The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)

Album: The Red Album (2008)

Songfacts®:

  • This is a loose adaptation of the 1848 Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts." The song's melody has been borrowed from on many previous occasions including in Aaron Copland's 1944 ballet score "Appalachian Spring." Also English hymnwriter Sydney Carter adapted the tune for his 1963 song "Lord of the Dance."
  • Bassist Scott Shriner has described this song as "Weezer's 'Bohemian Rhapsody.'" He has also said that it is "a masterpiece that includes ten different styles of music based around a common theme."
  • Rivers Cuomo practices a form of Buddhist meditation, which is a method of self-transformation through self-observation and introspection. The Weezer frontman told Rolling Stone magazine that this form of "insight meditation" helped him in writing this ambitious track that features 11 segued verses, each in a different style of music. He said: "Once I started meditating, I gradually got more spontaneous and free. I think you can hear it in a song like the 'The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.' Several years ago, I don't think I could have taken on a song that's so risky, because I had a fear of trying new things. It's the most ambitious song I've ever attempted. It took me a few weeks of writing. And lyrically, it's a huge departure for me. I have a long history of writing songs from a victim type of place, and in this, I'm bragging."
  • Guitarist Brian Bell told musicomh.com that this song's use of vocal harmonies was close to his heart: "What always excited me was our attention to vocal harmonies. We sort of lost that with Pinkerton, and then we got it back a bit with The Green Album, which was all about the blending of voices naturally, as if in an auditorium. A problem that we've had before is that everyone has to pronounce their words the same way. I'm from Tennessee, but Rivers is from Connecticut. So we pronounce differently a word like 'her,' sometimes it was more like 'here,' and we'd have to be careful with that."
  • Cuomo spoke to American Songwriter Magazine about the genesis of this song: "I had heard this song called 'Party Like a Rock Star' [by the JT Experience], and I was really looking at those lyrics and the different themes. Like, what sort of things you would talk about and how you would brag and what specific details you would talk about… so I started rapping over this first part of 'The Greatest Man' and just took it from there. Musically, there's a variation to each [of the] 16 bars, and I wanted to do the same thing with the lyrics, so the first section would be a rap-type of character, rapping about a particular subject. And the next section was Slipknot, and I would sing a Slipknot take on the same lyrical material, and so on. It turned out that it didn't work; it was too disjointed. Musically, I thought it flowed well enough, but lyrically, I thought it needed to be more consistent, so I just maintained the same persona pretty much from beginning to end."
  • Rivers Cuomo talked about the original inspiration of the song: "I just had this really strong and kind of sudden conviction that I am sick of writing verse-chorus-verse songs. I wanted to do something completely different."

    He added, "I thought of classical theme and variation music." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France

Comments: 1

  • Steven from Gilbert, AzWeezer's second, maybe third best track, the harmony's are AMAZING and the falsetto solo blew me away the first time i heard it. Truly the greatest band ever.
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