Music: Beck

He's upset because someone misplaced his Becktionary...

Beck (a.k.a Beck Hansen, born in 1970 as Bek David Campbell) is an American Alternative Rock musician and singer-songwriter with two turntables and a microphone. He first rose to popularity with his underground works, gaining a hit with his breakthrough single "Loser" in 1993. Afterwards, he earned great critical acclaim and commercial success with the album Odelay, escaping the threat of becoming a One-Hit Wonder.

Since then, he has released seven more albums, his latest being 2014's Morning Phase. During this time, he had become noted for the large variety of genres his work takes in.

Not to be confused with Jeff Beck, Glenn Beck, or the anime.

Discography:

Home Recorded / Indie Label Albums:

  • Banjo Story (1990)
  • 1992 Demo (1992)
  • Beck, Like The Beer (1992)
  • Don't Get Bent Out Of Shape (1992) - A complete demo album that has two different variations.
  • ''Fresh Meat And Old Slabs" (1993)
  • Golden Feelings (1993) - A home recording that is widely considered his first album because it was sold at early Mellow Gold era shows. Very strange experimental material, and a cult classic. Briefly released on CD by the record label in 1999, before being withdrawn due to Beck not being consulted on the rerelease.
  • A Western Harvest Field By Moonlight (1994) - His first 10" EP. Although it has 12 tracks, it's considered an EP because there are only four actual songs on it - "Totally Confused", "Gettin' Home", "Lampshade" and "Pinefresh". The remaining 8 tracks are noise experiments.
  • Stereopathetic Soulmanure (1994) - These first two albums comprised largely lo-fi, country- and folk-influenced material, quite different from what he made his name with. This was the earliest album of his to be released on CD, a week before Mellow Gold came out. Most of the songs on here are from 1992 and 1993. Despite being an obscure album it's known for the song "Rowboat" which Johnny Cash heard and covered.
  • One Foot In The Grave (1994) - Another lo-fi, folky album. This album is most representative of the types of songs Beck used to perform during radio sessions, of which he did many that year. The album was reissued in 2009 with 16 bonus tracks.

Studio Albums:

  • Mellow Gold (1994) - The debut of Beck's famous Alt Rock Genre-Busting style. A.k.a. The One with... "Loser".
  • Odelay (1996) - Returning to the Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly, produced by The Dust Brothers (with some contributions from Mario Caldato, Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf). Widely considered his masterpiece, sometimes compared to Paul's Boutique due to being produced by the same team of The Dust Brothers and Caldato.
  • Mutations (1998) - A mellow album that introduced the types of ballads that Beck would be known for on Sea Change, although the album still has upbeat moments like the latin-influenced "Tropicalia".
  • Midnite Vultures (1999) - Upbeat, New Wave, Synth Pop, and especially Funk-influenced, and highly danceable material.
  • Sea Change (2002) - Super-depressing Folk Rock, produced by Nigel Godrich. Considered his second masterpiece after Odelay.
  • Guero (2005) - A return to the Odelay sound and a reunion with the Dust Brothers.
  • The Information (2006) - Nigel Godrich-produced Alternative Rock.
  • Modern Guilt (2008) - Produced by Danger Mouse. Highly influenced by Psychedelic Rock and Surf Rock from The Sixties and The Seventies.
  • Song Reader (2012) - See Retraux below.
  • Morning Phase (2014) - A Concept Album about mornings and a musical sequel-of-sorts to Sea Change (though not quite as angsty). Notably won the 2015 Album of the Year Grammy, alongside two other Grammys.
  • An as-of-yet-untitled tenth studio album (2015) - On June 15, Beck released the single "Dreams" from his next album. Word of God says it started as a garage-rock album, but will be more a funky sequel to Midnite Vultures.


Tropes demonstrated by Beck include:

  • Arc Words: While they're more used in pre-Odelay albums, a few words are unusually common in his Word Salad Lyrics, such as:
    • Plastic
    • Cyanide
    • Whiskey
    • Mayonnaise
    • Taco
    • "Aw, my goodness," usually delivered in a falsetto faux-country accent (this one appears mostly on Mellow Gold).
    • "Hollow log" has always seemed to be one of his favorite phrases, especially in his bluesier songs.
    • His song "Whimsical Actress", known only from a performance on a radio session (though a home demo is supposed to be in Beck's vaults), is loaded with his favorite words at the time, such as "mango", "hoffy dog" and "squeegee". These words also appear in other songs, but their use in Whimsical Actress is particularly funny.
  • Artistic License Physics /Badass Boast: As part of Beck's Badass Boast in "In A Cold Ass Fashion", he mentions that he can "Squeeze the breeze" and "Smoke a pack of whiskey". He does the latter with Jesus Christ, implying that Beck has these powers because he's a godlike figure.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Known for being quite an eccentric guy (especially in his younger days ), but also has gone through so many genres and styles, being called a "musical chameleon", he's well respected in the alternative/indie music community.
  • Bonus Material:
    • Deluxe versions of The Information included a DVD containing music videos for every song on the CD.
    • "Diamond Bollocks" is a bonus track on Mutations (hidden on the US release but separate on others) because Beck couldn't find a way to fit it in the tracklisting. He described it as "the wayward son at the Thanksgiving dinner who just doesn't really fit in with the family anymore, is the black sheep. So you put him at the end of the table..." Other versions of Mutations also include bonus material - UK, German and Japanese versions add "Runners Dial Zero", German Limited Edition has "Halo Of Gold" and "Black Balloon" in addition to the usual German tracks, Japanese version has the re-recorded version of "Electric Music And The Summer People" inserted in the main tracklisting.
  • Careful With That Axe:
    • "Lord Only Knows" begins with a startling scream that is either terrifying or comical.
    • The endings of "Minus" and "Sissyneck".
  • Church of Happyology: Beck was raised a Scientologist and is one of the more prominent examples. He's far from preachy about it, and in fact used to end interviews if it was brought up. Whilst he's willing to talk about it (if sparingly) this days, his accounts of his childhood remain pretty lacking because he leaves out anything about his religion (which took up a lot of his time).
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Swearing was rather common on Mellow Gold and other early albums. As of late, though, he's been cutting down on the amount of swearing in his lyrics. Special note to the song "Mutherfuker" which is this deliberately abrasive on purpose.
  • Concept Album: Morning Phase is a concept album about mornings.
  • Corpsing:
    • The end of "Corvette Bummer," in which Beck starts listing random items until breaking into a fit of laughter.
    • He also cracks up on the song "Bogusflow", as well as several radio sessions.
  • Crossover: He once did a crossover performance with The Flaming Lips, and the band toured with him on his Sea Change tour in 2002.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: A lot of newer fans of Beck feel this way when they hear his early demo work. The album "Golden Feelings", which is widely considered his first album, is a completely bizarre collection of home recordings, filled with mutated blues, country and soundscape experiments. A lot of people got into Beck thinking he was a rapper.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out:
    • "Chemtrails"
    • "Fume" seems to come to a natural conclusion after about two minutes... then we get a Studio Chatter snippet of Beck's friend Steve Moramarco jokingly singing a bowdlerized version of the chorus, followed by a complete Genre Shift into Noise Rock with Harsh Vocals, which then goes on for another two minutes.
  • 555: The number 555-4552 is seen on a payphone in the video for "Nausea."
  • Genre Roulette:
    • Mutations is a good example, with its combination of influences from all over the world - the Indian influenced "Nobody's Fault But My Own", the Brazilian influenced "Tropicalia", the blues-influenced "Bottle Of Blues", the Eastern European waltz of "We Live Again", the folky "Lazy Flies" and the straightforward indie-pop of "Cold Brains", just to name a few.
    • His early albums, especially Golden Feelings have this, alternating from folk, blues, lo-fi, and noise rock.
  • Gratuitous Spanish:
    • The chorus for "Loser".
    • The chorus for "Hotwax".
    • "Que Onda Guero" has this throughout in both lyrics and voice clips.
    • "Burro", an alternate version of "Jack-Ass", is entirely in Spanish.
  • Hidden Track: All his pre-Sea Change albums (sans One Foot In The Grave) have one at the end:
  • Indecipherable Lyrics:
    • The vocals to "Sweet Sunshine" are so distorted that even 15 years after the fact, many fansites have different interpretations of the lyrics.
    • Fans still disagree as to what the chorus of "Girl" is. It's either "my cyanide girl," "my sun-eyed girl," or "my sonar girl". The lyric sheet only says "Hey, my... girl".
  • Intercourse with You: Pretty much every song on Midnite Vultures.
  • In the Style of...: "Paper Tiger" both sampled and performed like Serge Gainsbourg.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Earthquake Weather".
  • Lighter and Softer and Darker and Edgier:
    • Mutations and Sea Change are musically more laid back but lyrically more somber compared to their predecessors Odelay and Midnite Vultures.
    • Morning Phase is typically regarded as a Lighter and Softer sequel to Sea Change, having a similar sound but being a Concept Album about mornings instead of a breakup album.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Girl", which sounds like a cheery pop song unless you listen closely to the lyrics.
    • "Lost Cause" is a milder case, with fairly depressing lyrics set to upbeat acoustic guitars.
  • Mind Screw: "The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton", the final track from The Information. Starts off as a song, becomes a British-accented weather report, and ends up with Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers talking like two really baked college sophomores.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art:
    • The Information... well, at first. Each CD comes with a sticker sheet, allowing you to customize the album cover as you see fit. Four different sticker sheet editions were made and randomly inserted into the CDs. Beck said that he wanted some kind of interactivity in the packaging, with no two covers ending up looking the same.
    • The front cover of Stereopathetic Soulmanure is actually an upside down, cropped version of a stock image that appeared on many private presses, usually for school bands, in the 60s.
  • Miniscule Rocking: His more "indie" albums like One Foot in the Grave and all his pre-Mellow Gold releases are mostly made up of songs two minutes or shorter.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Varies to the point that anyone getting into Beck expecting a single kid of sound will be sorely disappointed:
    • Beck's earlier stuff tends to be higher on the scale, ranging from a steady 4 ("Loser") all the way to a very hard 10 with parts reaching 11 ("Mutherfucker").
    • As a whole, however, songs tend to stay within 4-6, occasionally having heavier 8-9 sections ("Devil's Haircut", "Hotwax") or softer 1-2 sections ("Lost Cause", "Think I'm in Love"). It is always hard to predict what you'll get from Beck.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The Mutations secret track "Diamond Bollocks" is heavier and darker than "Static" or any other song on the album. It's even more pronounced on some foreign copies on which it isn't a secret and occupies its own track after "Static" without the buffer of silence. Whiplash also occurs within the song as it changes styles abruptly.
    • Many of his albums (Odelay and Mellow Gold especially) end with 5-10 minutes of silence followed by a frightening "bonus noise" that can sometimes be frightening. See Hidden Track above.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Rollins Power Sauce", "Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997", "Beercan", "Cyanide Breath Mint", "Atmospheric Conditions", "Minus", "Sissyneck", "E-Pro", "Earthquake Weather", "Emergency Exit" and "Movie Theme" among many others.
  • Older Than They Look: He is in his 40s but has looked about the same since The '90s. He was 23 when "Loser" was popular, but looked 19 at most.
    • His voice is the opposite, especially in early songs, in which he sounds like a gruff, hoarse old man. However, he was a fan of slowing down or speeding up his voice in those days so it is not always accurate.
  • One Woman Song: "Debra" is a subversion—the song is sung to Debra's sister Jenny.
  • Perishing Alt Rock Voice
  • Piss-Take Rap: According to the guy himself, "Loser". The story goes like this: Beck and Carl Stephenson decided to record a song in Stephenson's kitchen. He decided to start rapping, made up lyrics as he went, and the two got a laugh out of how terrible it sounded. When they listened, Beck started sarcastically singing "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me." The song took all of six and a half hours to record and produce, and only released it because his record label, Bong Load, pressured him to. And so, Beck got his first big break.
  • Pungeon Master: When they're not Word Salad Lyrics, chances are the lyrics are a Hurricane of Puns.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • "Soul Suckin' Jerk". Originally appearing on the Loser EP under the title "Soul Suckin' Jerk (Reject)", the first and second verses switched places when it was re-recorded for the Mellow Gold album. Musically, the two versions are pretty distinct too - the Loser version is slower and primarily based around drums and bass, and it's a few minutes longer due to a lengthy instrumental outro.
    • "It's All In Your Mind" was originally a One Foot In The Grave outtake, which saw official release as a standalone single in 1995, though the better-known version was a re-recording done for Sea Change around ten years later. The original recording was very much in the Three Chords and the Truth style of One Foot In The Grave: Just Beck backing himself up on a slightly out of tune acoustic guitar, with the only other instrumentation being a brief overdubbed guitar solo at the end. The re-recording was done with a full band and had a more complex arrangement including keyboards and cello.
    • The B-Side "Got No Mind" is "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)" with alternate lyrics and the acoustic guitar replaced with electric.
  • Recycled Lyrics: In general, Beck seems to pick a certain turn of phrase he likes and use it in multiple songs written around the same time - for instance "Ziploc Bag" and "Corvette Bummer" both include the line "yellow cat laying flat on the road", while "The Spirit Moves Me" has "Phony lady laying flat on the road". Also, numerous lines in "Diamond Bollocks" are originally from the B-Side "Erase the Sun". The line "Out On The Highway, I'm Doing It My Way" and the general tune of Electric Music And The Summer People came out of the One Foot In The Grave outtake Piss On The Door.
    • A subversion occurs in Ace Of Spade which was recorded twice. The second version added a line "You'll be living, one foot in the grave" which was soon after used as the basis for the song "One Foot In The Grave" which otherwise bore no resemblance to Ace Of Spade.
  • Refrain from Assuming: "Where It's At" is often mislabeled as "Two Turntables and a Microphone."
  • Retraux: Beck's 2012 "album" Song Reader was originally released not as a record, or a CD, or a collection of MP3 files, or as any kind of recorded performance at all—it was published as printed sheet music. 20 tracks worth. If you can read traditional music notation and you have a piano or guitar, knock yourself out. Beck himself performed "I'm Down" and "Sorry" from Song Reader in live shows before finally releasing Song Reader as a record in 2014, except he only sang "Heaven's Ladder" and outsourced the rest to artists such as Jack White, fun., Jarvis Cocker, Sparks, among many others.
  • Sampling: A big part of his style, to the point that he complained that due to crackdowns and massively inflated sampling fees he would be unable to do an album like Odelay again without having to pay huge sums of money for clearance. There's a noticeable reduction in the amount of sampling on his 2000s albums compared to the ones from The '90s.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist
  • The Slacker: At first categorised as such because of the success of "Loser". Beck was quite annoyed by this, pointing out that at the time the song was recorded, he was trying to make ends meet working various minimum wage jobs and had previously been homeless trying to make it in New York.
  • Something Completely Different: This being Beck, not only will this occur from album to album, but sometimes in the middle of a song itself.
  • The Stoner: His early folk stuff. It is less evident on later work.
  • Subliminal Seduction: At one point in "Loser," the chorus is sung backwards.
  • Take That: His first single, "MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack."
  • Take That Me:
    • "Loser".
    • "Hotwax"'s Gratuitous Spanish chorus translates to "I'm a broken record/I've got chewing gum in my brain".
    • And we can't forget his Futurama appearance.
  • Textless Album Cover: Sea Change.
  • This Is a Song:
  • Three Chords and the Truth:
    • Depends on the album, as his post-Nineties output seems more polished and albums like Odelay hide it under attention-deficit-style Sampling and genre-mixing, but his earlier albums and basically any of his folk, blues, or punk influenced songs fall under this.
    • Most of Sea Change fits this trope, mixing fairly simple song arrangements and direct lyrics about heartbreak.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: "Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997" was recorded in 1994.
  • Uncommon Time: The chorus of "Blackbird Chain" jumps all over the place.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Looks very baby-faced even to this day, but his voice is very deep.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: In his earlier material.