Who They Are: Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo were junior high school friends from New Hope, Pennsylvania, who have been making music together under their noms du rock Gene Ween and Dean Ween since 1984. In their early days, the pair primarily recorded and performed as a beat-box-backed duo, but by the late 1990s, a live version of the band featuring Glenn McClelland (keyboards), Dave Dreiwitz (bass), and Claude Coleman Jr. (drums) emerged, and that quintet continues to make music together on-stage to this day. (Esteemed producer Andrew Weiss was also a live member for several years in the 1990s). Around 2011, Gene resigned from Ween to deal with some serious substance abuse and mental health issues, later releasing a pair of albums under his birth name, while Dean launched his own Dean Ween Group, featuring other live members of their parent band. Dean and a cleaned-up Gene buried the hatchet and reunited in 2015 for ongoing live performances, though they’ve not released any new studio material since their hiatus.
When I First Heard Them: Around 1991, when I saw two songs from their sophomore album on the Shimmy Disc Volume 3 video collection. I was a huge and devoted fan of Shimmy Disc, a record label formed by former-Shockabilly/Butthole Surfers and future-Bongwater singer-bassist-producer Kramer, so after watching Ween’s videos for “Pollo Asado” and “Pork Roll Egg and Cheese,” I felt obligated to acquire their debut album, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness (released on the then-similarly influential Twin/Tone label) and their sole Shimmy Disc album release, The Pod. I loved the debut and liked the sophomore album, and I then acquired their third record, Pure Guava, when it was released in 1992. It was good, too, but Dean and Gene really took things to the next level with their following release, Chocolate and Cheese, which I anointed as my Album of the Year for 1994. I’ve stuck with Dean and Gene ever since, and they’ve rarely disappointed with an additional five studio albums, and a handful of singles and EPs, and loads of live releases issued across the years that followed. I’d certainly love it if they returned to the studio at some point, but their extant body of work is pretty spectacular already, so it’s certainly not a show-stopper for me if they just continue to exist as a live act.
Why I Love Them: I tend to think of Ween in the same ways that I think about Frank Zappa: They’re artists of profound technical competence, with strong and influential songwriting skills, who also just happen to recognize that humor in music is not necessarily a bad thing, the nastier and/or sillier the humor the better, much of the time. Every single Ween album has contained at least a couple of songs that made me actually, literally “LOL” when I first spun them, and that’s also not a bad thing, not at all. Behind the chuckles, though, Ween also offer some truly sublime songwriting, production, and performances in their studio work, and their ability to pick any musical genre and absolutely master it is pretty much unparalleled in my experience. Probably the best example of that is their 1995 album, 12 Golden Country Greats, which found them offering ten tremendous country-and-western songs, backed by an A-list assortment of Nashville session players and singers, more accustomed to supporting the likes of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash than a pair of drug-addled goofballs from the Philly suburbs. I was deeply amused at the time when the popular music press tended to positively review the album as some sort of deeply authentic country music classic, many critics apparently not investigating the noise and weirdness that had come before it. Gene handles most of the group’s lead vocals, and he’s a deeply talented song-stylist, capable of delivering compelling performances across a variety of styles. Dean, who sings lead on occasion, is a guitar-hero’s guitar hero, and I’ve always appreciated that he tends to admire and respect and pay open tribute to master string-benders like Eddie Hazel and Gary Shider from Parliament-Funkadelic, and Dickey Betts from The Allman Brothers Band. Finally, I have also always appreciated the personal mythology that Gene and Dean have woven around themselves over the years, including the demon Boognish which allegedly directed the pair to begin making music together, and their pursuit of the ephemeral life concept of “brown,” which they have defined as being “f-cked up, but in a good way.” I get that, and I appreciate that, and Ween certainly bring down the brown in ways that most bands can only dream of, if they dared.
#10. “Push th’ Little Daisies,” from Pure Guava (1992)
#9. “Exactly Where I’m At,” from White Pepper (2000)
#8. “Nan,” from GodWeenSatan: The Oneness (1990)
#7. “Fluffy,” from 12 Golden Country Greats (1996)
#6. “Roses Are Free,” from Chocolate and Cheese (1994)
#5. “Friends,” from “The Friends EP” (2007)
#4. “Your Party,” from La Cucaracha (2007)
#3. “Mutilated Lips,” from The Mollusc (1997)
#2. “Transitions,” from Shinola, Vol. 1 (2005)
#1. “Transdermal Celebration,” from Quebec (2003)