12 by... aims to summarize an artist's career in 12 songs. This one features...
The best way to describe Beck? Kitchen sink. If you are looking for an artist who embraces electro-funk, bluegrass, folk, hip-hop, blues, R & B, psychedelica, pop and other genres that don't even have names, he's your man. I'll admit, this was a hard list to pick. Someone who defies definition is hard to define.
1. "Asshole" (from One Foot in the Grave, 1994)
This was released a matter of months after Mellow Gold, but it was recorded before, so I'm putting it first. Besides being a good example of Beck's lo-fi folk beginnings, it's a song so good that Tom Petty decided to cover it (on 1996's She's the One). You can't a better endorsement than that.
2. "Loser" (from Mellow Gold, 1994)
Of course it's got surreal, evocative lyrics and a keenly memorable chorus, but I think most people at the time expected to see Beck go the way of Dishwalla, Primitive Radio Gods, Deep Blue Something and every other mid-'90s alternative one-hit wonder. Who really knew?
3. "Where It's At" (from Odelay, 1996)
Beck grabbed sample kings Dust Brothers and decided to show us what hip-hop would have been like if had been invented in the deep south.
4. "Sissyneck" (from Odelay, 1996)
Nashville on acid, featuring the line: "I got a beard that'll disappear if I'm dressed in leather."
5. "Dead Melodies" (from Mutations, 1998)
Slightly more conventional musically, if not lyrically. By the way, the title is ironic, considering the song sports such a strong melody.
6. "Mixed Bizness" (from Midnite Vultures, 1999) Earth Wind & Fire circa the 30th century.
7. "Get Real Paid" (from Midnite Vultures, 1999)
Beck only appears on the chorus of this song. Speaking of getting paid, that's sort of like a professor getting full salary while a TA handles his classes. But it's still a good tune.
8. "Guess I'm Doing Fine" (from Sea Change, 2002)
The logical extension of Mutations, except this time he's lucid on on the lyrics, which are honky-tonk-at-closing-time worthy. I love the ennui of the title statement, which you know clearly is a lie.
9. "Lost Cause" (from Sea Change, 2002)
This one is a little more honest...
10. "Rental Car" (from Guero, 2005)
I love this one for the "yeah, yeah, yeah" chorus. Add those handclaps and the dirty guitar and it sounds like it could have been on one of those '60s Nuggets compilations.
11. "Hell Yes" (from Guero, 2005) Basically a remake of Where It's At. Seriously, listen to them one after the other.
12. "Clap Hands" (from Guerolito, 2005)
Okay, so this should really be a live version, but the studio recording still gets the point across. Though it feels like it could have something to do with the Tom Waits song of the same name, it doesn't.