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“Dolby’s Top 50 Beck Songs”


Are you in the mood for Beck? The very question almost seems absurd, given his pantheon of stylistic variety in his catalogue. Or you could state it as a conditional phrase: if you’re not in the mood for Beck, find a different one of his CD’s and you will be. Without question, this list should corroborate that phenomenon and, arguably, cement this LA country-funk rhyme-spitter as the typifying force of such folly. 2019’s Hyperspace, too, it shouldn’t be understated, fits like a glove into Beck’s catalogue in this way and even occupies a unique cog therein: the poppy, vibe-y “chill” to enjoy in a group or alone, almost like the perfect soundtrack for looking back on, or ruminating on, the rest of his work, to.

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50 “Wow” (Colors)

Nobody would probably confuse this with Beck’s most inspired lyrical performance but to me it marks as a certain turning point in trap, when it suffused itself into the mainstream pop world as having of course been behooved by Mr. Little Jeans’ “Waking up” just about the year before. Beck is on the production team for the song, which was released as a single in fall 2016, along with Cole M.G.N.

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49 “Mutherfu**er” (Mellow Gold)

It always baffles me why some people don’t “get” this song: Beck grew up in a sociological environment of performance art, anyway, what with his grandfather Al’s involvement with Andy Warhol and New York, and so I think developed a predilection for stepping outside of himself and taking on a bizarre perspective or disposition. This song is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, obviously, a sort of half-hardcore half-alternative burp of noise from a theatrically belligerent anti-hero of some sort.

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48 “Lord Only Knows” (Odelay)

That’s Mike Millius, according to Wikipedia, for all you trivia buffs out there, on that scream that opens this song. Why does this song open with a scream? I’ve often wondered why Beck included this song, a rare country jam with a live drummer among its cohorts, on the album at all: but really his voice hits some pretty interesting timbres when it belts out this high, lonesome number, and over time it’s seemed to ingratiate itself to its surroundings well enough.

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47 “Alcohol” (“Loser”)

One thing you can’t deny about “Alcohol” is in turn true about a huge chunk of Beck’s material: it’s DIFFERENT, in this case oozing obstinately out of your speakers as a twisted, half-dead paean to what seems to be his favorite liquefied escape, if running mates like “Beercan” are any indication. Gentle acoustic strumming and mellow, treated vocals lead the song into a bass drum/dissonance attack at the end which features this uncannily well developed dual noise interface that can be attributed to God knows what, at this point.

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46 “Scarecrow” (Guero)

Like Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times,” I think, this late-Guero cut finds a way to be funky while still not plotting a bass stab on the one beat, which is theoretically supposed to be a faux-pas in funk. But at this point in his career I think Beck had gotten good at making his showmanship nice and discreet, whereas before it might have been not so much indiscreet as cloaked in sarcastic slacker kitsch, of course.

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45 “Cellphone’s Dead” (The Information)

For anyone who’s only listened to this album on shrooms and never looked at the liner notes in their life, this is the tune with the eight year old kid saying “One by one I’ll knock ya out” in the chorus and then “This jam is real” at the end. By the way, you’re my hero, if that applies to you.

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44 “Sweet Sunshine” (Mellow Gold)

So naturally, the logical progression from gentle, barely audible acoustic singer/songwriter fare would be another one of these boisterous, unapproachable sonic fu**-fests, this one maybe not quite as intimidating and weird as “Alcohol” but still just hilariously unpleasing and quintessentially Beck, a product of maybe posh rage and expressionist ambition. Yeah, right.

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43 “Get Real Paid” (Midnite Vultures)

I’m probably not the exact salesman Geffen will hire anytime soon to shout the greatness of Midnite Vultures from the rooftops: still to just enough of an extent this cut kind of fills itself with so much of the gaudy, showy and extraneous as to make a sort of dystopic masterpiece in its own right, which I’m guessing is what Midnite Vultures was attempting to be at its core from the start.

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42 “We Live Again” (Mutations)

In some of my more stoned-out, myopic moments I’ve actually been known to tab Mutations as Beck’s best album: it might be high-balling it a little bit but still, narrative pieces like this one prove that the artist was going through a pretty essential period of general sociological heartache, getting through some stuff that would probably go on to feed his work on this album and for the rest of his career, too.

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41 “Sunday Sun” (Mellow Gold)

Giving Sea Change a rest for a while (for some reason I suspect I’m not the only person who’s done this, given its emotionally unwieldy subject matter), you could probably easily forget how broad and multifarious the instrumentation is in tracks like this one, which features electric high hats along with live bongos, piano, hazy guitar and even a glockenspiel. The songwriting does it justice too, building to a simple and memorable chorus and boring a hole in your heart the whole way.

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40 “Steal My Body Home” (Mellow Gold)

Wikipedia accredits sitar only to track one on this album but I’m pretty sure that’s a mistake: not a lot of other instruments sound like the Indian stringed contraptions, that is, and this track is certainly rendered one of the trippiest musical experiences imaginable by something, oddly grounded and given authenticity by Beck’s lyrics which seem to siphon straight from traditional Delta Blues.

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39 “Dark Places” (Hyperspace)

Propelled by a programmed tom sound courtesy of one Pharrell Williams you might heard of that seems to have a life and voice of its own, “Dark Places” settles down into the general median Hyperspace m.o. in due time, with poppy listenability and catchy approachability governing its vocal run-throughs which also manage to sound weary and damaged enough to resonate as real.

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38 “Black Tambourine” (Guero)

If you listen REAL hard you can hear that faint, cute little tambourine chirping its voice out on the two’s and four’s but at its heart this song is great alt-rock, sort of like a median amalgamation to follow the garage revival of early in this decade. Given much of the subject matter of this album, too, it’s nice to have an upbeat, jolly tune like this to gallop along on toward sustaining some energy.

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37 “Soul Suckin’ Jerk” (Mellow Gold)

Per Wikipedia, which I should probably at this point give all my blog royalties to if I earn any, Beck after dropping out and getting rejected from the performing arts school “worked at a string of menial jobs, including loading trucks and operating a leaf blower,” which presumably roughly the kind of thing this song in general pertains to (you’ll recognize the “leaf blower” from “Beercan,” perhaps). But if I may make a hypothesis on this song Beck sets it up as starkly contrastive in style against gentle, melodic numbers like “Blackhole” as a way of echoing the dichotomy in his own life — his celestial, theoretical views of what beautiful music should be against the harsh reality of his need for maniacal catharsis to attack his personal, immediate calamities.

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36 “Corvette Bummer” (“Loser”)

You might never believe me but my father, who was born in 1955 and just passed away of a heart attack last month (his diet was really terrible) liked “Loser” and even had the CD single, which went “Loser”-“Corvette Bummer”-“Alcohol”-“Soul Suckin’ Jerk (Reject)”-“Fume”; the last song was a pretty entertaining tale of doing nitrous in a truck with a buddy at the heights of which the culprit “don’t know if we’re dead / Or what the fu**”. “Corvette Bummer” is kind of a sister track to “Loser,” employing a similar method or rapped, word-salad lyricism, this time over a funkier beat that could have gone with even a Big L rhyme, perhaps, instead of such a corny lookin’ white boy.

35 “Blackhole” (Mellow Gold)

“Blackhole” is the strange and trippy album closeur to Mellow Gold which surely shows off about the pinnacle of Beck’s melodic sense, at this point in his career (which kinda isn’t saying much), and even features some tense, beautiful violin at the end.

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34 “Ramshackle” (Odelay)

Moving on to another gorgeous album closeur here, “Ramshackle” takes a similarly down tone to “Blackhole” but the mood is almost pleasantly looser and even jazzier, replete again with beautiful acoustic guitar but importantly as well some well miked, ambient percussion.

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33 “Elevator Music” (The Information)

I couldn’t believe Pitchfork called Beck’s rapping “rhythmically challenged” on this album because I thought this album opener showed off some pretty fresh spittin’… of course I am pretty da** white, probably. But it plays as a curious resignation to shi**y music too: “Put the elevator music on” and Beck finally seems to have come full circle into the “slacker” who wouldn’t really care what music was playing around him — slacker being something the world had always wanted him to be more so than any purposefulness of his own.

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32 “Missing” (Guero)

Guero was really a “return to form” form Beck in 2006 in the sense of a “return to form” actually mocking the general blueprint of some former album (Odelay) and hence being tautologically inferior but still listenable enough as to whet fans over who were missing said album. “Missing,” then, in all its melancholy and pessimism, jaunts along with almost obstinate briskness, as if to fit the bill of “tropical” and “groovy” and hence perhaps obfuscate some dark feeling the artist were feeling (Heaven knows we got enough of that on Mutations though) but still retain the energy and mojo worthily enough on this solid LP.

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31 “The Golden Age” (Sea Change)

I thought the first song on Beck’s album Morning Phase pretty much dead-on copped the Allman Brothers “Melissa” rhythm guitar part right down to sound and everything and da**ed if this intro doesn’t veer dangerously close to “Wild Flowers” territory, not dulled by that weeping steel guitar that comes in. But Beck brings in a pleasing gamut of distinguishing effects here from the beautiful female backing vocals to this rushing wind sound which I believe is provided by the Wurlitzer electric piano, as Wikipedia dubs it, and the end result materializes into something that was surely shocking for Beck fans at the time, especially after the caustically peppy Midnite Vultures.

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30 “Nobody’s Fault but My Own” (Mutations)

Almost like the pre-Sea Change offering, “Nobody’s Fault but My Own” crawls along morbid and moribund, barely holding itself together by the staples for crushing world-weariness and melancholy. The chorus admission of “You tell me that it’s nobody’s fault / Nobody’s fault but my own” also in a sense presages the confrontational indignation at play on “Lost Cause” where he’s residing at the nucleus of a mindset of another and basically fumigating the premises.

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29 “Die Waiting” (Hyperspace)

I didn’t notice it on my first four or five listens but this is probably the most rock-oriented cut on Hyperspace, which of course isn’t saying too much but does allow for some treated, noodling and sky-reaching guitar for the intro to then give way to methodically strummed acoustic within the verse. Ethereal background vocals come from Sky Ferreira, the hooks and melodies abound and in general it’s certainly not overly clear why this song wasn’t chosen as a single to Hyperspace. Maybe there’s still time for it, I suppose.

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28 “Hotwax” (Odelay)

In a way it’s strange listening to “Hotwax” today, a rather unassuming and low-profile track two on Odelay that wasn’t issued as a single, because it’s almost just comedically a case of a white boy writing a Hank Williams song with slide guitar and bluesy, swampy riffs and then PLOP… dropping a beat on there that seems almost muffled by Rick Rubin’s giant beard straight out of the Def Jam world headquarters. I guess this isn’t the time for semantics but suffice it to say that I’m glad that at other points in his career Beck got a little more stylistically exploratory and weirder, not to completely knock the instances in which he’s “kickin’ it.”

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27 “The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton” (The Information)

The closeur on The Information is undoubtedly a masterwork in production with the deep, booming bass sound with the funky line and those incessant backwards snares that pop up all over the bridge part and give the tune such a warped, messed up feel to it that’s often useful on closeurs. Wait until the chorus, though, which is the pinnacle of the song and flaunts a timeless hook much like the track before it on the album does and thereby pushes the song into celestial territory.

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26 “Earthquake Weather” (Guero)

For a while I was naming this as my favorite song on Guero much to some tacit frowns on the parts of my buddies I was talking about music with and indeed you’ve gotta love the honest, disillusioned lyricism: “I push I pull / The days go slow / Into a void / We fill with death / And noise” and that instrumentation! The verse is so contrastive with the chorus, with its, deep-bass filled ethereality giving way to funky synth and ebullient melody.

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25 “We Dance Alone” (The Information)

This is probably my favorite “rap” song on The Information: it’s deep, spooky and brisk, every bit justifying the vocal technique’s presence on this album maligned critically and artistically as it is and melding into a slick chorus where he seems to be singing the word “darker,” in eerie alignment with the previous track “Dark Star.”

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24 “Readymade” (Odelay)

This song is typically held as a pretty spare production model that emphasizes Beck’s lyricism, as it should and as it should, but close listens unveil some undeniably pithy soundboard techniques like the quick run of backward hats bridging the first verse together and that weird skewed… er.. warped… er… GOD DA** IT IT’S CARROT TOP BURPING… after the first chorus.

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23 “Novacane” (Odelay)

“Novacane” is the undisputed energetic mainstay of the album’s mid-section: too adamant to be “cool” and too rocking probably for mainstream radio, which I guess should be implied by the opening lines of “Keep on truckin’ like a novacane hurricane”. Interestingly, too, “Novacane” forms the first half of the “dissonance suite” on the album which dually features this broad and lengthy synth riff of an especially grating texture, here meant to simply make an impression with its caustic rancor, juxtaposed less auspiciously later on.

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22 “Bottle of Blues” (Mutations)

It’s rare that Beck unleashes a song that’s actually steeped in genre of any sort, it seems. Then there’s “Bottle of Blues,” though, track eight on what I think is the slightly underrated Mutations, which pretty much chugs along as unassuming blues rock and might, just might, not seem out of place in a Mississippi saloon.

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21 “Lazy Flies” (Mutations)

Wielding perhaps one of the most creative chordal rhythm guitar runs in recorded history, as well as billowing and textural bass drum sporadically placed and a weird, tinny guitar that sort of sounds like an electric pencil sharpener, “Lazy Flies” is a slow rock strutter that’s certainly got it all, a contributive track toward the album’s completeness and also Beck’s overall musical vision.

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20 “Soldier Jane” (The Information)

For some reason “Soldier Jane” is never touted as a notable Beck achievement but let me tell you something: on a pretty good song, “Eveningness” by Lotus Plaza, Lockett Pundt pretty much ripped off the verse’s vocals TIT FOR TAT from this mid-album Information cut. Lyrically, too, it’s something you’d think would be taking off today: a tale of sympathy for a woman who’s maybe underprivileged and going through some travails that are belittled by the world around her.

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19 “Uneventful Days” (Hyperspace)

The percussion on “Uneventful Days” which comes courtesy of the one and only Pharrell is a tapestry of utterly astounding rhythm which you almost don’t notice on the first couple of listens because Beck takes such command with the vocal melodies and the overall catchy framework of a song. And it might be an overstatement to say that for the last 10 years Pharrell has held mainstream pop music together, but sugar it ain’t an overstatement by much.

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18 “Paper Tiger” (Sea Change)

The seemingly dissonant elements of this sound scape are lain down in a way that gives the song a sort of rustic, high and lonesome ability to BREATHE, which of course fits in well on the mournful Sea Change, in this case coming in the form of clean session drums flanking lead guitar that’s completely astonishing in its sonic polymorphousness. Also the last lyrics of the song are important in terms of the overall album: “There’s one road back to civilization / But there’s no road back to you”.

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17 “High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” (Odelay)

Earlier I was disparaging Beck’s white boy raps on this album but this joint is just so LIVE that you just can’t help but buy in, especially when you hear that funky synth comes back in in the verse and he’s like “I don’t mean to cause a holy commotion / When I step to the room with a powerful motion” (yes that is a programmed synth, believe it or not, or organ: I think it might be a 3X OSC delivered to a really fu**ed setting). Also, again, “High 5” marks the second movement of the “grating synth” suite, this time with a black dude gettin’ on and regulating, yelling at the DJ to “Turn that sh** off man… get the other record!” I think it might be meant to symbolize an inner battle won by the artist through musical sublimation but also integration with the other race of people that sometimes has more “flavah,” if you will.

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16 “Beercan” (Mellow Gold)

From what I remember I fell in love with this song pretty easily when I finally bought Mellow Gold on CD and started listening to it straight through. It comes on track eight after what’s honestly a pretty laborious though usually interesting heterogeneous trek through guitar pop, morose singer/songwriter and weird, messed up sludge, and then comes to unleash its own sort of innocent glee, about quitting your job and getting sh**-faced.

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15 “Chemical” (Hyperspace)

Again, semantics aside, the elephant in the room is that Pharrell is the producer and ergo this song is da** near a classic — it conjeals around this incredibly catchy chorus and the lyrics by Beck admittedly seem to imply a disillusioned perspective of happiness perceived in the brain, that “Oh it’s a chemical”, hence creating a nice pragmatic foil against Pharrell’s celestial and gorgeous melodic web.

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14 “Derelict” (Odelay)

Not enough can be said about this tense, jazzy and supremely rhythmic mid-album track on Odelay. Don’t forget that hip-hop breakdown part at the end where the drum beat takes over, too, the creation of residing producer The Dust Brothers who also worked on the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique.

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13 “Farewell Ride” (Guero)

“Farewell Ride” doesn’t seem to get its props but it’s an incredibly memorable little Delta Blues romp toward the end of Guero, complete with those Dust Brothers programmed drums of course but also finding them scaled back and ambient, fully textural and contributive to the laid back and mournful, bluesy mood.

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12 “Cancelled Check” (Mutations)

Beautiful steel guitar graces this fine Mutations moment as do some good ol’ hard-won lyrics of relationship calamity, made metaphorical in this case (“You handed me a canceled check”). Part of what makes it great is the breezy way the artist moves the song along and keeps things inherently musical, rather than melodramatic.

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11 “Guess I’m Doing Fine” (Sea Change)

I think all would agree that on Sea Change and on this prominent album mainstay here, the lyrics pretty much take the fore, with the instruments functional but not allegorical or irreplaceable in the sense of them making their own statements. The artist seems to have gone through a unique sort of heartbreak, or a “sea change” as he cites Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the end result is something in a way we can all literarily learn from, even if we don’t necessarily want to be in his shoes, which we probably shouldn’t.

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10 “Devils Haircut” (Odelay)

Yes, Odelay has one of the most recognizable opening battle calls out there: that stone-simple, chugging riff in “Devils Haircut” that sounds perfectly in place in mid-’90s alt-rock but somehow rocks along with a little more power and energy than most things we were hearing around then. Elsewhere, the lyrics again are deeply metaphorical and imagistic, hence I think making them pretty humorous and keeping the mood light despite the state of desperation and urgency implied by the music.

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9 “Stratosphere” (Hyperspace)

Beck, believe it or not, is credited as the sole producer on this particular cut, my favorite on the excellent Hyperspace and a tune so infectious and magnetic it could surely act as a centerpiece for a major movie soundtrack. I personally had a kind of sappy moment recently just chilling to it looking out my window, getting the feeling that people are going to be listening to this stuff and this album for a long time down the road.

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8 “The New Pollution” (Odelay)

It’s hard to know what to say about the bizarreness of “The New Pollution” other than just for anybody sick of music being mundane, or uniform, or formulaic, you’re probably in luck here because there is NO other song like this on the planet. I personally always favored that weird music video with the matching choir singing the hilariously un-infectious “doo-doo-doo” introduction and then the Cubist urban lyrics sympathizing with the female certainly don’t hurt either.

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7 “Girl” (Guero)

This was the fine, hummable lead single off of Guero and I think we were all pretty enthralled that Beck was no longer in depressing candlelight vigil mode, that things had gotten better for him and he was maybe even having some fun making music again. The song is just substantial enough to get by but what shouldn’t be underestimated is that when it came out nobody else was doing this stuff: the mainstream was dominated by perverted, overly explicit rap and whiny rock, so this breezy swatch of simple melody was all the more refreshing.

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6 “Movie Theme” (The Information)

I cannot say enough good stuff about this beautiful track that comes late in The Information: it actually doesn’t have a chorus, but rather eight simple, adjacently sequenced lines (they’re more like long lines than short verses), each of which carries the same simple melody delivered in Beck’s feathery croon. Slowly, then, the singer sends things out into the night with some “ooh-ooh”’s at the end and folks this is about as close as you get to street narcotics in musical form.

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5 “Tropicalia” (Mutations)

I could have sworn that was bongo grooving down along the bottom half of this mix but Beck is one step ahead of me again: Wikipedia doesn’t specify but it sounds like some sort of wood block thing, just called “percussion” on that page. This song really grew on me in recent years I think because well musically it’s interesting, the band is tight but for how eclectic and original it is it’s also deceptively simple in structure, with every minute part and segment seeming to fit the whole and never make the project even a little bit stagnant.

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4 “Jack-A**” (Odelay)

This was sort of the red-headed step-child of the Odelay singles litter, a song that DEFINITELY never got the full props it deserves for its simple beauty and clear, radio-ready vocals. Part of the problem might be that I think it came out in the THICK of music snobbery when anything perceived as commercial or radio friendly was lambasted as being a box of Ebola rain.

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3 “Lost Cause” (Sea Change)

Jesus, just thinking about listening to this song I just had this curiously noxious cluster of emotions well up in my gut: well one thing I remember is the gorgeous guitar sound, which obviously is par for the Beck course, but the words I know will make me cry are probably “There’s a place where you are goin’ / Where you ain’t never been before / No one laughing at your back now / No one standin’ at your door / Is that what you thought love was for?”

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2 “Where it’s at” (Odelay)

Boasting one of the best synth intros in history without question, “Where it’s at” is probably Beck’s go-to dance-club hit, at least in terms of the sh** that’s not on Midnite Vultures (which is to say stuff that I can stand, in other words). Given its ubiquitous stature and radio readiness, I think in tandem you get a certain dilution in meaning, like how only the blandest music can play in a grocery store, or cater to everybody, but what walks in in its stead is an undeniably anthemic quality, some recognizability, and the flair for getting EVERYBODY’s head nodding in the room, something to which The Dust Brothers were no strangers.

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1 “Loser” (Mellow Gold)

I guess what I should probably emphasize within this context, with Beck being in general not necessarily OVERLY OPINIONATED but perhaps very particular about things with which he surrounded himself (hence allotting this song as all the more bitter, sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek, in the artist’s mind), is his continued refusal of the “slacker” stereotype. Again and again, he’s emphasized that you can’t really goof off or be lazy in life and actually get things done, so to think these musicians were actually “slackers” is a really simplistic misrepresentation of what was going on in their lives. Actually I remember seeing one MTV segment with him on tour where he was telling it pretty straight, saying touring is a pretty thankless expedition where you’re apparently lucky to get six hours of sleep per night. So given how moronic most of our conceptions about these people’s lives and everyday routines seem to be, we should perhaps raise our glasses and toast this particular individual for seeming to very rarely come off preachy or ornery, almost always taking us to gratifying and unique places musically and putting his own stamp on his material with generosity and glitz.

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