At various points over the past 25 years, Beck has taken a hiatus from his artsy, eccentric persona and entered a reflective, melancholy mode. At such moments he has written some of his most poignant and beautiful songs. Instead of tapping into technology or using irony as in instrument, he has delivered poetic ruminations about love and loss through acoustic-based numbers teeming with longing and quiet despair. It happened in 1998 with "Mutations," in 2002 with "Sea Change, and again on his new brand-new album "Morning Phase," release this week.
Paradoxically, on March 1, exactly 20 years will have passed since Beck released his first major-label album, "Mellow Gold." The songs were quirky pastiches of sometimes incongruous styles — rock, rap, anti-folk, psychedelia, and country — that stuck together like metal objects attracted to a powerful magnet. The standout single, "Loser," made Beck both an unlikely star and an inaccurate and unwilling representative of slacker culture. Nonetheless, the helter-skelter construction of "Mellow Gold" became a template for the lo-fi, subtly subversive indie-rock genre and ultimately influenced a wide range of artists, from Cat Power to Arcade Fire and practically everyone in between.
Yahoo Music scraped the vaults to unearth 10 little-known facts about the album that launched Beck's career and helped changed the ever-morphing face of alternative music.
1. Beck considered calling the album "Cold Ass Fashion," but instead named it after a potent strain of California marijuana.
2. The robot on the cover was created by artist Eddie Lopez, who cameoed in the "Loser” video. The sculpture was titled "Survivor From the Nuclear Bomb." It was originally shot in Lopez's garage space by Beck's friend and early collaborator Ross Harris. The final image was reshot in a studio where Harris was able to control the environment and add visual effects to make it look more apocalyptic.
3. The groundbreaking "Loser" was a musical experiment created over an impromptu jam session with Rap-A-Lot producer Carl Stephensen. Bong Load Records partner Tom Rothrock encouraged Beck to show his folk songs to Stephensen, and since Beck knew the producer dealt mostly with hip-hop, he mentioned that he sometimes rapped in concert between songs. He improvised a slide guitar riff on the spot and Stephensen programmed a complimentary beat. Inspired, Beck wrote and rapped lyrics for the verse "When [Stephensen] played it back, I thought, 'Man, I'm the worst rapper in the world – I'm just a loser,' Beck told Option magazine. "So I started singing, 'I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me.'" The song came out on Bong Load, became a cult hit, and earned Beck a deal with Geffen.
4. The trippy "Steal My Body Home" was recorded with Stephensen in 1992, around the time he and Beck worked on "Loser." The multifaceted track didn't feel complete to Beck until he complimented the sluggish beats and sedated vocals with clattery percussion and a kazoo solo.
5. Beck wrote one of the oldest songs on the album, "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)," when he was 18 years old. The number originally featured 10 verses, seven of which were cut from the album version.
6. The same year that Beck released "Mellow Gold," he put out two other full-length albums, the lo-fi, experimental "Stereopathic Soulmanure" on Flipside and the indie-folk/blues record "One Foot in the Grave" on K Records. The move was partially an effort to dispel the myth he was the lethargic "Loser" character he was portrayed as in the press.
7. Beck’s friend Steve Hanft spent a week storyboarding the "Loser" video. Bong Load greenlit the shoot, which cost $300, mostly for props: Beck rented a grim reaper costume and purchased squeegees, which were burned during the shoot. The moving-coffin effects in the video were inspired by 1920s surrealist films. Beck and Hanft wound up borrowing the coffin from a local drama school. The stuttering camera images and visual flare effects were happy accidents that took place when one of the cameras used for the shoot was loading wrong and jammed.
8. The track "Molly By Golly" is about creepy dolls that Harris's mom used to sew. The figures had interchangeable masks, each of which gave the dolls a different ethnicity.
9. "Beer Can" included a sample of "Hog Leg" by the Melvins and dialogue from the TV show "Care Bears."
10. "Mellow Gold" went gold in May 1994, two months after it was released, and was certified platinum in August 1995.