Our 10 favorite Beck songs — and yours?
Beck is far from a ”Loser,” baby. Returning with his eighth full-length, the well-reviewed Guero, the 34-year-old is entrancing fans with an album reminiscent of his carefree Odelay days. In celebration of the musical chameleon’s many moods — which over the years have shifted from break-dancing glee to heartwrenching sorrow (Sea Change , anyone?) and back again — here’s a list of his essential tracks. (We narrowed it down to just 10, so post more goodies below.)
”Loser” (Mellow Gold, 1994)
No wonder it’s the song that started it all for Beck: The acoustic guitar twang that kicks it off and the sitar-esque loop that permeates throughout make this one addictive track. Adding to its brilliance is the fact that it’s about something every human can relate to at one time or another — feeling like an idiot. (Hmm… could this be the reason this song is still a staple at frat parties?) And then there are those crazy, inventive lines and images: termites choking on splinters, folks getting crazy with the Cheez-Whiz, and our personal fave, ”In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey.” Whatever that means, it’s awesome.
”Beercan” (Mellow Gold, 1994)
Beck probably had Madchester groups like Happy Mondays, the Farm, and Primal Scream in mind when he wrote this little ditty, with its chipper organ, insane samples (”I’m sad and unhappy”), and weird vocals (is that Mr. Hansen singing, or South Park‘s Mr. Hanky?). Lucky for us, the artist offers advice on how to deal with the musical mayhem: ”Just shake your boots and let it all get loose.” Okay, we’ll do that.
”Devil’s Haircut” (Odelay, 1996)
The opening track (and second single) from Odelay mixes sounds you wouldn’t think normally belong together: blues guitars, organs, and electronic beeps reminiscent of the space-age lounge pop of Esquivel. And let’s not forget the video, which shows Beck walking through NYC wearing a straw cowboy hat (an homage to Midnight Cowboy) while carrying a retro boombox. Could he get any hotter?
”Sissyneck” (Odelay, 1996)
This grossly overlooked song displays Beck’s love of different genres: funk (incessant organ and plunky bass), country (a sexy slide guitar), and the blues (lyrics like ”I got a stolen wife and a rhinestone life and some good ol’ boys”). The whistling introduction puts us over the edge.
”Nicotine and Gravy” (Midnite Vultures, 1999)
The slapping bass, piano crescendos, and obscure samples usually found in sci-fi films from the ’70s make this one of Beck’s wildest songs — its schizophrenic, nostalgic sound makes you feel like you’re tripping out back at Studio 54. And the chorus? Maddeningly catchy: ”I think we’re going crazy/ Her left eye is lazy/ She looks so Israeli/ Nicotine and gravy.” Where does he come up with this stuff?
”Bottle of Blues” (Mutations, 1998)
Beck goes back to his roots (acoustic guitar) on this bouncy country-blues song, about feeling lovesick. Musically, ”Bottle of Blues” is a refreshing break from the generally dirgelike songs found on Mutations. Lyrically, it’s simply brilliant (”Holdin’ hands with an impotent dream, in a brothel of fake energy,” he sings in the chorus).
”Sunday Sun” (Sea Change, 2002)
The breakup of Beck’s seven-year relationship with girlfriend Leigh Limon provides the melancholic shimmer to Sea Change. ”Sunday Sun,” however, offers a ray of hope on an otherwise bleak album — its vocal harmonies lift listeners to ethereal heights.
”Lonesome Tears” (Sea Change, 2002)
Seeming to take his cue from Air’s soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides, Beck uses luscious string arrangements to full effect on this über-depressing tune. Sung with the tenacity of a tortured soul reaching out for his lost love, it delves into the pain hidden within each of us.
”Missing” (Guero, 2005)
Did Beck make a song to swoon to, or to wallow in? Is he happy or sad? That’s the beauty of this bossa nova-inspired piece: You just can’t tell. At first Beck seems to be singing a love song, about going miles down a dirt road to get to that certain someone… but then the mood darkens, as he admits those thoughts have been replaced by others and that he ”Can’t believe these tears are mine.” Originally titled ”Brazillica,” it could easily pass for the long-lost companion to Mutations‘ ”Tropicalia.”
”Girl” (Guero, 2005)
Oh, Beck! You pulled out the bleepy-chirpy electronics we love for the intro and wrote a toe-tapping, happy-ass song… about a serial killer watching his next victim! Precious. We should be disturbed, but just as if it were a Beach Boys song, we’re too busy smiling, clapping our hands, and humming along with the upbeat melody.
What are your favorite Beck tracks?