Top 5 favourite albums: Beck: "Mellow Gold"

I'm A Loser Baby, So Why Don't You Kill Me?

Music plays an important part of my daily work and personal life (alongside coffee, particularly while working), and while not a career for me, the desire of being a great musician has always been there. It occurred to me recently that I haven't written much about some of my favourite music, and that if anything I should deconstruct one of my all-time favourite albums, track by track. The following is just that.

Mellow Gold (1994)

Beck: Mellow Gold (12-inch Vinyl LP)

Rare and hard to find, Beck's classic 1994 album on wax; I have two copies because I'm stupid like that (this is probably my all-time favourite album, by my all-time favourite artist.)

A bit of back-story on the album art: Apparently there was a local artist-type guy who made these things as pipes for smoking some sort of nasty substance. He's seen playing a guitar on a rooftop in a sequence from the music video for Loser.

  • Release Date: March 1, 1994
  • Label: Bong Load Custom Records / DGC
  • Producers: Beck, Tom Rothrock, Rob Schnapf, Carl Stephenson

Mellow Gold I personally considered "really good" when I got it from a friend who was going to throw it away, after he had tired of listening to the accidental hit single Loser (first played and popularized on the LA area radio station KCRW.) My friend was initially going to "burn the album" as suggested on the intro to the second track, but I told him I'd take it off his hands instead, having the feeling there was more to it than just Loser. Upon hearing the rest of the album I realized it was excellent, and in later years came to the conclusion that it was far ahead of its time. Mellow Gold is solid gold, practically a work of art. Nearly every track is excellent.

Beck showed with this album he was able to defy critics, combine numerous genres from folk to hip-hop and make it all work in a way that made sense. This is my all-time favourite album by my all-time favourite artist.

Below is a listing of the tracks in chronological order, with some personal commentary on each.


"Baby's in Reno with the vitamin d / got a couple of couches, sleep on the love seat"

This is the song that started it all, became the anthem for the early 90's self-professed "Slacker" generation of the time, and the tune responsible for Beck's initial labeling as some sort of "One-Hit Wonder". Most critics overlooked the remainder of the album, calling Beck a "Man-Child" and generally dismissing the popularity of Loser. Little did they know, this was just the jump-start to Beck's musical fame.

Loser loops a drum sample from the Dr. John song, "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" (as did Oasis in "Go Let It Out", several years later.) The music video shows Beck with a leafblower on stage, presumably from earlier live shows in and around the LA area.

Pay No Mind

"Give the finger to the rock-and-roll singer / as he's dancing upon your paycheque"

"Pay No Mind" has a video, which seems to depict a random party scene and wacky activities. The song itself may have helped to contribute to the "slacker" criticisms leveled against it, given its nonsensical, carefree lyrics (see as cited above) - however, there's a playful ignorance it seems that can't be shaken in this song.

I'll never forget the look on my friend's face and his reaction upon hearing the lyric, "The sales climb high through the garbage pail sky / like a giant dildo crushing the sun..." (We were 14 at the time.)

Fuckin' With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock)

"Found myself in New Orleans / with a scarecrow in my jeans / feed my forehead through the ceilin' / drank my coffee with a hubcap / yeah"

I have fond memories of blasting this song when driving and at house parties, the bass shaking the exterior trim while we were sitting in a hot-tub with a bunch of girls, drinking beer and being stupid (and underage.) It was excellent. This remains to date one of my favourite party songs. The lyrics and melody are sort of bluesy, but the song itself carries a certain upbeat swing. This is some of Beck at his best.

Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997

"I was born in this hotel / washing dishes in the sink / magazines and free soda / trying not to think"

The story as I understand it behind this song is that there were a number of takes (it starts out with Beck mumbling "one more time.."), which basically sets the tune for the rest of the track. Shakers come in and out of time, and there are some (presumably-intended) off-tune string notes, sort of cheap and amateur, which lend a certain amusing angle to the whole thing. The dark choruses and in particular the whistling near the end is also excellent, I find myself often joining in when listening.

I never really understood the title of this track and wondered why 1997 was chosen (the album was released in 1994), but not everything needs an explanation nor has to make sense.. Particularly with Beck Hansen.

Soul Suckin' Jerk

"And I crawled out the window with my shadow in a spoon / dancin' on the roof, shootin' holes in the moon"

I once read an article describing Beck as "The Beastie Boy you can take home." I wasn't always a big fan of the Beastie Boys, and at the time this seemed to make more sense to me. There is a breakdown in this song which reminded me of some of the Beastie Boys high-pitched, distorted yelling style in particular, and I had always wondered if there might have been a connection.

"Soul Suckin' Jerk" is another track that feels rebellious, something you'd play the day you quit your job. (The chorus starts with, "I ain't gonna work for no soul suckin' jerk..") and continues the theme.

I think some of the lyrics describe events that have some part of truth, or at least a story behind them ("..'Til a hooker let me share her fake fur coat / as we took a little nap, the cops picked up us both / I tried to explain I was only trying to get warm / I knew I never ever should have burnt my uniform..")

There is a second "reject" version of this song which opens with the lyric, "I'm standing right here with a beer in my hand / and my mouth is full of sand / and I don't understand ..", effectively making the second verse the first. It has a distinct bass line and seemingly-sample-based drums, and is a great alternate take - it could have been called a remix.

Truckdrivin' Neighbours Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)

"Whiskey-stanined, buck-toothed, backwoods creep / grizzly bear, motherfucker never goes to sleep"

This track starts out with an argument, two drunken and aggravated men yelling at each other: "Come on motherfucker, put your clothes on, come on! [smashing glass] .. [#2]: You lousy puke! [#1, now in distance]:fuck you, [#2]: Why don't you call your mommy!", etc.

There is a rather interesting story behind this song. Beck was apparently recording an acoustic guitar song on an 8-track in his apartment when a fight broke out between - you guessed it - the two neighbours downstairs, who were reportedly truckdrivers.

The argument got so loud that Beck had to stop playing, left the room and forgot to stop the 8-track, which caught the remainder of the fight. Apparently, the fight got so bad that one of the truck drivers grabbed an axe and hit the other guy, possibly severing an arm or limb. Reportedly the full tape of this has been lost somewhere, but rumour is that someone somewhere might have it..

Sweet Sunshine

"Grab your wine, tell me where you been / with the violin cryin' and the moon gettin' thin"

This track starts out with some sort of wind-up toy, followed by a slowed-down sample of drums from South Side Movement's "Save The World" (also used on "Fuckin' With My Head".) I think this is may be the least-impressive track on the whole album, but it's still pretty strong; the drum loop alone gets the groove going nicely for several bars before any other instruments join in. The song itself lyrically sounds almost like a light version of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer", minus most of its overt sexual references.


"I got the bug / and I got the drug / and I got something better than love"

Ah, another party song. "Beercan" I believe was the second single off of Mellow Gold, and a music video was also filmed for it. Basically, Beck's crew stocked an empty house full of furniture and things, and invited a number of the local homeless people to show up and have a party, trash the place etc. while the band played there. The result is a rather chaotic music video.

I am also pretty certain that the sound heard at the beginning of this song is produced by a kids' toy from the early ninties, which makes odd sound effects; it is a long cardboard tube with plastic cups, flush with the ends and facing inward, and a spring which connects the bases of the cups on either end. Making noise or speaking through one end results in sounds not unlike what you hear at the beginning of "Beercan" (what appears to be a party with music, as heard through the kids' toy.)

Steal My Body Home

"You can keep yourself inside / but you know you cannot lie / when the devil's your only friend"

If Beck were to be labeled as a downtempo artist, perhaps the first part of "Steal My Body Home" would fit in that category. The first two thirds of this track fulfill a lot of the requirements: A slow tempo, reverb and echoes, sitars and other drone-like sounds in the background and so on.

I remember playing the first few seconds of this song many times over, trying to catch what I thought was a pop coming from a loose element in one of my speakers. As far as I can remember, a screw just needed a bit of tightening, it was the kick of the bass drum that was causing the noise. (12 years later, I still have those same speakers.)

The latter third of "Steal My Body Home" devolves into classic "Beck messing with the track" mode, where a rather sombre tune suddenly turns into comic entertainmen - there's an over-stated twang on the sitar, a kazoo buzzing in one speaker and other random sounds. Again, more of Beck at his finest.

Nitemare Hippy Girl

"She's a witness to her own glory / she's a never-ending story"

"Nitemare Hippy Girl" is an interesting tribute to a girl Beck presumably knew. The first two verses are your standard fare, and the latter half is then a seemingly-unending series of three-chord-progression one-liners about this magical, mystical woman. ("She's a magical, sparkling tease / she's a rainbow choking the breeze", etc.)

The track ends on a slightly different, minor chord, and I find it memorable particularly for the latter half.


"Hey, Mr. Asshole / what's your dirty hassle / sittin' in your castle / judgin' everyone"

It's not true that every album has at least one "thrash" song, but it's safe to say Mellow Gold certainly does. "Mutherfuker" I believe was originally recorded on a 4-or-8-track by Beck before he was signed to Bong Load records. This recording was then used as the source material for Mellow Gold. I vaguely recall hearing the original lo-fi recording of "Mutherfuker" which didn't have anywhere near the same punch and driving, distorted guitar sounds. Though I don't know the details of what was and wasn't used, I most remember the vocal track from the original sounding the same on the Mellow Gold LP. In either case, the vocals sound like they are being spoken/yelled through a voicebox of some sort.

"Mutherfuker" sounds like a vent, a vocal exercise of frustration judging by the lyrics. At 2:05, it's practically the length of a standard punk rock song, and roughly as angry.


"Little boy (x2) / laying on a sleeping bag / watching (x2) / through the cracks of his eyelids"

Most Beck albums tend to close with a peaceful, mellow song; this expectation may have been set with Mellow Gold. This track is quite blissful and is in stark contrast to the thrashing delivered by "Mutherfuker". There is a fairly-loud mid-timbre bassline, a strumming chorus of guitars and Beck's vocals, also slightly reverberating/chorused. Particularly in the latter parts of this song, I always envisioned a chorus of ukeleles playing, inaccurate as that probably is. There are some notable moments near the end where the string instruments (presumably a violin or related family variant) are playing in-key for a while and then intentionally go off-key, creating an audible conflict that is soon resolved.

Again as expectations go, this album was the one to start the "hidden track" noise stuff. "Blackhole" ends with a few minutes of silence, and then a cacophony of sweeping electronic noise is heard for another minute or two. This is also included on the vinyl LP.

In Conclusion

This is my favourite album of all-time. If you've never heard it (or only heard Loser before,) go and buy a copy. It's wonderful.

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