During his extremely varied career, Beck Hansen has been many things. He’s covered punk rock, latin music, ballads, ambient soundscapes, booty shaking music for the sunshine, and multiple other genres. Over the course of his twelve records he’s redefined himself, never once repeating the sounds he’d previously explored, all the while growing and showing us more layers than a musician these days should be comfortable showing. His chameleon like nature has helped shepherd a loyal fanbase willing to go to unknown areas and learn to grow alongside his music. If you want a true musician’s musician, Beck is the man for you. Today we discuss his Top Ten Best tracks. Seven albums span this list, so enjoy and dig in!
10. E-Pro, Guero
One of the best things about this song is how surprising it was when it came out. It was Beck in a more in your face style than we had been accustomed to. Coming after the elegance and loneliness of Sea Change, it altered yet again the perception of what he was capable of as an entertainer. The “Na na na” throughout the track is a jolly sing along, while the bass and drum heavy beats escalate the song into a full on dance fest you and your friends are able to lose yourself in.
9. Modern Guilt, Modern Guilt
When you sit down and look at the numbers, it becomes apparent that Hansen is a freak of nature in terms of how many songs are instantly recognizable. At number nine we have the title track from his 2008 album “Modern Guilt.” Lyrically the song is desperate and in need of help, while the instrumental aspects of the track are reminiscent of a futuristic dust bin where cowboys wander the world along with their state of the art farms where they can contemplate their experiences and thoughts.
8. Morning, Morning Phase
After a long hiatus, it’s natural to be unsure of what may come next, but with 2014’s “Morning Phase,” Beck brought us back to the style he perfected on Sea Change. While not a straight sequel, it very much continues the layered work he began on SC. Morning, the second song on the record, has everything you want from a relaxed Beck song. Hansen’s voice is pure and all encompassing, while the weary guitar and soundscapes enable the listener to easily picture a world where all the wrongs are put right, and you can wake up and begin anew with a beautiful new “Morning.”
7. Gamma Ray, Modern Guilt
Like a scene from a 60’s spy movie, Gamma Ray explodes with energy as the spy survey’s his target. Really though this is just how I interpreted the song. It’s a wild mix of elements throughout. The vocals are multifaceted, the jingle throughout the track is consistently engaging, and the overall base of the song is as catchy as anything Beck has done before or since. It’s not as straightforward as some of his other tracks, but it’s sure to make you want to move your hips and enjoy the nostalgic feelings it releases in you.
6. Loser, Mellow Gold
Without this track, there’s a pretty good chance we wouldn’t have ever even heard of Beck. Released in 1994 and quickly becoming his staple and signature song, “Loser” is a breathe of fresh hair that entangles itself in a brilliant stream of consciousness in terms of lyrics that, while being completely non-linear and nonsensical, are easy as hell to sing and play around with. This was the moment when Beck become Beck and his music entered the musical atmosphere and left an indelible imprint on alternative music that still stands to this day.
5. Wave, Morning Phase
Perhaps not a song you expected to be part of this list, but it’s one of his strangest, sincerely dark tracks. “Wave” starts with ominous orchestral backing, like you’re walking into a literal wave to cleanse yourself of all the wrong committed. It’s a slow and eerily haunting track, which is why it makes the list at number five. The vocals are gorgeously apprehensive, not knowing what the right direction to head is. The minimal lyrics also do an exceptional job of putting the music first, during a track that’s mostly elevated through instrumentals. As the song nears its climax though, you realize that while you were listening, Beck was wrapping you up in his own little tumble of waves and that you’d never be fully whole again.
Truth be told, i didn’t know this was Beck for months, until that is, I saw him perform the track live and was completely dumbfounded. You see, I heard the opening and thought it was lame, so i never got past the first vocal entry. What you get when you listen though, is a song firmly entrenched in something Beck had never done before, Gold standard pop music, done better than nearly anyone who actually provides pop music. The song puts you on a beach during a beautiful day, more than likely with some fancy bright drink with fruit in it. It’s a fun song that shows yet again what Beck is capable of, while also reminding you that Beck can beat you with attacks you never expected to be deployed by this particular artist.
3. Sexx Laws, Midnight Vultures
One of the strangest, more upbeats songs to come out of his discography, “Sexx Laws” hits us at number three on the top ten Beck songs. The song lyrically bounces back and forth between the absurd and sincere, all the while still maintaining the complex nature of who Beck is as an artist. One of the things Hansen does best is his ability to pair words that don’t fully form a narrative, yet allow for an easy to follow way that fans can gladly sing along to. It’s a weird song from a weird artist, but it’s one of his best.
2. Waking Light, Morning PhasePerhaps the most open and honest track on the list, the closing moments of “Morning Phase” find us at number two. Much like the rest of the record, “Waking Light” is a more heartfelt track that wears it’s sadness and regret in equal measure. To me the whole album is gesture in humility, and the way “Light” manages to shine through and finish up the record is a poignant moment most artists will never be able to pull off. If the album as a whole is meant to inspire change and to undo the wrongs that have transpired, “Waking Light” is the reminder that everything comes and goes, and when the “Morning comes to meet you,” all will be forgiven and you can start off on a brand new journey that will bring you redemption, and ultimately peace of mind.
1. Devils Haircut, Odelay
And finally we have number one. This whole list was a tough thing to put together, not only because of how genuinely talented Hansen is, but also because of the sheer amount of popular songs he’s been able to put on display for the better part of three decades. “The Devils Haircut,” from the masterfully complex Odelay, not only is one of his biggest hits, but it’s his best track, at least in my opinion. It has a beat boxing exit during the closing moments, but that’s not what draws you in initially. The opening moments are like a siren going off in your bedroom, and once again Hansen’s ability to relay lyrics that transcend normal songwriting techniques, while still establishing a drastic departure in sound that stood in stark contrast to the alternative music that was coming out around that time. It’s a testament to the brilliance of who Hansen is, and it’s the number one song of his wildly eclectic career. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed!
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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