The Story Behind the ‘Say It Ain't So’ by Weezer

Rivers Cuomo made his family frustrations into a hit song.

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The Story Behind the ‘Say It Ain't So’ by Weezer
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Backstory

"Say It Ain't So" is a song from Weezer's self-titled debut album (also known as the Blue Album), released in 1994. Written by frontman Rivers Cuomo, it came to be after he had all the music finished and had only one line of lyrics, "Say it ain't so.” It was destined to become one of the most beloved Weezer songs. Rolling Stone ranked this song #72 on "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time" list in 2008.

Rivers Cuomo used expressive symbolism to construct a story of teenage despair in the wake of alcoholism that was tearing his family apart.

He later explained:

"It's such a complicated story, way too complex to write a song about. I should never have done it. I was really afraid of alcohol at the time. I didn't drink till I was 21, not even a sip. I was petrified of alcohol. 'Say It Ain't So' was about when I was 16. I opened up the refrigerator, and I saw a can of beer. All of a sudden I made the connection that my step-father was leaving... because my father started drinking when he left my mother."

Cuomo's biological father, Frank, left the family when he was five and eventually settled in Germany for a while as a suffragan bishop in a Pentecostal church. Cuomo notes this fact in the bridge of the song. Rivers saw Frank rarely until around the time when this song was released. After that, they renewed their relationship.

Years later, Rivers enjoyed watching videos of his father's sermons, which often incorporated music (Frank was a professional drummer). This helped Rivers come to terms with his insecurities on stage - he never looked like a rock star and sometimes felt like he didn't belong on stage, but seeing his father do it helped Rivers realize that he had a genetic gift for performing.

Looking back at the lashing he gave his dad, Cuomo stated in 2014,

"I was an angry young man. I was quick to point the finger."

There are two mixes of the song. The original version, featured on the initial pressings of the album, can be identified by the removed feedback in the chorus. However, when the song was released as a single, it was remixed, with all instruments being placed slightly different in the mix and the guitar feedback between chords being saved.

The band liked the mixed version so much that they asked for it to replace the initial album version when the album had sold about a million copies. The single version is now the version on the album. As the album has sold over two million copies since the switch, the ratio of remixed versions to original mixes is about 2:1. The original version is featured as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of The Blue album.

Official music video

The music video for the song was directed by Sophie Muller, who also worked on the Eurythmics and Annie Lennox videos, and several by No Doubt.

The music video was filmed at the house where the band used to rehearse and record. The video features a cameo by the band's close friend Karl Koch, who is also their webmaster, photographer, and archivist.

He recalled the place, where the music video was shot:

"It was the back room of this house Rivers and Matt had moved into when the band was first starting, off Bundee and Olympic, called Amherst – 2226 Amherst Avenue. They claimed they were UCLA film students and they didn't tell anyone that they were going to set up a rehearsal room inside the garage. Weezer did all of their rehearsing there for about a year and a half once they were established."

A small poster of King Diamond is visible several times throughout the video, most clearly during the final chorus.

YouTube preview picture

Gear and settings

All guitar parts of the recorded version belong to Rivers Cuomo, as Jason Cropper was kicked out of the band during the Blue Album recording sessions. Brian Bell, who replaced him, didn't actually play a note on that album, despite being credited as guitarist in the liner notes. Cuomo laid down all of Cropper's parts in one all-day marathon session.

Ric Ocasek (best known as the vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter of the Cars) was a producer of the Blue Album. Ric introduced Rivers to his guitar collection, from which three guitars got heavy use on the record: a red 60's Fender Jaguar and two double cutaway Gibson Les Paul Junior Special in red and in yellow.

Red 60's Fender Jaguar on the left and red Gibson Les Paul Junior Special on the right. White Telecaster belongs to Jason Cropper.

When the band returned from the NY recording sessions back to Los Angeles, Rivers finally got his new non-Fender Stratocaster copy that was ordered before the recording as separate parts from the Warmoth catalog. This guitar appears in the official video. Rivers also heavily used this guitar for the live performances.

Matt Sharp used the "Frankenstein" bass, consisted of vintage black Fender Jazz Bass body, which he got as a gift from Johnny Lonely of El Magnifico; an early model of Telecaster style Warmoth neck, made of a swirly kind of darker wood that newer ones don't have; and Schecter pickups.

 

If you want to learn more about the gear, amps, notable covers, special techniques, song structure, and recommended lessons, read the UG Complete Guide to “Say It Ain't So” by Weezer.

 

 

 

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    soundsabbath
    This is simply a brilliant song! Even their last couple of albums have been really enjoyable. Massive shame bout the new singles though, seems like Rivers is already reverting back to full pop even though he repeatedly apologises for it in 'Back to the shack'
    dewitt
    I don't know if the new singles are supposed to be for a new album or not, but they put out pop singles between their last two albums, too. Didn't put them on the albums, either. But yeah, the new songs are terrible.
    stagedamassacre
    this song has my favorite guitar solo ever. not crazy complicated but for some reason Ive loved it since i first heard it 15 years ago. 
    CoconutBackward
    Wikipedia says Jason Cropper signed some "non-disclosure" agreement after leaving the band and has not said publicly why he left even after all these years. I WANNA KNOW WHY HE LEFT.
    Slap-happy
     When the band returned from the NY recording sessions back to Los Angeles, Rivers finally got his new non-Fender Stratocaster copy was ordered before the recording as parts from the Warmoth catalog. 
    This sentence hurts my head...
    Zirk208
    makes me wonder what version I have on CD.  The blue album was my first CD purchased back in jr. high.