The 11 Best Ween Deep Cuts [Deep Cuts Week]
November 7, 2010 4 Comments
photo from Runaway Dinosaur
Thank you all for following along with ROTI during Deep Cuts Week. The response has truly been inspiring.
For our concluding entry, we are featuring the great Pennsylvanian rockers Ween. Composed of principal members Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman — vocals and guitar) and Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo — guitar, bass, drums, assorted instruments and vocals), this band epitomizes all that ROTI holds dear in the world of music.
If you’re not familiar with Ween, allow me to quote their All Music Guide biography: “Ween was the ultimate cosmic goof of the alternative rock era, a prodigiously talented and deliriously odd duo whose work traveled far beyond the constraints of parody and novelty into the heart of surrealist ecstasy. Despite a mastery for seemingly every mutation of the musical spectrum, the group refused to play it straight; in essence, Ween was bratty deconstructionists, kicking dirt on the pop world around them with demented glee.”
This band is both an ideal selection for a deep-cuts list and a challenging one. Their substantial and multifaceted catalog provides many strong contenders for the list. Not only are they highly prolific, they almost never write a truly bad song. Their classics are sustainably awesome, while rarely if ever heard on the radio, but one man’s Ween deep cut is another man’s favorite Ween song. The fact that they tour with a ridiculously good band (most often featuring Dave Dreiwitz on bass, Glenn McClelland on keys, and Claude Coleman Jr. on drums) only adds to their greatness.
To compile a list of the greatest and best Ween deep cuts, I sought the assistance of devoted Ween fans C. Dave and Schmentz, who provided many valuable nominations. Ultimately, however, even they might cry foul at this list, because Ween’s records are a gold mine of great songs to please every palate. (To all readers, feel free to add objections or counterpoints in the comments, or on our Facebook page.)
I suspect some of you might have passing knowledge of this band, and have turned away because their content is immature or crass. Think again, friends! Even when Ween is seemingly making fun of genres like golden-era country music, or composing an song with the objectionable title “The Homo Rainbow,” a closer listen often reveals that Ween actually gets to the heart of the genre they appear to be mocking, and finds the essential human truth in the serious situation they are making light of (“Don’t be afraid of what God made you”). They initially come off as a band interested in huffing toxic fumes and perpetuating stupid in-jokes, but the further you delve into the treasure trove of Ween, the more you appreciate the value of their gems.
Ween’s Best Known Tunes: “Roses are Free,” “Push Th’ Little Daisies,” “Voodoo Lady,” “Ocean Man,” “Bananas and Blow,” “Gabrielle.”
My First Ween Albums: Chocolate and Cheese and The Mollusk are both classic essentials of the Ween catalogue, and many (most?) fans have been introduced to Ween through these records. They’re located at the perfect intersection in the band’s career between the mad, gleeful creativity of the early years and the skillful musicianship of the later records. If you’re not familiar with Ween, and want a place to start, I recommend these records. Because these are such core recordings, I am leaving them out of this competition entirely. In all seriousness, however, I’d like to use any capital I have built up this week to urge you to check these records out if you’ve never done so.
Live Ween Staples: Ween is known for their great live shows, which are consistently amazing, even if there are some gross hippies in the audience to contend with (thanks a lot, Phish). If you check them out live you’re pretty likely to hear the following tunes: “You Fucked Up,” “Dr. Rock,” “Don’t Get Too Close (2 My Fantasy),” “Touch My Tooter,” “Big Jilm,” “Piss Up a Rope,” “Mr. Richard Smoker,” “Booze Me Up and Get Me High,” “Exactly Where I’m At,” “Even If You Don’t,” “Stroker Ace,” “The Rainbow,” “Transdermal Celebration,” “Zoloft,” “Monique the Freak,” “Fiesta,” “Learnin’ to Love,” “With My Own Bare Hands,” and “Your Party.” These are all great songs, highly recommended by ROTI, but due to their ubiquity in recent Ween setlists, we are setting them aside as well.
One additional item. All of the previous lists have featured 10 deep cuts, while this one features 11. This is not because of a failure of will to eliminate one more song, but rather, as a matter of tribute. As I was attempting to narrow down the list yesterday, listening to a playlist of the final nominees, my beloved iPod “Carl Weathers” leapt to his death from a hoodie pocket into a sink full of soapy water. Carl was on his way out after 5 years of service, no doubt choosing to euthanize himself after experiencing many technical glitches in recent months, but I like to think that he also wanted to lodge a protest against the idea of cutting the list by one. Thus, in honor of the late “Carl Weathers,” I present the top ELEVEN Ween deep cuts.
#11. “Transitions” from Shinola, Vol. 1
“Riding the crest of the communion, it’s a union, Harry Truman is the holy son.”
In a sense, compiling this list is a futile exercise, since Ween themselves have released an amazing record of the band’s finest (unreleased) deep cuts, entitled Shinola, Vol. 1. This is a miraculous record that somewhat bedeviled Ween after the fact, as fans clamored for “Shinola 2.” It didn’t occur to any of them that Ween took the time to curate the greatest and best of their unreleased tracks and wasn’t planning to crank out three or four more editions.
Anyway, I think “Transitions” is one of the best songs on that record because its hypnotic vocals and stellar groove (guitar, bass, drums and keys all sound amazing) show Ween’s total musical mastery. This song will lull you into a mindstate so delightful, you may never wish to emerge. As with many Ween songs, the lyrical elements are full of bizarre wordplay and imagery. A sweet harmony comes in on the third rendition of the verse to complete the overall effect.
But perhaps my favorite part of the song is the musical joke that comes at the end, when Ween milks the final chord resolution about as far as they possibly can. Makes me laugh every time.
#10. “Tried and True” from Quebec
“Can you dig in my soul, could you smell my (w)hole…life?”
This is an amazing song. The first half of “Tried and True” recollects the Beatles’ mid-career sound, first with guitar work and then with a harmonium/synth that sneaks in a little later. The melody is gentle and thoughtful, albeit with a slightly overwrought vocal style. Just when you think the guys are playing it straight, however, they drop the above lyric, with its double-entendre butt joke. Yes!
The tasty bridge that gives way to the solo indicates that a slightly more off-the-wall aspect is beginning to sneak into the song. Sure enough, the second half shows Ween overlaying some more absurd elements, to great effect. First, there’s a delightful harmony that augments the melody both in notes and rhythm. Then, there’s a voiceover saying words like “Creation” with meaningful overtones. Some “aah”s of great portent rise up in the background. That’s when you realize once and for all that this song is awesome.
#9. “You Were The Fool” from 12 Golden Country Greats
“Think about it, turn around, and go back to the quiet sound of Jim and Dan prancin’ round the pool…you were the fool.”
12 Golden Country Greats is really an one-of-a-kind album. Fresh off of making Chocolate and Cheese, Ween recorded a bunch of country music demos and headed to Nashville, where they enlisted highly-skilled session players to sit in on steel guitar, harmonica, fiddle, and so forth. The results were miraculous, and the whole album is packed full of gems. I went back and forth on which song(s) to include on this list, and ultimately settled on this one, which I think is a perfect example of Ween’s take on classic country.
The melody of this song is timeless, especially on the chorus. The arrangement is joyous, with gentle guitar strumming aided by superb pedal steel, light fiddle, and steady-trot drumming. It all sounds like a prototypical country song from the golden era, until you start listening to some of the lyrics — how many classic country tunes made reference to dudes prancin’ round the pool? Not enough, in my opinion. To add another weird element, there’s some crazy feedback that comes in at the end. None of this undercuts the beauty and strength of this song, which would sound great in the catalog of any famed Nashville ensemble. Can you imagine Alison Krauss doing this?
#8. “Marble Tulip Juicy Tree” from God Ween Satan
“So this song’s about the loving things that you are to me. Just stay away from my adenoids…marble tulip juicy tree.”
Many listeners prefer the early years of Ween, during which Dean and Gene did any drugs they could get their hands on, hung around with a character calling himself Mean Ween, and recorded their songs on cheapo recording equipment. It’s hard to argue with them when you listen to a song like this. What’s astonishing about these early recordings is that even though they have zero studio polish and oft-amateurish musicianship, the songwriting is incredibly strong. This really comes through when you see the band live nowadays and watch them crush songs that had potential only hinted at in the original recordings.
“Marble Tulip Juicy Tree” is a classic. The bizarre vocal sound was a trademark of Ween’s early years (most famously on “Little Daisies”) but despite the weirdness of the lyrics and other elements, it is at heart a really strongly written psychedelic pop song. The chorus is epically awesome and induces a feeling of pure triumph. When Dean drops in with a guitar solo around the 2:30 mark, you get a taste of the shredding that this band is capable of — overtracked guitar parts soar upwards over the rhythm section until they are overwhelmed by a completely baffling reverbed-vocal speech. This song is 100% distilled joy.
#7. “The Final Alarm” from live public access appearance, 1997
“And in the night it’s time to flee…we fly by night and sail by sea.”
Shredfest!! All credit to C. Dave for suggesting this gem. Ween doesn’t play this one often, but when they do, get ready to have your mind blown. Apparently the above recording was one of the first live performances with Ween’s full band during their prime years, and all the excellence of this ensemble is on display here. Dave Dreiwitz takes a prominent role blasting on the bass, and Glenn McClelland is going nuts on the synth, but perhaps most surprising is drummer Claude Coleman Jr. (seen here in a monster costume) laying down some menacing vocals. This is a true deep cut!
Ween gained a ton of fans when Phish started regularly covering “Roses are Free,” but they never really got on board with the whole jam-band scene. Performances like this show you why. Ween might have recorded a ton of psychedelic rock, but at the end of the day, they’d rather shred than “jam.” “Final Alarm” is a true epic of shred-dom and a must-listen for any Ween aficionado.
#6. “Did You See Me?” from Shinola, Vol. 1
“Did you see me flying through the galaxy? Believe me.”
When you’ve honed your Ween fandom on tracks like “The Going Gets Tough from the Getgo,” “Roses,” “Little Daisies,” and “Hey Fat Boy (Asshole),” it can be something of a surprise to go and check the band out live and find out that their singer is fucking awesome. “Did You See Me?”, recorded during the Mollusk sessions, is a great showcase for Gene Ween’s masterful pipes.
I wish I could have found a video to embed that contained the song in its entirety, but this one does a great job of adding some visuals to the heady instrumental elements. Dean Ween crushes it on this track, and the Andrew Weiss production is amazing as always. If I was gong to travel to outer space, I would definitely want to listen to Ween along the way.
#5. “Stay Forever” demo from White Pepper sessions
“And I want to know, do you feel the same way? ‘Cause if you do, I want to stay forever.”
One of Ween’s secret strengths is the ability to write a sweet love song with the best of them. “Stay Forever,” from White Pepper, is one of their finest. As I narrowed down the nom’s for this list, I had the studio version cued up — it has some great steel guitar and tasty vocal harmonies — but along the way I discovered this demo version. It isn’t as polished, of course, but I think it really showcases Ween’s ability to compose and perform tunes that will make the indie ladies swoon. Gene sings this tender ballad in a way that will melt the coldest heart. What a gem.
#4. “Beacon Light” from The X-Files: The Album
“Somewhere beyond the sun…where an atom splits and an ounce is a ton.”
This is a bad ass anthem for intergalactic travelers. Don’t forget to pack it for your trip to Venus, along with your jammypac of course.
The chorus of this song is one of my favorite moments in Ween’s music. The bass on this tune is superb and works perfectly alongside the guitar — to say nothing of the vicious guitar solo that Dean unleashes at the song’s midpoint. Youtube user NEEDERC has done an amazing job of adding visuals that enhance the experience as Gene and Dean take us on an interstellar journey of rock.
If the last minute or so of this song doesn’t rock you to your core, then I don’t know what to tell you. You may be beyond help.
#3. “The Grobe” from White Pepper
“Bring it to a boil and simmer low…put the noodle on the griddle as it climbs the grobe.”
Perhaps Ween’s best straight-ahead rocker. I couldn’t begin to tell you what this song is about, nor do I care when that merciless guitar riff comes in to obliterate any thoughts of resistance. Gene’s vocals twist upon themselves with dense word magic as Dean pounds out sludgy chords, and then elevates with a histrionic solo. The harmonies that segue in afterwards bring this song to a new level.
Just listen to this and then try to tell me it isn’t freaking amazing…I will have my headphones in, playing “The Grobe” so loud that I cannot hear you.
#2. “The Stallion pt. 3” from All Request Live
“I spotted you in the sun…I called your name from a distance…I knew you were the one. I called again.”
The original version of this song is one of Ween’s most genius moments. I am going with this live version, forwarded to me by Schmentz, because it’s very faithful to the original but adds the more polished skill the band has developed over the years (Claude Coleman is particularly filthy on drums). However, both are well worth a listen and function as two facets of one amazing tune. This song is from their major-label debut, Pure Guava, which is almost incomprehensibly great (and almost incomprehensible as well).
Like many of the best Ween songs, “The Stallion pt. 3” combines killer songwriting with weirdly hilarious vocals. Just when you think you know where a lyric is going, it twists a little bit and heads in a different direction. The section in which Gene intones, “Hey dude, he’s the Stallion,” is completely random (hearkening back to earlier, more explicit “Stallion” songs) and yet one of my favorite elements of the song. This is a beautiful song that nonetheless remains irredeemably strange. Classic Ween.
#1. “Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese” from Peel Sessions (1992)
“When you’ve had your fun, and your work is done, you must not succumb.”
Yet again, I’m including a rare version for the diehards (Youtube user Destr100 has an insanely good collection of rarities), but I also refer you to the amazing original version from Ween’s self produced opus, The Pod.
Great songwriting doesn’t always have to be about wanting to make love to a dream girl, fighting to conquer the world, seeking inner enlightenment, or needing to break loose and dance. Sometimes, it can be about being weary and just wanting a delicious “Jersey Breakfast” to soothe the soul. Let’s be honest, it’s an emotional state that most of us find far more relatable. “Pork Roll Egg and Cheese” is a song for all people, a song that captures the simple graces of a fine meal with friends, the enjoyment of one’s mama, baby mama, or figurative soul mama serving up a tasty treat at the table for the happiness of all. It’s the sound of a well-earned banquet at the end of a long and hard day. It’s the sound of the human condition.
This song has a terrific melody line, superb lyrics, and a pop sensibility that belies its source material and talk of “eggy dingle”. If there is anything tastier than the harmonies on this song, I don’t even want to know about it.
Both versions (live and studio) feature the awesome coda “Kaiser bun….pork roll egg and….cheeeeeeese,” but I particularly love the ending of the studio version where Gene and Dean whisper, “That’s the end…sshhhh…that’s it dudes, thanks.”
Ween had a cameo in the otherwise forgettable film “It’s Pat!”. This great excerpt includes the scene in which Ween track down Pat and get him/her to play their show.
Pizza Hut engaged Ween to compose a jingle for their stuffed-crust pizza. Once they heard the wondrous creation, they were too freaked out to handle it and quickly cancelled the deal. Ween then recorded a version with a voiceover that made the song even better. This video contains both versions.
Mr. Ed performs “The Stallion, pt. 2”:
Finally, here’s a kick ass song by Queens of the Stone Age featuring Dean Ween on guitar and vocals. This is a true face-melter.
|DEEP CUTS INDEX|