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Rolling Stone Greatest Songs

Rolling Stone Greatest 500 Songs: Weezer, ‘Buddy Holly’ (#484)

When Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo was a kid in Connecticut, he wanted to be a rock star. 

Like, a real rock star:  fame, wealth, jet planes, legions of girls, the works.  His first band, when he was a teen-ager in the mid-80’s, was essentially a KISS cover band, minus the make-up and explosions (the band’s debut set list:  ‘Cold Gin’, ‘Rock and Roll All Night’, and ‘Strutter’). 

Cuomo spends his high school years listening to heavy metal, and moves to Los Angeles when he’s 18, but by the time he gets there, metal is phasing out, grunge and alternative is phasing in.  He gets a job at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard — because of course he does — and winds up incorporating the Beach Boys and the Beatles and Velvet Underground into his aesthetic.  Then he hears Nirvana, and something clicks.

The thing about Rivers Cuomo at this early 90’s point in his career — the thing he’ll spend the next few years realizing — is that he’s temperamentally unsuited to be a rock star.  Or, at least, he’s temperamentally unsuited to be the kind of rock star he’s always wanted to be. 

Because think about it:  how many great rock and roll songs exist because the writers and performers of those songs didn’t have the good sense not to write or perform them?  How many great rock and roll bands built their careers on unselfconsciously violating the norms of propriety and good taste?  More, how many great rock and roll bands were great in part because they unselfconsciously violated the norms of propriety and good taste?  Say what you want about KISS (or AC/DC or Aerosmith or Van Halen, et al.), but one thing they were never looking to do was agitate your intellect.

And Rivers Cuomo….you know, he’s not Paul Stanley or Steven Tyler or David Lee Roth. Cuomo’s a lot of things, but unselfconscious is not one of them. He’s too smart, too sensitive, too introspective and self-critical to ever write something like ‘Love Gun’ or ‘Detroit Rock City’ or ‘Calling Doctor Love’.  Rivers Cuomo wound up going to fucking Harvard, for fuck’s sake.  As he himself put it, “I just realized that metal wasn’t going to be a sufficient form of expression for me.  When I wrote songs, it didn’t sound like Judas Priest.  It sounded like Weezer.  I think of myself as far too wimpy to ever pull off any real metal, and Weezer is kind of like a failed attempt at being super-rock.”[1]Alternative Press Interview, 1997

‘Buddy Holly’, the compulsively toe-tapping bit of power pop that wound up being the second single released off Weezer’s self-titled debut album, very nearly didn’t make the cut.  Cuomo thought the tune was too cheesy, too gimmicky; not what he was after.  Producer Ric Ocasek — a name you may recognize from his own band, The Cars — talked Cuomo into including it.  Never mind that Buddy Holly had been dead three and a half decades before the song was written, or that Mary Tyler Moore hadn’t been on TV for nearly 20 years.

You can hear the vestiges of Cuomo’s earlier flirtations with metal in the song’s crunchy-assed guitars and bottom heavy beat, which rescues the whole affair from terminal cuteness.  Add Spike Jonze with an idea for a video set at Arnold’s Drive-In from Happy Days,[2]Jonze also directed the video for the Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’, #489 on this list. who spliced the band in with footage from the show, and a hit was born.

‘Buddy Holly’ is one of the reasons Rivers Cuomo has been a rock star for decades now.

Michael Strum: “This is an incredibly catchy and ‘sticky’ track — memorable — and well-represents the moment in music in which it was released. It shows us Weezer’s talent. Also true is that in a schema of literally infinite parallel universes, in none of them is this a better track than ‘So What’.”

Rolling Stone: Never has geek been so chic as in Weezer’s 1994 breakout single, “Buddy Holly.” Written for frontman Rivers Cuomo’s girlfriend, the poppy ode to nerdy romance was almost left off the band’s self-titled debut, also known as the Blue Album, due to Cuomo and now-ex-member Matt Sharp’s reticence. “We had the sense that it could be taken as a novelty song, and people aren’t going to take the album seriously,” Sharp told Rolling Stone. After producer Ric Ocasek heard the receptionist at the recording studio humming it, he insisted they keep it in.

References

References
1 Alternative Press Interview, 1997
2 Jonze also directed the video for the Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’, #489 on this list.