Below we’ve compiled our list of his 20 best songs. With each song we’ve included a portion of the lyrics—lines which couldn’t have come from anywhere else but the mind of Beck.
10. “Sexx Laws”
Full of horns, “Sexx Laws” is the lead single off 1999’s Midnite Vultures, Beck’s danciest album. It’s video, featuring Jack Black, is one of Beck’s craziest (which is saying something).
Brief encounters in Mercedes Benz,
Wearing hepatitis contact lens,
Bed and breakfast getaway weekends
With Sports Illustrated moms.
9. “Cold Brains”
“Cold Brains” kicks off Mutation with a watery, wobbling down-tempo guitar line.
The fields of green
Are bent, obscene
I lay upon the gravel
A worm of hope
A hangman’s rope
Pulls me one way or the other
8. “Lord Only Knows”
Aside from an introductory yell, “Lord Only Knows” eschews the liberal use of effects and general zaniness of the rest of Odelay. If recorded differently, it could have just as easily been on Mellow Gold.
Titanic, fare thee well,
My eyes are turning pink.
Don’t call us when the new age
Gets old enough to drink.
If “Sexx Laws” represents one pole of Beck’s musical spectrum, “Asshole” is the other. A stark acoustic ballad from One Foot in the Grave, which was released on K Records shortly after Mellow Gold, “Asshole’s” lyrical and instrumental bluntness is bone chilling.
Your brains went black
When she took back her love,
And put it out into the sun.
The birds did fly
When the heavens all went dry,
And the cigarettes were smoking by themselves.
6. “Devil’s Haircut”
Were the men who scored the Ocean’s movies influenced by some of the subtle, bubbling effects on “Devil’s Haircut”? Can’t rule it out.
Love machines on the sympathy crutches,
Discount orgies on the dropout buses.
Hitching a ride with the bleeding noses,
Coming to town with the brief case blues.
5. “Lost Cause”
2002’s Sea Change was written after Beck broke up with Leigh Limon, his girlfriend of 10 years, and “Lost Cause” is the centerpiece of the mostly lovelorn album.
There’s a place where you are going
You ain’t never been before
No one left to watch your back now
No one standing at your door
That’s what you thought love was for
While much of Odelay features Beck rapping non-sensical lyrics and/or the Dust Brothers (who produced the album) doing their worst with an arsenal of space-age effects, “Jack-Ass” is a far more toned-down take on drifting through the void.
I remember the way that you smiled,
When the gravity shackles were wild,
And something is vacant
When I think it’s all beginning.
“Tropicalia” stand out not only as the signature track off Mutations, but as a sunny, tropical song on an otherwise…well, not sunny and tropical album.
Now you’ve had your fun,
Under an air-conditioned sun.
It’s burned into your eyes,
Leaves you plain and left behind.
2. “Where It’s At”
Like many of the songs off Odelay, “Where It’s At” is instantly recognizable as soon as you hear the first few notes; the distinctive organ line leads into some of Beck’s catchiest hip hop lyricism.
There’s a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know,
A place we saw the lights turn low
The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow.
The song that put Beck on the map is also his best. “Loser” is one of the rare songs that was perfectly of it’s time, and perfectly representative of a disaffected generation unsure of its own identity.
You can’t write if you can’t relate,
Trade the cash for the beef
For the body for the hate,
And my time is a piece of wax
Falling’ on a termite
Who’s choking’ on the splinters.
Here’s the full playlist, courtesy of Rdio: