11 Essential Beck Songs

 

With 12 studio albums and a variety of different sounds and styles, Beck can be a tough artist to start listening to.

Depending on which album (or even track) you listen to, you can get anything from nonsensical rap, to brutally honest tearjerkers, to ironically funky sex jams.

In anticipation of his upcoming album, we’ve narrowed down Beck’s extensive back-catalogue to 11 essential cuts which perfectly represent the different facets of his musical style.

 

Loser

Ah yes, that song! We kick off this list with what is, for many casual listeners, the Beck song.

As a Beck fan, it’s often easy to dismiss his breakthrough single as overplayed, and perhaps not the most accurate reflection of his greater musical complexity. Still, there’s no denying the iconic nature of the track.

With its infectious mix of an ear-wormy slide guitar riff and nonsensically bad rapping (which is why he calls himself a loser), the track quickly became an anthem of the 90s and a slacker call to arms which still resonates today.

 

 

Where It’s At

Although ‘Loser’ and corresponding album Mellow Gold introduced the world to Beck’s bizarre and eclectic style, it was 1995’s Odelay that proved what he was truly capable of achieving.

Featuring unique blends of alt rock, hip hop, country, noise-rock, folk and obscure samples, Odelay perfectly captures the musician’s eccentricity and restlessness, and lead single ‘Where It’s At’ finds him at his most gleefully playful.

The track has become a staple of his live shows, with Beck constantly messing around with the lyrics and often extending it into a 10+ minutes jam.

 

 

Novacane

Like ‘Where It’s At’, ‘Novacane’ is another quintessentially Beck track from Odelay.

With sampled drums (from Lee Michael’s 1969 hit ‘Don’t Want No Woman’), nonsense rap (“Mission incredible undercover convoy”) and a motherfucking harmonica breakdown, ‘Novacane’ has it all. 

Plus, he cracks out his best dance moves when doing this one live.

 

 

Debra

Beck went into full-blown funk/R&B/Prince mode for Midnite Vultures and especially ‘Debra’; trading in nonsensical rapping for some sort of strange, tongue-in-cheek crooning.

The track is equal parts smooth, catchy and hilarious, with the singer describing the saga of trying to hook up with a woman (and her sister Debra) that he met at a JC-Penneys.

 

 

Guess I’m Doing Fine

From upbeat, playful and nonsensical to downtempo, reflective and heartbreaking, ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine’ showcases a completely different side to the musician.

Beck surprised fans and critics alike with his 2002 album Sea Change which saw him completely abandoning his ironic lyrical nonsense in favour of exploring themes of heartbreak, isolation and loneliness.

After learning that his fiancee had been cheating on him, Beck ended their nine year relationship and experienced a period of deep sadness and introspection. It was during this time that he wrote the album’s songs on acoustic guitar, before bringing in his band to flesh them out, and his dad (David Campbell) to provide lush string arrangements.

‘Guess I’m Doing Fine’ perfectly epitomises this period of Beck’s life and is heartbreakingly beautiful. Many fans still argue as to whether Odelay or Sea Change is the best Beck album.

 

 

E-Pro

After the downtempo melodies of Sea Change, Beck went back into rock and hip-hop mode with Guero and ‘E-Pro’. If you’re looking for guitar and riff-driven Beck, then look no further!

With a chugging guitar line, thumping drum beat (sampled from The Beastie Boys’ ‘So What’Cha Want’) and a singalong refrain, the track is indulgent but fun. 

You can’t help but imagine that Beck wrote this particular song to be performed live…

 

 

Ghettochip Malfunction

Probably the most obscure choice in this list, and taken from a largely forgettable remix album (Guerolito), ‘Ghettochip Malfunction’ (a remix of ‘Hell Yes’) finds the musician rapping over the top of an eight-bit backing track, and it’s awesome.

 

 

Strange Apparition

Whilst Beck’s 7th album The Information is admittedly a bit of a scattershot affair, ‘Strange Apparition’ is a criminally underrated track.

With upbeat percussion, jaunty piano and fast acoustic guitar (until the dramatic Beatles-inspired slowdown at the end of the song), it’s a fun rock song which sounds eerily like The Rolling Stones.

 

 

Gamma Ray

After years of experimentation and genre-shifts, Beck’s 2008 album Modern Guilt is probably his most straightforward work to date, firmly placing itself in the alt-rock sound.

Although you can argue that the album lacks the complexity, or at least uniqueness, of much of Beck’s other work, you can’t deny how damn catchy it is, particularly ‘Gamma Ray’. 

 

 

Say Goodbye

Beck went back into downtempo mode with his latest album, the Grammy award winning Morning Phase. Considered a “companion piece” to Sea Change, the album featured most of the same musicians and once again had David Campbell providing orchestrations.

Having said this, ‘Say Goodbye’ is one of the simplest tracks on the album, but easily one of the most powerful, primarily focussed around Beck’s acoustic guitar work and vocals.

Keep an eye out for Father John Misty in this particular live performance!

 

 

Dreams

After his unexpected Grammy win, Beck went into full-on upbeat funk and dance mode for ‘Dreams’, the first single off what he promises to be a “fun” and “beat-driven” album.

It’s hard not to hear ‘Dreams’ as a bit of a victory lap from Beck following the Grammy win, particularly the line, “Stop fucking with my dreams” which is probably aimed directly at Yeezy.

 

About Mark Royters

Many years ago I was given an Arctic Monkeys EP. Everything changed from that moment onwards. I'm a Sydney-based music writer, reviewer and interviewer.

View all posts by Mark Royters

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