Unbeknownst to most, I used to worship Beck. He was the soundtrack to the 17th year of my life; at least any of his music I could gather off YouTube. I want this blog post to be a million years long. I'll try to cover all I can. I can honestly say I've heard most every song he's made. That's like 25 years of music. I memorized all the words to "Loser" and thought that made me cool. It's been 10 years, and I still wear my t-shirt with the single art for "Where It's At." I wound up seeing Beck for $5 in Salt Lake City back in 2014. I got secondhand high and my buddy broke his ankle, so I guess you can say it was a great show.
|My undying love for Beck over the years.|
Anyways, I was worried that his upcoming album Colors would just be some kinda half-hearted remake of of his 1999 zany funk album Midnite Vultures. Sure its singles denote this is obviously going to be a a polar opposite to 2014's dreary Morning Phase. But I've taken a liking to his newest single "Up All Night." Of course it's as dancey as anything from Midnite Vultures, but it's not trying to be ridiculous. It's just a well-produced, classy, commendable, funky single. The same can be said for his 2015 single "Dreams," which fortunately is also on the album. What if Colors turns out to be the Beck album packed with simplistic, radio-worthy dance tracks? I'd actually be okay with that.
So, yeah. Beck Hansen. Weird dude. It's hard to attach a single genre to him if you've heard his career's-worth of work, but I've always just considered him "alternative rock." Heck, next to most any radio alt-rock artist, Beck looks like a God. That's because he kinda is.
Starting off as a lo-fi folk artist singing about Mexican food and manure, he magically got a top-10 hit out of his 1994 single "Loser" and has won multiple Grammy's ever since. He's dabbled in psychedelic rock, noise rock, funk, electronica, hip-hop, trip-hop, songwriter-folk, freak-folk, anti-folk, etc. He tries to master a different genre with each album. It doesn't always work, but it's always worth listening to.
I gotta admit, looking back at his early work as an independent artist, it's easy to fall in love with his initial personality. This raspy voice behind a cheap acoustic guitar making all these references to greasy food, the devil, garbage, alcohol... all tied in with irrelevant references to the apocalypse and dropping f-bombs mid-sentence in ways that have no correlation with the actual English language. This would eventually turn into fun, purposely divisive faux-Kerouac-ian rambling. By the late 90s, he started using his lyrics to match his songs' atmospheres. This is rather difficult when you're experimenting with like 100 different genres per album. But this is Beck. He usually knows what he's doing. It's interesting to hear his newer work, where it's seems like he's forcefully trying to send positive messages in his music. It may seem out of character for him, but I think he'll be dishing out another character a couple years from now anyway.
I've already written too much exposition stuff, so here's a list of my favorite Beck songs!
*I was really hoping that Blogger's YouTube function would give me direct video frames for a few more songs, so you'll just have to trust the hyperlinks. Because some of these are deep cuts that true Beck fans need to hear. I know you're out there.
My 25 Favorite Beck Songs
25 'Guess I'm Doing Fine' (Sea Change 2002)
My high school drama teacher once described Sea Change as Beck's "My life sucks so I might as well just kill myself" album. I cannot tell a lie, this song kinda backs up that sentiment.
24 'Harry Partch' (non-album non-single 2009)
I never knew who Harry Partch was until I heard this song. Here, Beck gives a 10+minute tribute to the 20th Century's first microtonal composer with 100% weird AF experimental justice. Probably the craziest thing Beck ever cooked up.
Despite all its cheesiness, it's hard not to love its sincerity. It was refreshing to hear this and know that Morning Phase wasn't going to be some complete Sea Change rip-off.
22 'Ramshackle' (Odelay 1996)
Although Beck recorded billions of acoustic tracks in the 90s, this makes for a comfort food of a closer to the electric, thick Odelay. This song will always remind me of summer.
21 'Beercan' (Mellow Gold 1994)
The only song other than "Loser" that sounds like a single on Mellow Gold, this track was an unexpected predecessor to Beck's Odelay song formulas.
20 'Strange Apparition' (The Information 2006)
The pianos sound gorgeous on this song. And I don't just say stuff like that lightly.
19 'Let's Get Lost' [ft Bat For Lashes] (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse OST 2010)
Although Beck never released any albums between 2008 and 2014, he was busy. He got a group of homies together (including Devandra Banhart + MGMT) to cover 6 entire old albums in full. He produced albums for Charlotte Gainsbourg + Stephen Malkmus. I dare say his coolest work was this gigantic-sounding collaboration with-- who was, at the time, one of indie's hottest artists-- Bat For Lashes. Check it out.
18 'Rowboat' (Stereopathetic Soulmanure 1994)
It's hard to define Beck's influence. For example, Beck recorded this song back when he basically had $0, and it was a mere 2 years later that freaking Johnny Cash would cover it. Respect.
It must have been hard for Beck to pick singles from Odelay. But the use of flute and saxophone on here makes this a standout track in any circumstance.
16 'MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack' (non-album single 1993)
Apparently there are 3 different versions of this song. I will always love this one. You really, really have to listen to the link to find out.
15 'Get Real Paid' (Midnite Vultures 1999)
The first half of Midnite Vultures is pure gold. A personal favorite moment is this sexually awkward attempt at sounding like a modernized Prince. And yes, a group of people actually sing the word "pregnant" in the chorus.
14 'Unforgiven' (Morning Phase 2014)
Not every artist needs a piano ballad. Especially not in alternative rock. But the electric echoes all over this song makes a great centerpiece for Morning Phase, and for that matter, one of the greatest live performances I've ever witnessed.
13 'Pay No Mind (Snoozer)' (Mellow Gold 1994)
This must be the only song ever recorded that uses "dildo" in a totally peripheral manner.
12 'Girl' (Guero 2006)
At this point in his career, I think "Girl" was the closest thing Beck ever wrote to a lovable, sunny pop song. I think he should write tracks like this more often.
11 'Lost Cause' (Sea Change 2002)
"Lost Cause" was the lead single to the eye-watering depressive Sea Change. It's hard to define the magic of this song and why it's stuck around as a classic Beck staple. I love its ultimately broad lyrics and intro/outro sounds that I believe are distorted samples of choir singers.
10 'Nobody's Fault But My Own' (Mutations 1998)
Hard not to love this song upon first listen. The instrumentation is thick and droning, causing a dual moment of deep emotion and neurotic staleness.
9 'Hollywood Freaks' (Midnite Vultures 1999)
It's difficult to compare this song to anything else I've ever heard. It features some of Beck's craziest rap flows, the beat is totally based on 90s West Coast hip-hop, and yet... it's difficult to tell what genre it it intends to be. There's too much happening at once not to get lost in it.
8 'Chemtrails' (Modern Guilt 2008)
Underrated track, underrated album. One of the most sonically innovative Beck ever produced, this track is reminiscent of 60s Pink Floyd. Bass solo and all, I consider this a premature taste of those Tame Impala dudes everyone talks about.
7 'Devil's Haircut' (Odelay 1996)
There's no doubt that people put Odelay into their CD players in 1996 and were immediately impressed by track 1. "Devil's Haircut" samples 3 different 60s tracks, and the album only launches off from there.
6 'Debra' (Midnite Vultures 1999)
Probably Beck's most epic closer, his vocal performance is just as sexy as it is hilarious.
5 'Jack-Ass' (Odelay 1996)
True story: This song is what sold me on Beck. I was 15 year-old in Stockton when I heard this song for the first time. I thought it was the coolest thing I ever heard. I still consider it a dry anthem in Beck's career. And it's fair to note that there's an alternate version of this song that's almost as good, titled "Burro." Beck sings in Spanish and there's a backing Mariachi band. I kid thee not.
4 'It's All In Your Mind' (One Foot In The Grave Japanese edition 1994, non-album single 1995)
My first time hearing this song was amid the Sea Change tracklist. Apparently it was originally recorded back around 1994, and it's just Beck and his acoustic guitar. The dense remake on Sea Change makes it come off as a filler track, but in the mid-90s? I consider this Beck's first truly emotional song. It's something cold and raw. A truly naked moment of clarity.
I've used this song to tune my guitar for the last 10 years. That leading acoustic guitar part is so upfront and pristine, it's the most beautifully obvious E-chord I've ever heard. As a teenager, Beck fooled me into thinking this was a minimal folk song. It's anything but. The production is thick with ghostly synths, reverb vocals and a meddled drum kit tempered to sound like it's straight off Neil Young's Harvest. The whole idea for this song + album is rather brilliant.
2 'Where It's At' (Odelay 1996)
"2 turntables and a microphone." I really shouldn't have to write a blurb about this.
1 'Loser' (Mellow Gold 1994)
Many respectively argue that "Where It's At" is the better track. I just consider this song a "freak hit." Music like this was never meant to be popular, but lo and behold, this is Beck's only top 10 single to date. And it was made on an incredibly low budget. There are few things more definitively "90s!" than "Loser." Heck, this very blog is titled after a quote from this song! It's a classic.
...And of course, here's how I'd rank all of Beck's albums!
My Favorite Beck Albums
9 Guero (2005)
8 The Information (2006)
7 Mutations (1998)
6 Morning Phase (2014)
Miraculous, really. The pothead who recorded "Satan Gave Me A Taco" in his bedroom won music's most prestigious, glossy award over 20 years later. I actually love this album. I feel like my #6+#5+#4 on this list are interchangeable, so take this low ranking with a grain of salt. It's no secret that this is supposed to be a positivist sunshine sister album to Sea Change, but he kinda nailed it. There's a grandeur on this album incomparable to anything else Beck has ever done.
5 Modern Guilt (2008)
I bought this album the week it came out, so maybe I have a bias. It's a shame that lots of new Beck fans don't even know this album exists. A 10-song, 33-minute affair with production from Danger Mouse and background vocals from Cat Power, Beck tries sounding like a dark-tinted version of The Zombies. Brief, 60s psychedelic rock songs about anxiety and apocalypse. Songs like "Orphans" and "Modern Guilt" have stayed strong.
4 Mellow Gold (1994)
3 Midnite Vultures (1999)
2 Sea Change (2002)
1 Odelay (1996)
This sounds like a terrible idea. And it turned out perfect. Of course only a couple other Beck albums sound like this one, but if you want to flex Beck's artistic value and legacy, here's your titan.
In closing, here's a video of Beck jamming with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Beastie Boys' Mike D in 1994.