20 Years Ago: Nerf Herder Worships Van Halen, Gets Too Close to Journey on Their Debut
The massive popularity of Weezer’s first album and Green Day’s Dookie paved the way for dozens of punk-pop bands singing about reveling in being uncool to grab at the brass ring. One of them was Nerf Herder, whose debut was released on Arista Records Dec. 3, 1996.
Hailing from Santa Barbara, Calif., the trio took their name from an insult thrown at Han Solo by Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, which helped established their geek credentials. A demo of their song “Sorry” wound up in the hands of Joey Cape of Lagwagon, who was looking for songs for a compilation to launch his My Records label. But that led to the group recording a 10-song, 30-minute album that was released in August.
One of Nerf Herder’s songs, “Van Halen,” got added to San Francisco radio station KITS. The reaction from listeners was so strong that modern rock stations around the country picked it up. The track was an ode to the David Lee Roth era of the group, referencing a handful of their classics — like “Eruption,” “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Dance the Night Away” — and suggesting that they went downhill after Roth’s 1985 departure. “Sammy Hagar, is this what you wanted, man? / Dave lost his hairline but you lost your cool buddy / Can’t drive 55 / I’ll never buy your lousy records again,” Parry Gripp sang in the last verse.
Its success also attracted the attention of the major labels, with Arista winning out. They picked up the record and put it out towards the end of the year, with slightly different artwork. But there was one change to the music that they had to make, in “Easy Mark.”
Its lyrics referenced a “small town girl livin’ in a lonely world,” a “city boy born and raised in South Detroit” and a “midnight train goin’ anywhere.” Rather than face a lawsuit by Journey for ripping off “Don’t Stop Believin’,” they came up with new words and re-recorded the song.
Although their tenure on Arista lasted only that one record, Nerf Herder have persisted, albeit with several lineup changes — Gripp and drummer Steve Sherlock have been the constant members. They’ve recorded four more albums, including 2016’s Rockingham, which was released on their own Golfshirt Records.
The Top 100 Albums of the '90s