Beck, to the layperson, is one of two things: the guy who did “Loser” and the guy who stole Beyonce‘s Album of the Year Grammy. To the average fan of alternative music he’s got a bit more sway; a fair bit of people are familiar with hits like “Devil’s Haircut” and “Where It’s At”. Beck Hansen is so much more than that though, and even moderate fans can forget just how much music he’s written and how varied his catalogue is. He’s not just the slacker art-pop pastiche sculptor relegated to Best Of the 90s countdowns. In fact, a substantial amount of his post-2000 songs can arguably vie for spots on lists of his best work (spoiler alert).
Ok, here are Beck’s best tunes:
10. Bonfire Blondes (Gamma Ray B-side, 2008)
- Prolific in spurts. That’s the best way to describe Beck’s creative output. Sometimes we’ll get three albums in four years, sometimes the record will be delayed by two years. Sometimes we won’t hear from him for what seems like forever, then suddenly we get a song that employs a 43 tone scale which expands conventional tonality into a broader variation of frequencies and resonances. This isn’t that song (“Harry Partch”), but it is one that capped off a long streak of Beck music from 2005 up to 2008. It’s got one of those sunny two-chord riffs strewn over a strut of a drumbeat, topped off with that classic Beck drawl. It’s a variation on the also excellent “Girl”, and shows that when it comes to Beck’s discography, digging deep unearths gold.
9. E-Pro (from Guero, 2005)
- After the phenomenally morose breakup album Sea Change it was unclear what direction Beck would go in. Luckily he decided that his next step was getting back to topping the charts, and “E-Pro” did just that. Built on a big brash Beastie Boys drum loop, the beefy guitar riff became an instant classic and revived Beck’s mainstream ambitions in the 2000s.
8. Ramona (from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 2010)
- Beck’s been long-praised by the blue bloods of music critic circles for his melancholy acoustic folk albums, but this song from the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack outclasses anything on both Sea Change and Morning Phase. It’s almost Bowie-esque with its sweeping strings, and nails the character’s affection for his dream girl. Now this should have won a Grammy.
7. Walls (from Modern Guilt, 2008)
- Like the album it resides on, “Walls” is short and sweet. A 2:22 slice of chamber pop.
6. Ghettochip Malfunction (from the Hell Yes EP, 2005)
- Before “E-Pro” bulldozed its way into public consciousness, Beck released this teaser EP containing chiptune remixes of a handful of Guero tracks. “Ghettochip Malfunction” is 8-Bit‘s take on “Hell Yes”, and it is absolutely the superior version of the song. By adding a variety of chords, it expands the melody of what was originally a fairly monotonous affair.
5. Youthless (from Modern Guilt, 2008)
- Sparse, slick, and direct, “Youthless” rides a lean bass riff with a smattering of glitchy samples popping up occasionally. It’s strange to hear Beck’s oddball lyrics in such a stark context, but it’s a refreshing change of course from his usual routine of either goofball nonchalance or heartbroken troubadour.
4. I Won’t Be Long (standalone single, 2013)
- At a surprisingly young 47-years old it’s entirely possible that Beck got long legs left on his music career. He’s certainly proved to have an ear for modern production with his hyper-glossy new album Colors, and when he merges new school sensibilities with his moody songwriting it produces straight up magic. This mysterious single popped up during the sweltering summer of 2013 and it matches that environment perfectly. A loping bassline is swathed Beck’s reverbed vocals, floating guitar lines, and dreamlike electronic textures. There aren’t too many songs that merit a 15 minute runtime, but the extended mix of “I Won’t Be Long” definitely does.
3. Think I’m in Love (from The Information, 2006)
- One of Beck’s biggest strengths is his ability to craft grooves out of looping bass lines (as seen like five or six times on this list alone), and he does it again in this gaseous second single from his 2006 record. The most striking thing about this song though, is not the typically memorably bass. It’s the atypically clear lyrics. There’s very little in the way of Beck’s usually opaque couplets and bizarre references. It’s a straightforward tune about being in love and how nervous it makes him.
2. Sexx Laws (from Midnite Vultures, 1999)
- Long before genre-mashing became de rigeur, Beck was the poster boy for the practice. At first it was just rock and hip-hop with a dash of folk, but Beck would eventually incorporate dozens of different styles in his work. “Sexx Laws” is a panoply of sounds ranging from big band brass to bluegrass to funk, all wrapped up in one of the most fun songs ever written (with an even more fun video). It’s wonderfully weird as only Beck can do, imbued with a lighter spirit than his other hits. The slacker drawl works in those cases, but here his more confident approach adds a boldness to the proceedings.
1. The New Pollution (from Odelay, 1996)
- The spirit of the 1960s filtered through Beck’s signature oddness and the Dust Brothers signature sheen, this is Danger Mouse style a decade before Danger Mouse was even a thing. Orbiting around a searing saxophone sample and The Beatles‘ “Tax Man” rhythm, this single was simultaneously moody and dynamic, establishing Beck as a visionary rather than just a studio tinkerer.