1. “Undone (The Sweater Song),” Weezer
Perhaps the quintessential sweater song, Weezer’s “Undone” isn’t so much about wearing as sweater as it is about one slowly unraveling. It’s an apt metaphor for both a relationship’s undoing and one of the partner’s social anxiety, with frontman Rivers Cuomo equating the couple’s demise to his seemingly crippled psyche, which he says will be “lying on the floor” having “come undone.” While the female half of the couple isn’t exactly malicious in her thread pulling, Cuomo insists it would be easier to “be friends and just walk away.”
2. “Sweater,” Meryn Cadell
Thought by some to be the inspiration for the aforementioned Weezer track, Meryn Cadell’s “Sweater” became an underground hit in 1992. The sung-spoken track features Cadell mulling over the virtues of a high school beau and his varsity knitwear, all over a looped, 20-second clip of Syd Dale’s “Walk & Talk.” (Fans of Nada Surf’s “Popular” might also recognize the song’s style.) It’s all rather straightforward, with lyrics lauding the “intrinsic incredible emotion” inherent in “the worn, warm sweater belonging to a boy.”
3. “Autumn Sweater,” Yo La Tengo
A choice cut from one of Yo La Tengo’s best records, “Autumn Sweater” contains some of the longtime band’s first forays into electronic music, as well as some of the group’s most evocative and cozy lyrics. Ira Kaplan’s voice is a little reedy as he sings about a waning relationship struggling against outside influences. Life would be perfect, he surmises, if “we could slip away / Me with nothing to say / And you in your autumn sweater.” It’s an insular track about an insular love, with the sweater acting as the perfect metaphor for fleeting feelings.
4. “Sweater,” Terry Reid
Underappreciated British singer-songwriter Terry Reid released “Sweater” in 1968 as part of his similarly unheralded Bang, Bang You’re Terry Reid LP. Reid’s folk-rock veers a little toward Tropicália on “Sweater,” which could be off-putting for a track about a garment that’s snuggly and warm and made for winter chills, but sung in Reid’s whimsical voice and accented with trilling flutes, the whole thing becomes an instant earworm. Lines like “If I had met her wearing the sweater / I would feel better than I do today” are accented so sharply that they stick to song-hungry brains like burrs on wool.
5. “Sweater Weather,” The Neighbourhood
Artsy black-and-white music video and ostensible weather-related title aside, The Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather” is about getting laid, plain and simple. This is clear upon even the most cursory examination of the lyrics crooned by the band’s frontman, Jesse James Rutherford. Despite his pleas for his ladylove to put her hands in the armholes of his sweater—because it’s just too cold outside, of course—he’s far more interested in separating her from her clothes, especially “those little high-waisted shorts.” In case all of that was coming across as too subtle, Rutherford elaborates with: “I’m coming down / One love, two mouths (no shirt, no blouse).”
6. “Red Sweater,” The Aquabats
While third-wave ska bands often defined themselves by their fun-loving aesthetics and party-friendly sounds, Orange County’s The Aquabats were always the most kid-friendly. “Red Sweater,” from the band’s second album, The Fury Of The Aquabats!, is a schoolyard song that sees the protagonist fall in love with a girl in, unsurprisingly, a red sweater. The song features couplets indicative of such innocent affection: “I’m in love, it’s great / See you again, can’t wait,” as well as shared adolescent interests, such as chasing down ice cream trucks. It’s no surprise the band’s singer The MC Bat Commander (Christian Jacobs) went on to create Yo Gabba Gabba!, as The Aquabats had a way of tapping into childish joy.
7. “Striped Sweater,” SpongeBob Squarepants
It’s only about 30 seconds long, but SpongeBob’s three-line attempt to calm down the crowd at Krusty Krab is an improvised song he calls “Striped Sweater,” and it’s directed primarily at a cross-looking fish in the front row that is wearing a striped sweater. “The best time to wear a striped sweater is all the time,” SpongeBob croons, “the one with a collar turtleneck, that’s the kind.” He ends with “’cause when you’re wearing that one special sweater…” and then he gets cut off. If only we learned how this musical masterpiece had ended.
8. “Varsity Sweater,” Weston
Pennsylvania pop-punk band Weston looked to the past on its excellent 1996 album, Got Beat Up, with a slew of songs about clumsy, difficult adolescence. The upbeat two-minute pop song “Varsity Sweater” celebrates a secret love affair, as singer-guitarist Jim Snyder sings about “that girl in the varsity sweater with her boyfriend’s letter” who’s “always making eyes at me” and “passing notes in history.” It’s a high school fantasy (Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” imagined a similar scenario) written by twentysomething dudes who spent most of their days in a van.
9. “12 Sweaters Red,” The Promise Ring
What do 12 red sweaters have to do with this Promise Ring super deep cut? (It appeared on the band’s demo and on the Ground Rule Double compilation.) There’s no direct correlation, just singer-guitarist Davey Von Bohlen’s inscrutable, impressionistic lyrics that exude a quiet longing. Being a band from the chilly Midwest, The Promise Ring mentions sweaters in other songs too: “Stop Playing Guitar” (“It’s 100 degrees and you’ve got a sweater on”); “My Life Is At Home” (“Put away your long johns and your thick sweaters”).
10. “Sweater,” The Squires Of The Subterrain
Beatles-esque one-man band The Squires Of The Subterrain repeatedly sings about “the buttons on her sweater” in the chorus of this psychedelic song, but the man who wrote the track—Christopher Earl—freely admits that the lyrics are less about the sweater than the girl wearing it, as it was inspired by his frustration with the romantic relationship he was in at the time. “My girlfriend was a bit of a handful, and I was trying to process what was going on,” Earl explained to The A.V. Club. “I could’ve called it ‘Pictures On A Screen,’ but the idea of calling it ‘Sweater’ seemed more appealing, because it was more cryptic.”
11. “Lime Green Sweater,” The Negro Problem
Given that The Negro Problem’s Welcome Black album has been described as sounding “like The Bonzo Dog Band, Vernon Reid, Cole Porter, and Arthur Lee collaborating on a tribute to Jacques Brel,” by Amazon, it should come as no surprise that the lyrics to “Lime Green Sweater”—written by the band’s frontman Stew—are more than a little oblique. The bulk of the song is about a librarian known as Mrs. X and a teacher named Mr. Wayne, with the titular sweater not actually making an appearance until the final verse, when it’s introduced as the latest fashion favored by Miss Elder, who’s “always got something wicked inside her purse.” It’s never clarified exactly what Miss Elder pulls out of her sweater, but given that it inspires her to say, “Maybe if we burned this rope together, yeah,” it’s reasonable to presume that it’s probably smokeable.
12. “Green Cotton Sweater,” Casiotone For The Painfully Alone
When an artist proudly trumpets himself in his name as being “painfully alone,” lyrics about flying solo are de rigueur, but this track—which originally debuted on CFTPA’s sophomore effort, Pocket Symphonies For Lonely Subway Cars—is written from the point of view of someone who’s actually instigating the loneliness for a change. At the end of a summer filled with “kisses under the shooting stars,” “rides on the handlebars,” and “drive-ins in the backseat of your parents’ car,” the narrator says so long to his temporary significant other, telling her not to take it personal before adding, “You can wear your heart on your sleeve, but pull your sweater over.” Ouch.
13. “The Girl In The Orange Sweater,” Stephen Bishop
The only real release of Stephen Bishop’s “The Girl In The Orange Sweater” was on a self-released collection of demo recordings, which means that it had no chance of repeating the success of his ’70s soft-rock classic “On And On.” Still, there’s something catchy about this track, which features Bishop collaborating with songwriter Christopher Ward about a fellow who spies a colorfully garbed woman—that he previously had a memorable encounter with, which he wants to repeat—on a train. After following her off the train and into the street, he promptly loses track of her, at which point he makes the spontaneous decision to set up camp at the same spot where they first met: “By the café light / Where strangers meet / At the end of the night.” The low-key move, while undeniably romantic, ultimately proves ineffective: The song’s final lines find the narrator still waiting in vain for the girl in the orange sweater to return.
14. “White Sweater,” Romeo Void
“White Sweater,” by post-punk/new wave cult figures Romeo Void, is partly about being assertive. In the middle verse, the protagonist knees an aggressive blind date after unwanted sexual advances, on a date she apparently went on to try to forget an old flame (“I knew he was stupid, but I needed a replacement”). But much of “White Sweater” focuses on a loss of control. The titular white sweater symbolizes anxiety and helplessness, as it’s part of a recurring nightmare: The protagonist’s sister has fallen down an elevator shaft while wearing “a limp white sweater.” In a more horrifying turn of events, the protagonist notes she gave that item of clothing to her sibling. It’s never clear whether this means the main character was meant to take that deadly fall instead of her sister—or whether there’s just massive guilt that this gift became associated with catastrophe.
15. “In A Sweater Poorly Knit,” mewithoutYou
In this mewithoutYou song, the sweater reference adds descriptive color: “In a sweater poorly knit and an unsuspecting smile / Little Moses drifts downstream in the Nile.” The raggedness of the clothing implies someone humble and innocent, which makes sense considering this line is a Biblical reference to Moses as a baby. Specifically, the scene points to the Exodus 2:1-10 story where Moses’ mother saves her son from being killed by putting him in a basket near the great river, and he’s subsequently rescued by a pharaoh’s daughter. The sweater doesn’t factor much into the rest of the song, although certain lines (“If I come without a thing, then I come with all I need”) certainly circle back to the song’s modest beginnings.