Few musicians of our time are as forward-thinking and boundary pushing than sound wizard Beck. From hip-hop to electronica, from heavy metal to country – Beck has went through his 20+ year career with unflinching confidence, refusing to succumb to anyone’s belief of how he should sound.
And, with an upcoming Beck album announcement surely imminent in the near future, it got us thinking about some of the great past works in the eclectic artist’s colorful discography. However, you might be surprised to learn that he has literally hundreds of b-sides, outtakes, rarities and unreleased cuts lurking in his archives, and that’s where this list comes into play.
It features some of the most obscure (yet excellent) songs in his back catalog. What’s most incredible is how fully formed they all sound, rather than just some uncared for demos. These ten tracks deserve some attention, so feast your eyes (and ears) upon these brilliant Beck songs – most of which you probably never even knew existed.
10. Gold Chains
Beck’s Odelay sessions produced a whole host of great cuts – so many, in fact, that some of them didn’t make it onto the landmark 1996 record. However, fast-forward 12 years, and a deluxe edition finally pulled the veil off of those unreleased tracks, with the super fresh, stylistic mashup “Gold Chains” being one of the standouts. As was the case for much of Odelay, Beck isn’t content with just utilizing a singular genre, combining country guitar lines with hip-hop beats to create one strange brew that’s as bewildering as it is brilliant.
9. Salt in the Wound
Beck’s fourth official studio album Midnite Vultures tends to split opinion due to its funk rock leanings, but even the naysayers would have to take their hat off to the piercing “Sexx Laws” b-side “Salt in the Wound.” The track is a Rolling Stones-esque riff-fest, featuring one of the coolest guitar lines ever concocted by the musical maestro. It’s got the same sleaze and pomp that dominated much of Midnite Vultures, cruising along without a care in the world. How this eargasmic banger didn’t make it onto the album is beyond us.
Few Beck songs ring out with the same mournful tone that this underappreciated cut does. From his first independent EP A Western Harvest Field by Moonlight, released in 1994, “Lampshade” is a stellar early recording that highlights Beck’s love of country music. From its heart-wrenching harmonica section, to its delicate guitar chords – “Lampshade” is yet another fine example of how this experimental solo artist can create sparse, yet deep compositions all in one fell swoop.
7. This Girl That I Know
Released with The Information as a bonus track in the UK and Japan, this funky number deserves more ears to hear its slinking bassline and neat guitar licks. The 2006 song finds Beck at his groovy best, delivering his usual deadpan vocals over some super tight instrumentation. Musical nodes shoot out from all directions, with blips, scratching, chatter, and everything in between peppering this meticulously put together stunner. Oh, and extra points go to it for mentioning the awesome trio Minutemen.
They don’t come much more lo-fi than this outtake from the One Foot in the Grave sessions. Entitled “Mattress,” this brief acoustic cut builds into a real anthemic piece that is just begging to be sung along to. The low production value only adds to its quirky charm, with Beck crooning over the top of a rickety acoustic riff, minimal drums, and some well-utilized maracas. The main vocal refrain of “Give it to me, don’t give it to me” will be lingering in your mind long after this hidden gem has concluded.
5. One of These Days
Switching up styles, moods, and atmospheres has become Beck’s forte, so you shouldn’t be surprised when he delivers a slow, thoughtful ballad to rival the sample-heavy energy of some of his more high-tempo works. He can do both, and on the ultra-obscure track “One of These Days,” he opts for the former. Still not officially released in the US, this dreamy 1998 recording is more than worthy of inclusion on one of his records. The song washes over the listener like a wave, with spacious stick work, haunting organ sections, and Beck’s shrill, effected voice filling it out. From start to finish, “One of These Days” is simply beautiful.
4. Vampire Voltage No. 6
Clocking in at just over two minutes, “Vampire Voltage No. 6” achieves more in that time than some songs four times the length. Serving as a b-side to the otherworldly “Chemtrails,” the track is one of two halves. A first half which sees Beck propel his voice out into the ether on top of a dreamy melody, and a second half which sees him return to earth for a grandstand finish made up of a searing distorted riff and some pedal to the metal drum work. Fancy a nice slice of garage rock? “Vampire Voltage No.6” should certainly suffice.
3. Ship in the Bottle
2002’s Sea Change remains Beck’s most heartbreaking LP to date, but you may not know about this gorgeous bonus track that was exclusive to the Japanese release. Made up of a jaw-dropping singing display and a spine-tingling guitar refrain – “Ship in the Bottle” is pure brilliance through and through. It soars for the heavens and gets there with ease, thanks to its ethereal beauty and Beck’s convincing vocal display. This one’s easily on par with the rest of Sea Change, so it’s a shame that it wasn’t included on the reflective record.
Beck’s never shied away from his more experimental side, and on the Odelay outtake “Inferno,” it’s on full display for all to see. The song doesn’t really have a defined structure, but rather, moves from section to section with reckless abandon. Various musical styles can be found on this seven-minute sensory overload, combining rap, rock, country, metal, electronica, and even meditative sounds to dazzling effect. It’s almost impossible to absorb it all on the first listen, but given time to sink in, this dizzying epic is sure to keep you coming back for more.
1. Woe on Me
Another track that didn’t make it onto 1994’s One Foot in the Grave, “Woe On Me” sees Beck find his inner Dylan. The melody, the voice, the production – everything contained here just merges together so effortlessly that you’ll be wondering why “Woe On Me” isn’t more well-known. The stripped down guitar chords along with Beck’s intoxicating folk musings highlight just how strong his songwriting skills were, even back then. Taking everything into account – with its low exposure level along with just how great a song it is – this has to be the most criminally overlooked composition in Mr. Hansen’s hefty discography.