Since breaking through with the international hit single Loser in 1994, Beck has become known as one of the most creative and influential artists in alternative rock. His talent for jumping from one musical style to the next like a flea on steroids has sold millions of records, won dozens of awards, inspired rave reviews from critics, and won him legions of fans the world over. Here, we take a look back at the career of one of the most extraordinary talents of the last 30 years with our pick of the 10 best Beck songs of all time.
10. Sexx Laws
Kicking off our list of the ten best Beck songs of all time is this wacky, sassy stream of consciousness from the 1999 album Midnight Vultures. It’s hard to argue with a song with lyrics like “Neptune’s lips taste like fermented wine / Perfumed blokes on the Ginza line,” which probably explains why NME voted Sexx Laws one of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ back in 2014. Released as the lead single from the album in October 1999, it hit number 21 on the US Modern Rock Tracks Chart and number 27 on the UK Singles Chart.
9. Que Onda Guero
In 2005, Beck released his highest-charting album to date, Guero, which debuted at number 2 on the US Billboard 200, number 15 on the UK Albums Chart, and in the top 40 in various other countries. From the summery pop of Girl to the infectious bossa nova of Missing, the entire album is a delight, showcasing the same explosive blend of beats, riffs, and samples that made Odelay such a sonic mind melt. One of its standout tracks is Que Onda Guero, a delicious slice of Chicano funk that finds Beck cruising around a Latino neighborhood spouting forth about mango ladies and rancheras on cheap guitars.
Odelay, Beck’s fifth studio album, has been widely (and rightly) praised) as one of the greatest albums of all time. Its dizzying array of styles, samples, and influences has helped it sell over 2.3 million copies in the US alone, making it Beck’s biggest selling album to date. The joyously catchy Sissyneck is one of its many highlights. Released as a single from the album in June 1997, it took Beck to No. 30 on the UK Singles Chart.
7. Nobody’s Fault But My Own
As Stereogum says, if you strip away all the bells and whistles from Nobody’s Fault But My Own, what you’re left with is a pretty good Oasis song. But those bells and whistles, synthesizers and sitars are there for a reason, helping to create one of the best pieces of psychedelia in Beck’s catalog. An introspective, beautifully wistful gem, it’s an undisputed highlight of the 1998 album Mutations.
6. Lonesome Tears
Of all Beck’s albums, Sea Change has the most heartfelt songs about heartbreak and regret per square inch. One of the most devasting is Lonesome Tears, a song whose thick layers of desolation, solitude, and loneliness are amplified by the soaring orchestral arrangements provided by Beck’s father, David Campbell. It might be a world away from the ‘two turntables and a microphone’ Beck many listeners are most familiar with, but that doesn’t make it any the less compelling.
5. Guess I’m Doing Fine
Another standout track from Sea Chance, Guess I’m Doing Fine is a mopey masterpiece, with Beck reflecting on his breakup with fiancée Leigh Limon with enough bitter humor and hollow optimism to inject an almost unbearable level of desperation into the song’s narrative of loss and regret. A devasting, utterly compelling triumph.
4. The New Pollution
Propelled by a ’60s grove, a cacophony of organ, sax, and flute blasts, and lyrics like “She’s got a carburettor tied to the moon/ Pink eyes looking to the food of the ages,” The New Pollution is one of the most exhilarating, buoyant love songs ever committed to tape – and certainly one that could only have come from one of music’s strangest and most brilliant minds. Released as a single from Odelay, it reached number 9 on the Alternative Airplay chart and number 78 on the Billboard Hot 100.
3. Where It’s At
As the Guardian says, Beck’s brand of geeky white hip-hop reached its zenith on this breezy tune from Odelay. With swagger for days, a gorgeously languid guitar riff, and enough samples to fill a record store, this riot of distorted melodies and unforgettable chants left no one with any choice but to accept Beck’s invitation to join him at a “destination a little up the road.”
Of all the excellent songs on Midnight Vultures, the Prince-esque Debra has a good claim to being the best. Beck had originally intended to record it for Odelay, but decided its tongue-in-cheek humor was too much for the album. Regardless, he carried on playing it live shows, later saying “it became the centerpiece of the whole set. It was the song that people would react to more than the songs that they’d heard on the radio. So we kept playing it and playing it.” By the time he finally got around to recording it for 1999’s Midnight Vultures, it had been honed to perfection.
In at number one on our list of the ten best Beck songs of all time is the song that put Beck on the map. Originally released in March 1993 and reissued the following year after Beck signed with the Geffen Records-subsidiary DGC Records, Loser gave us the quintessential slacker anthem, a self-mocking, sardonically defiant masterpiece that took Beck to number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the top 20 across other various countries.