of ourselves and drove a long way through life
36. “The British Are Coming” (2014)
My original Weezer investigation was prompted by the release of their ninth album, Everything Will Be Alright In The End. Apparently I wasn’t the only fan who had abandoned them during the Raditude/Hurley years. The new LP was produced by Ric Ocasek, which would have been the most obvious sign of a “back to basics” record if the album hadn’t included a track called “Back To The Shack,” in which Rivers literally promises that Weezer is now “rocking out like it’s ’94.”
Everything Will Be Alright In The End made me feel depressed. It was the first time that a band from my youth made an unambiguous bid to romanticize the past in the most cringingly straightforward manner imaginable. It was as if Rivers was trying to make me feel super old in my mid-30s in an underhanded, passive-aggressive kind of way.
I was also fatigued with the constant emotional push-pull with this band, which I tried to articulate in this paragraph:
Rating Weezer, like all things concerning Weezer, can be highly frustrating. The more you care about Weezer, the harder it is to know exactly how you feel about Weezer. This relationship between band and fanbase can only be described as dysfunctional: Hating Weezer is often the biggest part of loving Weezer, and that feeling has at times appeared to be mutual.
35. “L.A. Girlz” (2016)
After I wrote that, I wondered: “What does Rivers think about this? Does he feel the same? Would he be confounded by it? Is is possible that I am projecting my own feelings on to him? I am sure that is the case. And yet … is it possible I’m not?” And then I moved on and forgot that I ever wrote that piece.
Flash forward to about a week ago. I am researching this Weezer critical examination, and I come upon an interview with Rivers Cuomo conducted by Larry King in 2014. Exactly five minutes and 25 seconds into the video, I hear Larry King read the exact paragraph I quoted above. What are the odds??
I’ll paraphrase Rivers’ reply. (You can watch the video for his verbatim response): Ten years ago, that was accurate. But this is no longer true. In 2010, we did some tours where we played the first two albums from front to back. And then we took a cruise with our fans, which helped us get in touch with our roots. And this is what inspired us to write songs like “Back To The Shack.”
I can’t argue with any of that. The mid-’10s did seem like a time when Weezer was “back” once again. “The White Album” was a better version of Everything Will Be Alright In The End, and this track approximated the “Suzanne”/”Jamie” model of Beach Boys-inspired power pop so effectively that you could forgive the “z” at the end of the title.
34. “Do You Wanna Get High?” (2016)
Perhaps the best example of Weezer’s semi-cautionary “drugs” songs. The most notorious entry in this often unintentional hilarious subgenre is “We Are All On Drugs” from Make Believe, a nursery rhyme crossed with an After School Special in which Rivers sings about twitching in your seat because you wanna hit the street and score some drugs. That song makes Nancy Reagan sound like Pusha T. This song is slightly less clueless about narcotics, though I’m skeptical that abusing meth and then listening to Burt Bacharach is an appropriate drugs/music combination.
33. “Take Control” (2002)
The funniest real-life Rivers Cuomo drug story occurred during the writing of “Hash Pipe.” According to John D. Luerssen’s River’s Edge: The Weezer Story, Rivers woke himself up at 6 a.m., “took a bunch of Ritalin” along with downing three shots of tequila, and then paced his backyard while making up the song in his head.
In the process, he also invented the nerd-metal aesthetic of the fourth Weezer record, their most underrated, Maladroit. At the time, it sold as poorly as Pinkerton, moving about a third as many units as its predecessor, “The Green Album.” Though Maladroit‘s flopping likely had as much to do with fans not liking “The Green Album” as anything on the actual album. But because Maladroit bombed, Weezer was encouraged to retreat from the hard-rock margins to the center of pop.
In retrospect, Maladroit represents a fascinating fork in the road — for a minute there, it appeared that Weezer might evolve into a virginal alternative to Queens Of The Stone Age. I am sad this did not happen.
32. “Slob” (2002)
Here’s what’s especially confounding about the failure of Maladroit: It is the album that Weezer’s emo cult should have been waiting for. Instead, they were first disappointed by how un-emo “The Green Album” was, and then Weezer made Maladroit. If the album releases had been reversed, the trajectory of Weezer’s career might have been completely different.
This song is as close to straight-up emo as they ever got. Rivers won’t answer the phone, because he knows the voice on the other side will demand that he get a job and a wife. So, he’s stuck drinking grandpa’s beer. Don’t tell me that anything on Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground can touch that in terms of pure sad-sackery circa 2002.
31. “Glorious Day” (2001)
Are people still arguing about “The Green Album”? Put me down as a fan. It is viewed as the first of an endless series of backlash albums in Weezer’s catalog, though Pinkerton was also a widely derided record in its time. Every Weezer album then is a backlash record — even “The Blue Album” is a backlash record. (It’s a reaction to the end of Nirvana and the O.G. wave of early ’90s alt-rock.)
Rivers sabotaged “The Green Album” when he gleefully told interviewers that the album was filled with songs devoid of emotion. No music fan wants to be told that a band they love has figured out a way to sound like themselves without caring one way or the other about it. But after the Pinkerton debacle, Rivers seemed proud of that fact.
Honestly, the pride was deserved! “The Green Album” is loaded with soundalike tracks that tick off the requirements of what a Weezer song is supposed to be with the rote, passion-free professionalism of a trained assassin. But even if Rivers was resigned to producing pots instead of works of art, he is undoubtedly an excellent craftsman. And this is a well-built kettle-shaped power pop song.
30. “Photograph” (2001)
Another well-built kettle-shaped power pop song from “The Green Album.” It sounds like a product of Rivers’ Encyclopedia Of Pop, a three-ring binder he started compiling in 1999 of song elements taken from Nirvana, Green Day, and Oasis music. The intention (I think) was to create an algorithm in Rivers’ brain that would allow him to spit out perfect rock tunes without having to invest any element of his own life in the process. And that’s what “Photograph” is — a RIYL gem for fans of Nevermind, Dookie, and Definitely Maybe.
29. “Perfect Situation” (2005)
The other song from Make Believe that I really like. Though my favorite artifact of this period is Vanessa Grigoriadis’ Rolling Stone profile, which does a fine job of illustrating how dysfunctional this band has been for most of its history. Everyone (with the exception of Rivers) is open about how nobody in the band are friends outside of Weezer. Long-time Rivers antagonist Patrick Wilson is the most direct on this subject. (“It’s just a fucked-up band,” he says.) Even the normally mild-mannered Brian Bell gripes about Make Believe producer Rick Rubin’s insistence on hiring a “communications coach.” (“I’ve been in years of therapy about just this problem. I didn’t need someone telling me how to communicate. The coach kept siding with Rivers anyway.”)
But the most hilarious part of the profile shows the dysfunction rather than merely talking about it. It involves a misunderstanding over Rivers’ haircut:
The only thing more uncomfortable than Cuomo alone is Cuomo around people, even his own band. Everyone walks on eggshells, and conversation takes on a stilted tone, like there’s a dignitary in the room. Some dialogue: “Whassup, Dude!” says Weezer’s bassist, Scott Shriner, 39. “Nice haircut!”
“I didn’t get a haircut,” says Cuomo.
“You didn’t, Dude?” says Shriner. “It’s looking good, Dude!”
28. “Keep Fishin'” (2002)
Another revelation from Grigoriadis’ Rolling Stone article is that Rivers worked as Weezer’s manager and publicist in 2001 and ’02. This gave him even more power to make unilateral decisions, including nixing the band’s appearance on the Shrek 2 soundtrack. (This spot was taken by Counting Crows and the song “Accidentally In Love.”)
Unfortunately, Grigoriadis did not press Rivers for more information on his anti-Shrek 2 stance. Because on paper, Weezer and Shrek 2 seem like a great pairing. For most aging bands from the alt-rock era, Shrek 2 might have represented a bridge too far in terms of “cool” credibility. But Weezer has no “cool” credibility.” Aligning with children’s entertainment is a natural fit for them, as evidenced by their team-up with the Muppets in the video for this likably bouncy pop-punk number from Maladroit.
27. “Waiting On You” (1996)
It’s going to get heavy on songs from “The Blue Album” and Pinkerton from here on out. For some of you, it’s too early. For most of you (I’m guessing), I have already killed too much time. In reality, this is exactly the right time to delve into the meatiest part of the band’s catalog.
Let’s begin with the most obvious question: Which album is better? I think “The Blue Album” is perfect. Spoiler alert, but every track from that record made the list. I cannot say the same about Pinkerton. So, by that metric, I must go with “The Blue Album.” However, if you count the deluxe two-disc anniversary edition of Pinkerton that was released in 2010 — which includes B-sides, outtakes, and live tracks — that version might even top “The Blue Album.” Because that version has an additional excellent album’s worth of material, including this slow-burn ’50s-style ballad with exquisitely miserable lyrics. “Mine is the loneliest of numbers / Now is the loneliest of times / You’re 19 days late / But still I sit and wait.”
26. “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly” (1996)
“Waiting On You” could have been a nice anchor to a lost Pinkerton sequel. (In fact, let’s call this mythical album — which we’ll imagine coming out on June 22, 1999, the same day as Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other and just in time for Weezer to play the 5 p.m. slot at Woodstock 99 — Waiting On You.) This song, however, should have made it on the actual Pinkerton. Rivers himself must have realized this, as Weezer played it on the album’s ill-fated support tour. It has all the Pinkerton hallmarks: Rivers is obsessed with the memory of a one-night stand, his voice sounds ravaged in a sweetly sad sort of way, the verse is as catchy as the chorus, the guitars are cranked into the red, and Patrick Wilson plays the drums like a motherfucker. It flies by in less than two minutes, but it lingers on and on and ON!
25. “Getchoo” (1996)
My history with Pinkerton is entirely predictable for a 45-year-old straight white male. It came out during my first semester of college. My first semester of college was terrible. It remains one of the loneliest times of my life. The guys on my floor all came from small Wisconsin towns where you learn in the fifth grade how to drink a case of beer by yourself. They were not interested in Pinkerton; they wanted to play Pantera’s The Great Southern Trendkill at insanity-inducing levels of volume. They might have had a point.
In case this story didn’t already seem utterly typical: My long-distance relationship with a high school girlfriend, the first serious romantic relationship of my life, was quickly going south. A friend told me she was hanging out in my hometown with some other dude. I was also listening a lot to Recovering The Satellites by Counting Crows. I was, shall we say, situated square in the middle of the demo for an album made by a depressed rock star convalescing from surgery to extend his left leg two inches.
What’s funny in retrospect is that my life was utterly unlike Rivers Cuomo’s life. I was not tired of having sex; I was tired of not having sex. I was not like the protagonist of “Getchoo,” a person who assures his lover that he’s “just fooling around.” If anything, I was more like the women he was singing about. But these particulars did not matter. What I connected with was the hurt in Rivers’ voice and his all-encompassing self-absorption. I was also hurt, and I was also self-absorbed. I don’t think there is a person on Earth who is 19 and not also hurt and self-absorbed. That is why this album will live forever.
24. “Across The Sea” (1996)
A common mistake made by music critics is that we take lyrics too literally. This is one area where average listeners are more sophisticated than those who listen to music professionally. For people who like Pinkerton, it does not matter whether they share Rivers’ peculiar hang-ups. They do not need prior experience with receiving a fan letter from an 18-year-old Japanese fan and reacting to it sexually in order to appreciate “Across The Sea.” Instead, they will hear how Rivers is expressing himself (rather than the specifics of what he’s saying) and apply it to their own most messed-up romantic obsessions and the pain and anguish those obsessions have caused. Or they will think about the time that a creepy person entered their life, wreaked havoc, and then mercifully disappeared. Whatever the scenario is, they will turn “Across The Sea” into a song about their lives, which paradoxically is easy to do with a song like “Across The Sea” because it’s so particular to Rivers’ life. The more specific a song is, the more universal it becomes. Even a record as queasily specific as Pinkerton.
Again, average listeners understand this intuitively. But music critics for years now have litigated the problematic nature of “Across The Sea.” And, to be sure, a song about being turned on by a barely legal teenager who worships you as a rock star is indeed problematic if you make the following three assumptions: 1) Rivers is not self-aware about how problematic this song is; 2) The people who like this song are not self-aware about how problematic this song is; 3) The lyrical sentiments are only prurient and are not transformed through the artistic process into a compelling expression of a difficult but honest emotional truth to which an audience might relate or find interesting.
Regarding the first point, I think it’s worth noting that Rivers was so embarrassed by Pinkerton in retrospect that at one point he wanted to take it out of circulation. Unfortunately, he made a beloved album, and beloved albums cannot be deleted like a bad tweet you pressed “send” on after downing one too many cocktails. Regarding the second point, I don’t think there’s a single person who likes “Across The Sea” who hasn’t prefaced that opinion with, “Now I know this song is kind of messed up but …” This song is not subtle. It wears its shame like a flashing neon sign.
Regarding the third point, the artistic value of “Across The Sea” is in the eye of the beholder. But for me, I do not only want songs sung by virtuous people about the most virtuous aspects of their lives. I do not want every artist to conduct himself like Harry Styles, because Harry Styles makes music that is boring as shit. Whatever else you want to say about “Across The Sea,” it is not boring as shit. I do not endorse the feelings that Rivers shares in this song, but I do endorse writing songs about feelings I do not endorse. Because nobody listens to “Across The Sea” to celebrate the guy in the song. They listen to purge the worst and least-discussed parts of themselves. Or they listen because Patrick Wilson plays the drums like a motherfucker. Either way, these things have value.
23. “Susanne” (1995)
You know who did not appreciate being represented by songs like “Across The Sea”? The other guys in Weezer. They vented in an infamous Alternative Press profile from 1997, which documented the band’s internecine conflicts over creative control in the wake of Pinkerton. Wilson and Matt Sharp were the most vocal about Rivers’ dictator role in the band. They also lamented the band’s more dour direction after “The Blue Album,” particularly Rivers’ refusal to make another “funny” music video in the vein of “Buddy Holly.”
In the profile, Rivers seems embarrassed by Weezer’s blockbuster debut. “The songs on the first record were meant for a much smaller audience,” he told the magazine. “I think pop songs like that mean something different when they’re played for a smaller, hipper audience because they understand some of the irony. But when it’s on MTV and it’s just being shoved down your throat, some of the irony is lost. It just becomes obnoxious.”
Of course, this is not how that album comes across to anybody else. And it’s not true of “Susanne,” a B-side that gained greater notoriety on the Mallrats soundtrack. Even in the context of a mid-’90s Kevin Smith film, “Susanne” is the opposite of obnoxious. It is the ideal of this band at their purest and least ironic.
22. “Holiday” (1994)
I suppose that dropping a doo-wop interlude into the middle of this song could be construed as ironic, and I guess it’s possible that it was intended at the time to be a joke. But the magic of “The Blue Album” is that even the jokiest aspects seem less and less jokey as time goes on. And that’s because Rivers Cuomo was working within a bygone songwriting style that connected Brian Wilson to Kurt Cobain, and that seems more logical now than it did then. Time has compressed the distance between Pet Sounds and Nevermind, and that changes how early Weezer sounds. In 1994, juxtaposing alternative rock with Happy Days in the “Buddy Holly” video was inherently funny, because those things seemed utterly unrelated; today, they are both signifiers of a long-lost 20th century monoculture that evoke the same feelings of nostalgia. What started out (arguably) as smirky irony has aged over time (inarguably) into melancholic earnestness.
21. “Surf Wax America” (1994)
I want to be careful here, because I don’t mean to suggest that “The Blue Album” is only great because it summons the last time in rock history when writing songs like “Buddy Holly” was relevant to contemporary pop music. There is at least one other reason why early Weezer tunes feel emotional even when Rivers Cuomo sings about surfing, and why later Weezer tunes like “Pork And Beans” are merely idiotic. A case can be made (and has been made) that Weezer songs have always been silly, and that liking “Surf Wax America” and/or “Pork And Beans” is solely dependent on which song came out when you were a teenager. But I don’t think that’s true. This isn’t just a matter of generational parochialism. “Kokomo” came out when I was 11, but I can still recognize that that song sucks compared to “Good Vibrations,” a song released 10 years before I was born. “Good Vibrations” is simply better. And early Weezer is simply better. I recognize that taste cannot be codified as fact. But in this instance, that rule must be broken.
Please enjoy this fascinating juxtaposition of very good Weezer concert footage and a horribly awkward Rivers Cuomo interview from 1996.
20. “Jamie” (1994)
Speaking of Matt Sharp, let’s address the biggest unanswerable question in all of Weeezer-dom: Did Weezer die when he left? I think it’s clear that Weezer would be regarded differently if they actually died when Sharp left. In that scenario, Weezer would be like Joy Division for people who keep playing Dungeons & Dragons well into middle age. Pinkerton would have ranked at least 60 spots higher on Pitchfork’s recent ’90s albums list. They could have overshadowed Pavement in 2022 by doing a long-awaited reunion tour of arenas. They would, without question, be the most beloved cult band of the alt-rock era.
But that’s not the question: Did they figuratively die when Sharp departed? What this question is really asking is, Would Weezer’s career have unfolded differently if he had stayed? And I don’t think it would have. Matt Sharp left because he was a good songwriter stuck in a band with a great one. He was never going to compete with Rivers, and he knew it. So, he left.
I’ll give you an example: Cuomo and Sharp both wrote songs about Weezer’s lawyer, Jamie Young. (Surely, this makes her the most feted entertainment lawyer in rock history.) Both songs have a romantic tone, though it appears these feelings were exaggerated for the sake of art. Sharp’s song, “Please Let That Be You,” is a solid track from the solid first Rentals album, 1995’s Return Of The Rentals. Cuomo’s song is “Jamie,” one of the greatest Weezer B-sides ever.
19. “Devotion” (1996)
A leftover track from the scrapped Songs From The Black Hole rock opera, and then recycled as a heart-stopping Pinkerton B-side. Do we really need to go deep on Songs From The Black Hole? It’s been overly mythologized already in Weezer circles. Rivers himself has said that it was “kind of a lame idea,” which probably doesn’t go far enough in describing a sci-fi story about three guys, two girls, and a robot that’s supposed to be a metaphor for feeling depressed on a rock tour. Replacing that idea for a concept album inspired by Madame Butterfly was ultimately a wise decision. On the other hand, he wrote a lot of amazing tunes for the project, several of which are still on deck for this list. Maybe Songs From The Black Hole would have been The Dark Side Of The Moon for people who don’t take drugs.
18. “Hash Pipe” (2001)
Weezer’s most genuinely subversive moment. Their first single in five years, at a time when they never had more attention foisted on them … and they put out a song about a gay transvestite sex worker set to music that unapologetically steals for the Peter Gunn theme (by way of the ’80s arcade game Spy Hunter). For chutzpah alone this belongs in the Top 20.
17. “No Other One” (1996)
One of Weezer’s “No One” songs. In this “No One” song, Rivers is the victim. His girl is a liar. She ignores him when she’s with his friends. She has a tattoo and two pet snakes. She takes way too many drugs. And he knows he can’t leave. “No Other One” is a snapshot every bad, toxic, and self-destructive relationship that most people have in their mid-20s, a time when they are also most likely to play an album like Pinkerton on repeat.
16. “No One Else” (1994)
The other “No One” song. This time, Rivers is the jerk. He says his girl has a big mouth, which is just about the worst thing a boyfriend can say. He insists on breaking up with her via word of mouth, which is just about the worst way to end a relationship. He fantasizes about his next girlfriend never leaving the house, which is something only a sociopath would admit publicly. Again, we have a song that seems despicable if you assume zero self-awareness on the part of the performer and the listener. But hearing “No One Else” in the context of “The Blue Album,” where it precedes the song’s sequel, “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here,” emphasizes that this is a song about an asshole, not a celebration of an asshole.
15. “Butterfly” (1996)
Admittedly, the line between writing about assholishness and just being an asshole is very thin and, for many listeners, insignificant. Take, for example, this Big Star-like ballad, one of Rivers’ most beautiful — and pathetic — songs. As Jude Doyle once wrote, “‘I did what my body told me to’ is ‘the heart wants what it wants’ for people without feelings.” But if there’s an overriding theme to Pinkerton, it’s that in any relationship there is always one person who feels too much and one person who feels too little. And we all end up being both of those people at various points in our lives.
14. “The Good Life” (1996)
Fearlessly plumbing the depths of the straight male sexual psyche is just one of the potentially off-putting aspects of early Weezer. Another is the reckless appropriation of hip-hop language by nerdy bourgeois white guys in rock bands. This might be the single worst aspect of ’90s rock culture, and it has obviously aged poorly. (The nadir is probably the cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin And Juice” by The Gourds, which was so frequently miscredited to Phish in the Napster/LimeWire era that the fan site Phish.net made a point of explicitly disavowing the association.)
In the case of “The Good Life,” this would be a Top 10 Weezer song if it didn’t include the unfortunate phrase “shaking booty.” However, because it does include the phrase “shaking booty,” I had to dock it five spots.
13. “In The Garage” (1994)
What’s odd about listening to this song in 2022 is that there really was a time — roughly 30 years ago! — when talking about all of the geeky crap you secretly like was a novelty, rather than the majority of all discourse about popular culture. Mixing up references to Kiss, comic books, and Dungeons & Dragons in a rock song could come across as irreverent and not as a synopsis of about one billion podcasts hosted by guys who still dress like the dudes on the cover of “The Blue Album.” Two centuries from now, historians will study “In The Garage” to understand how people’s minds worked right before the Internet took over. And they will surmise that if Rivers had been born five years later, he never would have started a rock band. Instead, he would have been a writer for Ain’t It Cool News.
12. “Buddy Holly” (1994)
Speaking of “The Blue Album” cover, I assumed for two decades that it was an homage to The Feelies’ 1980 LP Crazy Rhythms. Both covers feature gawky musicians standing against a blue backdrop. The visual similarity is immediately apparent to anyone who is not color blind. But then I read an interview from Uproxx in 2014 with band historian and “unofficial fifth member” Karl Koch, who claims the band was unaware of The Feelies. Instead, they were ripping off the cover of a long lost discount greatest hits album by The Beach Boys.
When I first read that, I could not believe it. It seemed like the Weezer guys were doing a bit. But then I remembered something obvious: “Buddy Holly” sounds like it was made a band who has definitely absorbed the Beach Boys’ greatest hits and literally no song by The Feelies.
11. “Undone (The Sweater Song)” (1994)
A similar story: On a 2022 episode of Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend, Rivers said that he wrote this song as an homage to the Velvet Underground, a band he had only recently started listening to in the early ’90s after moving to Los Angeles with his metal band and taking a job at Tower Records. Years later at a rock festival, he bumped into Lars Ulrich. And in that moment he suddenly realized that the song he was actually ripping off was “Sanitarium (Welcome Home)” by Metallica. And he’s right. I can’t hear “Undone” now without thinking of “Sanitarium.”
Herein lies the magic of “The Blue Album”: It’s an alternative rock classic engineered by a guy who is only barely acquainted with alternative rock, which requires him to imagine what alternative rock songs like by combining music (The Beach Boys and Metallica) that he actually knows and understands. That’s what Weezer is. That’s why Weezer works.
10. “Pink Triangle” (1996)
Part of the late ’90s mini-trend of dumb heterosexual males falling in love with lesbians. There was Rivers Cuomo in “Pink Triangle,” Ben Affleck in Chasing Amy, and me in real life. (The less said about this the better but I’ll just add that I continued this trend in the early aughts.) If you are part of this ignoble club, this jokey rocker will cease being jokey, and the most memorable lyric (“If everyone’s a little queer / Can’t she be a little straight?”) will register as surprisingly wistful and romantic. Also: You will be required to put “Pink Triangle” in your personal Top 10 of Weezer songs.
9. “Island In The Sun” (2001)
Weezer-by-numbers in the best possible sense. When Rivers talked about writing “Island In The Sun” on The Zach Sang Show in 2021, he was so nonchalant that he could have been talking about a bowl of cereal he prepared for himself 20 years ago. There really isn’t much to it — the riff is played with a deliberate lack of intensity, the “hip hip” hook is underplayed, and the guitar solo (in the manner of all songs on “The Green Album”) echoes the vocal melody. Yet this song does touch on one of his pet themes — yearning for love even if you suspect it will never come or you don’t deserve it. The result is a song that feels personal and emotional by accident.
8. “Mykel and Carli” (1994)
Earlier in this column I mused on the love-hate relationship between Weezer and their fans, as well as the tortured dynamic between myself and the band’s work. This song — a tribute to two of their most devoted fans, written and recorded before their tragic death in 1997 from a car accident on the way to a Weezer concert — is the flip side of that conversation. The song’s “end of innocence” narrative, in which the singer laments the school bus taking his friends away, became almost unbearably poignant after the accident. But the most powerful aspect of “Mykel and Carli” is the fact that it exists at all. How many bands have songs that name-check specific fans? Pop stars and jam bands foster fanaticism but not like this. This is more like a love story, or a marriage.
7. “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here” (1994)
The best song title in the entire Weezer canon. Also the most Weezer song title in the Weezer canon. The implied persecution that contradicts all rhyme and reason — the entire world has conspired to make me romantically bereft! — feels logical and true to the teenaged brain. When I first heard this song, I had never been in love, but I romanticized the idea of having my heart broken. It seemed like the whole point of being in love was that you would eventually have your heart broken in some grand, operatic fashion. This is the sort of brain damage that occurs from listening to songs like this on repeat in the 11th grade.
6. “I Just Threw Out The Love Of My Dreams” (1996)
The best Weezer B-side. (And the second best song title.) No other song makes a better case for the existence of Songs From The Black Hole. Or maybe I just wish that Rivers Cuomo wrote an entire album of songs for Rachel Haden to sing.
5. “El Scorcho” (1996)
The title translates to “The Scorch,” which suggests that this song includes a burn (such as admitting that you read a girl’s diary because she’s never heard of Green Day, which is certainly a “self” burn) or that it moves very fast (which it does at the two-minute mark). Otherwise, this is the most fun song to sing along with in the Weezer catalog. At the show, in the shower, at the hangout with people you’ve known for most of your life and now you’re drinking beers listening to Pinkerton, sing with me: “I thiiiiink IIIIII’d be gooooood for yoooooooou, and yoooooooou’d be gooooood for meeeeeee!”
4. “Tired Of Sex” (1996)
Have I mentioned that Patrick Wilson plays the drums like a motherfucker? This song represents Wilson at maximum motherfucker. I have long argued that Pinkerton is Weezer’s In Utero, but that’s mostly based on this song, in which Rivers Cuomo surveys his recent conquests with palpable anxiety, and concludes that while teenage angst has paid off well, now he’s bored and no longer horny. If we were talking about any other band, this hands down would be the No. 1 side 1, track 1 in the canon. However …
3. “My Name Is Jonas” (1994)
We aren’t talking about any other band, we’re talking about Weezer. Thanks for all you’ve shown us, but this is how we feel.
2. “Only In Dreams” (1994)
Pavement dissed Smashing Pumpkins in 1994, but what if Pavement made a song that sounded like Smashing Pumpkins in 1994? That’s what this song is, the downer ’70s ending to “The Blue Album,” in which we witness the guy not get the girl. As if there could be other ending. In Rivers’ mind, love conjures poetry: “She’s in the air / In between molecules / Of oxygen and carbon dioxide.” But when it comes to actually talking to the girl, the creep comes out: “You say ‘it’s a good thing / That you float in the air / That way there’s no way / I will crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces.'”
1. “Say It Ain’t So” (1994)
In order to assess the greatness of this song, I need to talk about Tom Brady.
Tom Brady came back to play this season at the age of 45, after a brief retirement that was announced last winter. This decision, at the moment, appears ill-advised. He is currently the 14th rated passer in the NFL, and his team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are 3-4. Also, his wife has decided to divorce him, and the motivation seems tied to Brady’s decision to continue playing. It is possible that the greatest professional quarterback in human history tanked his life for the privilege of being mediocre at the end of a storied career.
But this does not matter. In 30 years, nobody will remember how Tom Brady’s career ended. His legacy is already set. Nothing he does now — short of murdering someone — will change how he is perceived. His accomplishments are impossible to diminish, no matter his late-career sins. He is who he was in the minds of almost everybody.
And that’s how I feel about Weezer. I ultimately don’t care about Raditude or the “Africa” cover or whatever silliness they perpetrate in the future. And I feel this way because the bridge of “Say It Ain’t So” exists. For all of the bullshit this band has perpetrated, the bridge of “Say It Ain’t So” justifies it, because it is a zero-bullshit zone. The bridge of “Say It Ain’t So” is why I can’t ever fully quit this band. You could play me “The Girl Got Hot” on repeat for a week straight, Abu Gharib style, and the bridge of “Say Ain’t It So” would still awaken ancient feelings. The bridge of “Say Ain’t It So” is Weezer’s comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. In my heart, despite everything, Weezer will always be champions.
Weezer is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.