Weezer’s Blue Album: Things You Didn’t Know – Rolling Stone
×
Home Music Music Features

Weezer’s Blue Album: 10 Things You Didn’t Know

How interband conflict, a cheap Beach Boys comp, Ric Ocasek’s ear for a hit and more played into Weezer’s 1994 alt-rock masterpiece

NEW YORK - AUGUST 26: Rivers Cuomo (left) and Brian Bell (right) relax at their hotel before a Weezer show on August 26, 1994 in New York City, New York.  (Photo by Karjean Levine/Getty Images)

Read 10 things you might not know about Weezer's self-titled debut, a.k.a. the Blue Album.

Karjean Levine/Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago, Rivers Cuomo was attending community college when his band Weezer released their self-titled debut. “I brought it to class and said, ‘Look everybody,’” he recalled in 1995. “They were all like, ‘Yeah, cool, whatever.’”

The music world would show significantly more interest than his classmates. Arriving on May 10th, 1994, the 10-track self-titled LP best known as the Blue Album provided a new roadmap for alt-rock following the death of Kurt Cobain and the conclusion of grunge’s first era. Cuomo, Pat Wilson, Matt Sharp and Brian Bell pumped perfect Beach Boys harmonies and finely crafted bubblegum hooks through megawatt amps and crunchy distortion pedals, in the process becoming the unlikeliest of rock heroes this side of Elvis Costello. The band flaunted cardigans, bowl cuts, and lyrical references to D&D and Kiss posters, and their unapologetic nerdiness seemed only to endear them to the young MTV crowd, many of whom were just beginning to take their bargain-priced introductory instruments for a test run in their parents’ basements. The album would peak at Number 16 and sell more than 3 million copies in the U.S.

“Because I’m so terrible at expressing my feelings directly, and because no one really cares — and because anything real is almost impossible to talk about — I’ve come to rely on music more and more to express myself,” Cuomo said in his self-penned label bio sheet. The songs that heralded Weezer’s arrival show strains of the singer’s trademark ennui, but also brim with wide-eyed romanticism and deeply affecting melancholia. They also hint at the feelings of loneliness lurking just behind Cuomo’s Buddy Holly glasses, which would come to the fore on the band’s divisive 1996 follow-up, Pinkerton.

Though many have praised the Blue Album as one of the most flawless debuts in rock history, the frontman, predictably, took a more self-critical point of view. “None of these songs are perfect, but I think you can hear that we’re trying hard to be honest and real,” Cuomo later told biographer John D. Luerssen. “The record sounds kind of weird, but if you turn it up extremely loud and lie down, it can be rewarding.”

In honor of the album’s 25th anniversary, here are 10 facts you might not know about Weezer’s debut.

1. Rivers Cuomo has called “Undone — The Sweater Song” “almost a complete rip-off” of Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).”

The primordial Weezer formed from the remains of 60 Wrong Sausages, a short-lived foursome that folded after just seven rehearsals and a single gig at the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma, California, on Thanksgiving weekend 1991. Bandmates Rivers Cuomo and drummer Patrick Wilson wanted to work together on a new project, but the guitarist had some strict stipulations about this fresh collaboration. “Rivers said, ‘Look, we’re going to write 50 songs, and then we’re going to have our first rehearsal,’” Wilson later recalled in John D. Luerssen’s book Rivers’ Edge: The Weezer Story. Though they didn’t quite hit 50, they managed to knock out a formidable cache of tunes, including early live standards like “Thief, You’ve Taken All That Was Me” and “Lullaby for Wayne,” as well as future album cuts “My Name Is Jonas” and “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.”

Also destined for Weezer’s debut was another Cuomo composition, which blended the guitarist’s artier influences with a subconscious dose of heavy metal. “’The Sweater Song’ was the first Weezer song I ever wrote, back in 1991. I was trying to write a Velvet Underground-type song because I was super into them, and I came up with that guitar riff,” he told Rolling Stone in 2009. “It wasn’t until years after I wrote it that I realized it’s almost a complete rip-off of [‘Welcome Home’] ‘Sanitarium’ by Metallica. It just perfectly encapsulates Weezer to me — you’re trying to be cool like Velvet Underground but your metal roots just pump through unconsciously.”

Though “Undone — The Sweater Song” is frequently misinterpreted as tongue-in-cheek, Cuomo maintains he wrote it as “a very sad song about depression.” Even in its earliest form, the track contained spoken dialogue designed to contrast positive and negative thinking. “The song had originally been based on a sort of conversational overlap concept,” band associate Karl Koch recalled in an unpublished essay intended for the Weezer deluxe reissue in 2004. “With a stereo separation, one side would lament all sorts of negative thoughts, while the other side countered with all manner of good-tempered optimism.” While recording the demo in 1992, Cuomo tasked Koch with creating an audio collage that would bring this schizoid exchange to life. He duly complied, pulling snippets from “various weird records,” as well as scenes from Star Wars (specifically Darth Vader growling, “You are part of the rebel alliance, and a traitor”) and The Hobbit.

During sessions for the Blue Album, Koch was again called upon to work his mashup magic for the song. “I obliged, gathering 200 potential samples of everything from Humphrey Bogart to Christian radio dramas, the Peanuts gang, and story dialogue from The Black Hole, paring it down to two 15-sample sequences that I played out on a MIDI keyboard, creating the stereo ‘conversation,’” he later wrote. The result was artistically stunning but presented a massive logistical headache for Weezer’s parent label, Geffen Records. Rather than start the costly and time-consuming process of licensing each sample, the Geffen execs ordered the collage cut. In its place, Rivers, Koch, bassist Matt Sharp and Weezer fan-club co-founder Mykel Allan recorded new party dialogue at the band’s L.A. home studio and crash pad, and overnighted the tape to New York to be added to the song’s final mix.

2. The band honored their producer Ric Ocasek by covering a Cars classic.

After securing a major label deal with the Geffen subsidiary DGC in 1993, Weezer planned to act as their own producers and record at their longtime home on Amherst Avenue in the Sawtelle district of Los Angeles. The cozy, almost suburban garage had previously served them well for a number of demos. “Our first thought was we should do it in our own element and have nothing be different and make [it] as little of an experience as possible,” bassist Matt Sharp said in a November 1994 interview. “Do it in L.A. and we’ll produce it ourselves and just get an engineer we like to do it that way.” But the Geffen A&R team had bigger ideas and urged the band to hire an established name to oversee the sessions.

Cuomo was initially hesitant until, by chance, he picked up a copy of the Cars’ Greatest Hits album and developed a newfound appreciation for their co-frontman and chief songwriter, Ric Ocasek. “The record company was really pushing us to work with a producer,” Cuomo told Luerssen. “So we figured that if we had to have somebody in the studio with us, it might as well just be someone who writes good songs — and the Cars’ first record just rules.” Lucky for the fledgling band, the feeling was mutual. “I got their tapes from Geffen Records when I was out in L.A. working on another project,” Ocasek told Magnet in 2014. “I listened to it in the car and I just thought it was phenomenal. Having no idea what they looked like, I thought they were a heavy metal band that had really good melodies.”

Ocasek was in town working on Bad Brains’ God of Love album and decided to pay Weezer a visit at their Hollywood rehearsal studio. “The record company called us up and said, ‘Ric’s coming to your rehearsal today,’” Sharp remembered in a July 1994 interview. “We were just like, ‘Yeah, right, he’s coming to our rehearsal.’ But that day our drummer, Pat, saw him in a guitar store, and he goes, ‘Oh, my God, maybe he is coming.’” In anticipation of his arrival, Weezer made a special addition to their repertoire. “We had prepared a cover of ‘Just What I Needed,’” early Weezer guitarist Jason Cropper remembered in Magnet. “You know, sort of goofing around and honoring him at the same time.” (Ocasek later admitted that he found their impromptu tribute “pretty cute.”)

As they dove into their prospective producer’s back catalog, they realized it wasn’t vastly different from their own music. “We got into the early Cars thing and began to notice a musical similarity between us and them,” Sharp told Aquarian Weekly in 1995. “Our use of chords, downstrokes and melodies shows the same economy and tightness as a Cars song. ‘Buddy Holly’ is not that far off from ‘Just What I Needed.’” 

The laid-back Ocasek quickly allayed any fears the band may have had about handing over the producer role to an outsider. “My impression was just that they should be recorded the way they were. I didn’t really want to tamper with it much,” he says in Rivers’ Edge. He did, however, have one suggestion: Get out of the garage. “I talked them into coming to New York and recording at Electric Lady. I thought it would be inspiring.”

3. The night before leaving for New York to record the album, they held an all-night rager at their L.A. rehearsal space.
March 19th, 1992, would go down as a major day in Weezer lore. Not only did the band play their first-ever gig — at Raji’s on Hollywood Boulevard as a last-minute opener for Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar — but they also obtained their longtime headquarters on Amherst Avenue. Cuomo and Sharp moved in with friend Justin Fisher after convincing the landlords that they were a group of UCLA film students — and emphatically not a noisy rock band. The focal point of the house quickly became the garage, which was promptly transformed into a rehearsal space stuffed with instruments, gear, rudimentary recording equipment and a communal washing machine. Adding to the ratty brown carpet that hung as crude soundproofing, the walls were lined with posters of their heroes, including Eddie Van Halen, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and members of the X-Men team. When Cuomo honored the space on Blue Album track “In the Garage,” he made special note of the decor with the line, “I’ve got posters on the wall, my favorite rock group Kiss/I’ve got Ace Frehley, I’ve got Peter Criss, waiting there for me.”

The cramped room was a crucial incubator for the band, playing host to incalculable practices, writing sessions, demo recordings and general shenanigans. It was also the scene of a memorable occasion on August 7th, 1993, the night before the band were due to fly to New York to begin work on their debut LP at Electric Lady. “The excitement and giddiness was tangible, and erupted into a going away bash,” Koch later wrote. “Needless to say, the party stretched into the wee-est of hours. We were awoken after about 45 minutes sleep by DGC’s Denise MacDonald who picked us up in [label exec] Tom Zutaut’s Range Rover and took our ragged forms to LAX.” MacDonald took great care to step over the unconscious figures asleep on the lawn. Their departure mercifully wasn’t delayed by the discovery that the residence’s one and only toilet had been pulverized at some point during the night.

In addition to “In the Garage,” the Amherst Avenue rehearsal space was immortalized in the gatefold of Weezer with a black-and-white photo that captures the band’s instruments flanked by Quiet Riot and Judas Priest posters. It was also documented, in living color, in director Sophie Miller’s 1995 music video for “Say It Ain’t So” — complete with Karl Koch wandering into frame to use the washing machine. Sadly for Weezer fans, the home underwent a complete renovation in 2005 and the garage no longer resembles group’s dingy clubhouse. 

4. B side “Mykel & Carli” is about two Weezer superfans who later died in a car crash heading to one of the band’s gigs.

Before taking Weezer into the hallowed halls of Electric Lady, Ric Ocasek spent time “routining” the band at a New York rehearsal studio. “I had them in pre-production for at least a week, trimming it down,” he explained to Luerssen. “I wanted it to be a concise record that had a focal point.” Fifteen songs were attempted during these early sessions, including the 10 that made the final cut. Four others were immediately scratched from the album’s potential track list: “Lullaby for Wayne” (likely too similar to “Surf Wax America”); “Getting Up and Leaving” and “I Swear It’s True” (both revisited during the Pinkerton sessions); and an alternate “reprise” version of “In the Garage.” A fifth song, “Mykel & Carli,” was also recorded during the Electric Lady sessions, but it was shelved until after the Blue Album was released. It was eventually resurrected during sessions with Paul duGre in the summer of 1994 as a B side for the “Undone — The Sweater Song” single.

The song was an affectionate ode to Mykel and Carli Allan, Weezer’s earliest and most faithful supporters. “They were amongst the very kindest, sweetest, funniest and coolest people on Earth,” Koch said of the sisters. They first saw the band perform at Club Dump (later the infamous Viper Room) in July 1992, and it was something approaching love at first sight. The Allans would quickly become close confidants of the band, whom they regarded as “friends [who] just happened to play music,” and tirelessly took on any odd jobs necessary to help out — even aiding with the hastily rerecorded “party dialogue” on “Undone — The Sweater Song.” They cofounded the Weezer Fan Club and devoted hours to organizing mailing lists and stuffing envelopes. Their own membership cards read “0001” and “0002,” officially earning them the title of Weezer’s Top Fans.

To thank the Allans for their loyalty, Cuomo surprised them with a song. For days he bombarded them with phone calls, asking them personal questions like, “Where did you go to high school?” and “What street did you live on?” As soon as they’d answer, he’d hang up, leaving the pair deeply confused. Finally, Weezer unveiled the song, then known as “Please Pick Up the Phone,” at a show in Hollywood. The sisters, in their familiar spot near the front of the stage, were moved to tears.

The Allans followed the band across the country on the Pinkerton tour in the summer of 1997, enjoying both the music and their status as fan-club ambassadors. But when they were uncharacteristically absent from a gig, the Weezer camp started to worry. “They hadn’t shown up to our show at Salt Lake,” Cuomo told MTV News at the time. “I knew something terrible had happened. And then our manager called Mykel and Carli’s mother to find out what had actually happened, and he looked at us and said, ‘They’re dead.’” They had left Weezer’s show in Denver on the night of July 8th and were due for Salt Lake City when their car rolled over on Route 70 near Rifle, Colorado. The fatal accidental also claimed the life of Mykel and Carli’s younger sister, Trysta.

The band was devastated and postponed the tour to attend their funeral. That August they participated in a tribute concert for the sisters at L.A.’s Palace Theater, with proceeds going to the Allan family to cover burial costs. There they played “Mykel & Carli” live for what would be the last time for nearly 15 years.

5. “My Name Is Jonas” was inspired by Cuomo’s brother Leaves and his insurance problems following a serious car accident.

Cuomo once called “My Name Is Jonas” the perfect opener for Weezer’s debut, because it crystalized his own pessimistic take on fate. “’Jonas’ explains how ‘The Plan’ is reaming us all,” he told Luerssen. “Especially my brother.” Originally written as part of the “50 Songs” project with Wilson — and incorporating a finger-picked intro by Jason Cropper, earning him his only Weezer composition credit — “My Name Is Jonas” was inspired in part by Cuomo’s younger brother Leaves, who was seriously injured in a September 1992 car accident while attending Oberlin College in Ohio. He submitted a claim for recovery costs, but his insurance refused to pay because the accident had occurred in his friend’s car — not listed on the policy. Leaves (a.k.a. James Kitts) filed a lawsuit against his insurance provider, which he ultimately lost on appeal in late 1996.

The lyrical component of “My Name Is Jonas” drew from more than his brother’s insurance and legal woes. The song also supposedly borrowed from Lois Lowry’s 1993 dystopian Y.A. novel The Giver, which centers around a 12-year-old named Jonas. The song’s title is actually a quote from the young protagonist, who also employs a sled over the course of the book. Cuomo namechecks “Wepeel,” the name of his own childhood sled, in the first line of the second verse. 

6. “Buddy Holly” was almost “Ginger Rogers,” and Cuomo nearly left it off the album for fear it was “too cheesy.”
The lyrics to “Buddy Holly” were taken from a real-life incident that occurred when some of Cuomo’s Weezer mates teased his friend Kyung He, a classmate at Santa Monica Community College who dared to wear her hair in a retro flip. “They were the ‘homies dissin’ my girl,’” he wrote in the liner notes for the Alone demo collection. “I rarely wrote lyrics about tension between me and the guys in the band because I thought it would be awkward for us all to perform those songs together. In this case, though, it didn’t seem like a big deal.” The music took shape as Cuomo was fooling around on a friend’s Korg keyboard. Inspired by the “goofy” early-synth sounds, he tried his hand at writing a neo–New Wave track. “The chorus melody, though, I came up with as I was walking through the lawns of the campus. The melody was in time to my steps,” he remembered. “The lyrics I struggled with, trying to find the right reference point. An early version read, ‘Ooo-we-ooo you look just like Ginger Rogers. Oh-oh I move just like Fred Astaire.’”

Even after Cuomo landed on the titular Texas rocker, he was less than enthusiastic about the tune. When it came time to assemble material for their debut, he worried that “Buddy Holly” veered towards novelty territory. Ultimately it took some serious convincing from Ric Ocasek for Cuomo to even consider it for the album. “I remember at one point he was hesitant to do ‘Buddy Holly’ and I was like, ‘Rivers, we can talk about it. Do it anyway, and if you don’t like it when it’s done, we won’t use it. But I think you should try. You did write it and it is a great song,’” Ocasek told Luerssen. The ever-supportive producer kept up his pro–“Buddy Holly” campaign during the course of several days. “We’d come into the studio in the morning and find these little pieces of paper with doodles on them: ‘WE WANT BUDDY HOLLY,’” Sharp recalled in a 2008 interview with Blender.

“Buddy Holly” was chosen as the second single off the Blue Album, making a music video all but a necessity. Filmmaker Spike Jonze, who had earned the band’s trust with his 10-word treatment for the “Undone —The Sweater Song” visuals — “A blue stage, a Steadicam, a pack of wild dogs” — decided to double down on the nostalgia factor. “The idea of it being on the set of Happy Days came pretty early. My editor Eric Zumbrunnen and I went through hundreds of episodes,” he says in Rivers’ Edge. “When we found the footage of Fonzie dancing it was like a gold mine.” Most of the band were sold on the idea — except Rivers, who feared it was too gimmicky. “At once I didn’t like it, and at the same time I knew it was an amazing idea and it had to be done,” he told Alternative Press in 1997.

Jonze recreated the set of Arnold’s, the teen hotspot on the Fifties-via-Seventies throwback sitcom, and even cast Al Molinaro in his former Happy Days role as the establishment’s owner. When the be-cardiganed Weezer arrived at the soundstage on September 29th, 1994, their minds were well and truly blown. “When I walked onto the set that day, I knew it was going to be a smash,” guitarist Brian Bell told Alternative Press. “I literally almost fell over when I saw the set. All the extras were already there in costume. … The whole day was really one of the most surreal days ever.”

Following the two-day shoot, Jonze began splicing the new footage he’d shot with vintage Happy Days scenes, primarily taken from episode number 53 (“They Call It Potsie Love”). The painstaking process was difficult, but easier than convincing the original Happy Days cast to grant them permission to use their likenesses. “Potsie didn’t want to have anything to do with it,” Sharp recalled in Blender. David Geffen himself wrote Potsie actor Anson Williams a personal letter, but the real turning point came when Henry “Fonzie” Winkler signed off on the idea. “[The cast] were apprehensive at first, but when the Fonz said ‘I’m in,’ everyone else said, ‘If the Fonz says it’s cool, it’s cool,’” Sharp told Magnet. Winkler later admitted that he was grateful to the band because the video made him cool in the eyes of his kids. “I was happy to do it,” he said in Blender. “The Fonz would have had Weezer on vinyl.” (He wasn’t the only Seventies TV icon who appreciated the attention from the song. “Mary Tyler Moore sent us each, framed, personalized, autographed pictures!” Sharp said.)

The clip was one of the most popular of 1995, earning four MTV Video Music Awards and two Billboard Music Video Awards. But an even bigger nod came from Microsoft, who included the video on the “Fun Stuff” CD-ROM that accompanied the release of Windows 95. Since no one in Weezer even owned a computer, their initial response was anger that they weren’t consulted. “I was furious because at the time I was like, ‘How are they allowed to do this without our permission?’ Turns out it was one of the greatest things that could have happened to us,” Wilson reflected. “Can you imagine that happening today? It’s like, there’s one video on YouTube, and it’s your video.” The enormity of the placement dawned on them slowly. “People were telling me, ‘You don’t know how big this is, you’re on Windows 95.’” Bell said in Magnet. “I didn’t have a computer, I didn’t know what that meant, so I never really got a grasp of how big we were becoming.”

The one person who remained skeptical of the video’s massive popularity was, predictably, Rivers Cuomo. “It’s strange that me and my music got caught up in this,” he said in 1997. “But our music got to a lot of people as result of that video. It’s my least favorite of all the videos we’ve done. I think I’d like it more if it weren’t me and it weren’t my song. I think it’s truly amazing. I’m extremely grateful to it. But it has nothing to do with me.”

7. Jason Cropper abruptly left the band as the album neared completion, and Cuomo re-recorded all of his parts in one marathon session.
Everything that Weezer had been working towards seemed within reach as the band put the finishing touches on their debut in the late summer of 1993. But all was not well with guitarist Jason Cropper, who was dealing with a crisis in his personal life. “Jason had a girlfriend back in L.A. and one day she called him and said, ‘Oh, I’m pregnant,’ and from that day onward his personality became really intense and frantic,” Karl Koch told Magnet. “He wasn’t handling it well. A couple times the band would pull him aside and be like, ‘Are you OK, are you sure you can do this?’ And he always said he was fine, but then 20 minutes later he’d be up on the roof of Electric Lady screaming or something.”

At some point during the first week of September, Cropper and the band parted ways. Confidentiality agreements have prevented him from revealing the precise details of his departure, and when pressed by Luerssen, he cryptically replied that “whatever Rivers says on my exit from the band, that’s what the word is.” Cropper later intimated that the “final straw” was when his girlfriend arrived in New York, unannounced, with no place to stay. “That was it. Rivers was like, ‘I can’t fucking take any more of this inconsiderate guy.’ And, you know, he was right. He explained it to me as kindly as he could. He was like, ‘I like you, we’ll stay friends but I can’t … This is a really special moment for the huge amount of work we’ve done to get here — like, a lifetime of work — and I don’t feel like you get it in the same way.’”

With Cropper out of the picture, the band was presented with a new problem: what to tell their label. “No one knew how to handle such a delicate situation, not to mention the album was almost finished,” Koch later wrote. “While everyone felt that Jason just wasn’t going to work out in Weezer, they also knew that announcing to Geffen Records that their rhythm guitarist had just left the band during the recording of their first album wouldn’t exactly go over too well. The last thing they could afford at that point would be a loss of confidence from the higher-ups, who have little patience for delays and problems from new, untried bands.” With two days before mixing was due to begin in New York, Sharp and Cuomo called Brian Bell, a friend from the L.A. punk scene who was then playing guitar in the band Carnival Art. After inquiring about his availability and quizzing him on his favorite Star Wars character (answer: Hammerhead), he was invited to be the newest member of Weezer. “I auditioned on tape,” Bell recalled in Starline. “Somebody from Geffen delivered a demo tape that day and I had to learn four songs in one day and FedEx it to New York.”

The original idea was for Bell to fly to New York and duplicate Cropper’s backing vocals and guitar parts, but time was growing short and the album was creeping slightly over budget. Rather than put pressure on the new guy, Cuomo decided to rise to the challenge himself. “The last day of recording Rivers called me up and said, ‘Jason’s not going to be in the band anymore, so I have to re-do all his parts,’” Ocasek recalled. “I said, ‘Why don’t you just keep the guitar tracks you got because it’s done.’ And he said, ‘No, I have to do all his parts over again. Don’t worry, it won’t take too long.’ So I said, ‘OK, OK.’ We went back in [and] he did all the guitar parts in one day. And they were perfect.” Even though Bell was credited as the rhythm guitarist on Weezer, he actually made his six-string debut with the group on the “Undone — The Sweater Song” B sides “Susanne” and “Mykel & Carli” the following summer.

Cuomo and Cropper’s relationship was strained in the years immediately following the split, but time eventually healed the wounds. “At this point I have nothing but the fondest of memories of my time in Weezer. I would never say anything disparaging,” Cropper told Luerssen in the early 2000s, and a few years later he attended Cuomo’s wedding to Kyoko Ito. In September 2018 Cuomo invited his former bandmate onstage during a solo acoustic show at San Francisco’s August Hall, and together they played a handful of Blue Album tracks.

8. The album cover was inspired by a cheap Beach Boys greatest-hits compilation and shot by a Playboy photographer.
“I remember having a very strong vision for the first album, the Blue Album, [and for] what that cover was gonna look like,” Cuomo said during a 2010 interview for iTunes Originals. “I never anticipated people would call it ‘the Blue Album,’ or even Weezer. I just thought of it as an untitled album.” The vibrant minimalism of the cover kicked off a whole rainbow of record sleeves for Weezer: Green, Red, White, Teal and Black. While it’s tempting to point to the Beatles’ monumental White Album as inspiration, Cuomo’s design concept came from more humble beginnings. “Rivers was very much into the look of this, like, super-cheap truck-stop Greatest Hits of the Beach Boys,” Karl Koch told Uproxx in 2014. “It wasn’t a proper Greatest Hits. It was called Do It Again. It’s like the Beach Boys packaged for America. And [Cuomo] had this on cassette, and he constantly listened to it on his Walkman. Eventually he said, ‘We have to do this cover, this is what we should do.’” The idea took label execs by surprise, to put it mildly. “I remember that I had been shown the cover of some Beach Boys album and what caught my eye was they were all in striped shirts and the blue background,” Geffen A&R rep Todd Sullivan recalled. “It looked like some Sixties Sears family photo. It was a shock. Like, ‘Oh, OK …’”

The concept made slightly more sense to Geffen art director Michael Golob. “Rivers was like, ‘I want to do something like this for the cover where we’re just standing there in normal clothes.’ I think that came out of Rivers’ desire to have no style.” To capture the image everyone had in mind, Golob tapped legendary glamour photographer Peter Gowland. Even though glossy magazine spreads and nude Playboy pinups were his usual métier, the septuagenarian Gowland took the job and invited Weezer to his private studio in what numerous band associates describe as a glitzier version of the Brady Bunch house. “We explained to Peter what we wanted with the blue background, and he had this giant wall and curtain things that you could drag across the whole thing for background,” remembered Koch. “And Peter was, like, literally directing them like a Sears portrait gallery.”

Golob made some minor adjustments after the shoot, enhancing the blue background to an almost luminescent brightness, and switching out Matt Sharp’s head for an expression the bassist preferred. When the album was released, the striking cover drew immediate comparisons to the artwork found on Crazy Rhythms, the 1980 debut by New Jersey-based post-punks the Feelies. Weezer were unfamiliar, so Koch tracked down a hard-to-find copy of disc to show them what the fuss was about. Their reaction? “It was like, ‘Oh, sorry, well, we weren’t ripping off the Feelies. We were ripping off the Beach Boys.’”

9. The band substituted a remixed version of “Say It Ain’t So” after the album had already gone platinum.
During the writing process, Cuomo had finished the music for what would become “Say It Ain’t So,” but for a time he had no words beyond the title. The plaintive line reminded him of a troubling incident from his adolescence, when he discovered a bottle of alcohol belonging to his stepdad in the family refrigerator. The sighting made young Cuomo recall his biological father, Frank, an alcoholic jazz drummer who walked out on the family when Rivers was four years old. Aware that Frank had been drinking heavily when he left home, Cuomo became convinced that the booze in the fridge foreshadowed similar abandonment by his stepfather. This proved false, but the anxiety from the episode — and anger towards his seldom-seen dad — would come through in the lyrics to “Say It Ain’t So,” which paints an unflattering portrait of Frank as a mean drunk who “cleaned up” and conveniently “found Jesus” as Pentecostal preacher. “I was an angry young man. Typical Generation X. I was quick to point the finger,” Cuomo told Rolling Stone in 2014. Frank got in touch with his estranged son soon after the song rose up the charts in 1995, and they began to rebuild their relationship. “Now I see him all the time,” Cuomo says. “Now that I’m a father, I’ve forgiven my parents.”

Though few probably noticed, the version of “Say It Ain’t So” heard on the radio (and in the music video) was slightly different than the one heard on the record. The song was remixed after being chosen as the third and final single from the Blue Album, with subtle changes to the drum track and guitar feedback on the chorus. The band ended up preferring this remix to the original and subbed it in on subsequent pressings of Weezer — even though the album had already been certified platinum for selling a million copies. Approximately two million albums have been sold after the swap, meaning it’s twice as likely you’ll find a version with the new mix.

10. Cuomo intended to follow up Weezer’s debut with a sci-fi rock opera called Songs From the Black Hole.

While on tour with Weezer to promote the Blue Album, Cuomo started intensely listening to soundtracks of musical theater productions like Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Misérables. Intrigued by the marriage of music and narrative, he ventured to create his own, using a fictional plot line to grapple with his very real feelings of insecurity and confusion that surfaced as a result of his sudden fame. “I was planning to make the second Weezer album a sort of space-travel-themed rock opera with lots of synthesizers and new wave flavor over the Weezer rock sound,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010. During the Christmas holiday in 1994 he holed up in his family’s home with a guitar and an 8-track recorder, demoing new songs and testing sequences of old ones that he could string together in a seamless medley, like the second side of Abbey Road or, more appropriately, The Dark Side of the Moon.

After some tinkering, Cuomo assembled an allegorical fantasy, set in the year 2126 on the spaceship Betsy II. “There’s this crew — three guys and two girls and a mechanoid — that are on this mission in space to rescue somebody, or something,” he explained to Rolling Stone in 2007. Brian Bell and Matt Sharp would play Wuan and Dondo, gung-ho members of the vessel’s crew, and trusty Karl Koch would voice the guidance computer, M1, through a Vocoder machine. Cuomo himself would serve as Jonas, the anxious and conflicted captain who gets caught in a love triangle with two women, played by Rachel Haden of the Rentals and Joan Wasser of the Dambuilders. The story ends when Betsy II arrives at its final destination, with Jonas longing to return to a life of simplicity. “The whole thing was really an analogy for taking off, going out on the road and up the charts with a rock band, which is what was happening to me at the time I was writing this and feeling like I was lost in space,” he later said. For any who missed the symbolism, Betsy was the name of Weezer’s first tour bus.

Cuomo’s passion for the project began to wane in March 1995 after he underwent a surgical procedure to lengthen his leg, correcting a problem that had plagued him since childhood. As he struggled through the painful recovery, the concept of a space-age opera “started to feel too whimsical for where I was emotionally … I went to a more serious and dark place.” Work on the project continued sporadically through late summer and into the fall, with versions of “Blast Off!,” “Longtime Sunshine,” “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams,” “Tired of Sex” and “Getchoo” attempted in the studio, but stripped of their theatrical back story. According to Koch, the band “debated the semantics of how to pull [Songs From the Black Hole] off, and indeed, if it should even be done. Some of the songs were in fact rehearsed as a band, some were played out live, and some made it all the way to the second Weezer album — although by then the album concept was quite different.”

By the end of the year Cuomo had retreated further from the spotlight and enrolled at Harvard to study classical composition and, later, English. The songs he wrote during the period were personal confessions of isolation, bearing scant resemblance to the work he created for Songs From the Black Hole. After a few more tentative sessions at Los Angeles’ Sound City Studios in January 1996, the project was effectively scrapped. 

Four songs written prior to the genesis of the space opera plot line — “Tired of Sex,” “Getchoo,” “No Other One” and “Why Bother?” — surfaced on Weezer’s next album, 1996’s Pinkerton. Three other tracks, “Devotion,” “Waiting on You” and “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams,” wound up as B sides to “El Scorcho” and “The Good Life.” Over the years, a number of demos and unfinished takes have made the rounds either on file-sharing sites or were legitimately issued as part of the Alone series. But despite persistent demand from fans to release a fully reconstructed version of the lost album, à la The Smile Sessions by his hero Brian Wilson, Cuomo has thus far resisted. “I think the whole Black Hole thing has gotten blown way out of proportion in people’s minds,” he said in 2007. “It’s just, like, a third of an album that was sketched out and most of the songs on it weren’t really written specifically for The Black Hole; they were written before I conceived of The Black Hole and then I reshaped them a little bit for The Black Hole and then after I abandoned that idea, I unshaped them and put them on Pinkerton. So besides that, there are a handful or two of scraps of mostly interstitial pieces that aren’t really songs, and then there may be just a couple of full songs that were written for The Black Hole. So it’s really not that big of a deal.”

Newswire

Powered by