This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #285: Loser by Beck.
Beck is a very interesting character compared to many of the other artists who populate this list.
For starters, his mother was Bibbe Hansen, a visual artist and one of those folks who comprised Andy Warhol’s Art Collective in NYC during the 1960/70s. At one point, she was the subject of a Warhol movie and became a “Future Star”; earning her the requisite fifteen minutes of fame. Into this atmosphere of artistic experimentation and freedom was born a boy named Bek David Campbell or, as we know him today, Beck.
Being born into a lifestyle as open and fluid as Andy Warhol’s Art Collective helped inspire a willingness in Beck to experiment with the sounds he would end up using to make his music. Initially, much of the music Beck (solo or with his friends) made was almost unlistenable. It was music turned in on itself. It was the antithesis of harmony. Needless to say, holding down jobs as a musician in coffee houses or else, trying to record songs and earn a recording contract, in the mindset that Beck held in his youth, resulted in a spectacular string of failures and rejections. The end result of this was that, until his first hit, “Loser” was discovered “by accident”, Beck lived a life of abject poverty. As Beck struggled to find food and lodging, he, none-the-less, continued to explore the world of music.
One of the things that piqued his curiosity at the time was the rise in a new technology called Sampling. As you may know, sampling is a technique in which an artist uses pre-recorded snippets of singing, of sound effects or of instruments being played by others and incorporates that into an original piece of music. The samples can be manipulated to stretch out their sound, to compress the sound, to have it play continuously on repeat, and so on. So, Beck began experimenting with sampling. One of the many songs he created using sampling was a song he titled, “Loser”.
“Loser” was “accidently” discovered by a record producer named Carl Stephenson, who was connected with Indie label, Bong Load Records who, in turn, were connected to BMG Music. Beck wanted to produce something with a Hip-Hop flair to it and recorded “Loser” almost as a joke. But, Stephenson saw something in the song and convinced Beck to release it as a single. Only 500 singles were issued. But, one of those single copies ended up on a college radio station. The response was positive and soon, one of those 500 single copies found its’ way on to larger commercial radio stations. Beck was asked to play the song live, on air. The rest is, as they say, history. A bidding war erupted between America’s biggest record companies and soon, Beck, who had been living on the couches of his friends, was being offered million-dollar contracts.
The sample-rich, jangly sound of “Loser” captured everyone’s attention. For the first time in his life, Beck was afforded the proper instruments and recording facilities and personnel, to hone his experimental nature and create something that suited his artistic sensibilities, as well as, being commercially-viable. A new album called “Odelay” was released. It contained the hit songs, “Devil’s Haircut”, “The New Pollution” and “Where It’s At”. “Odelay” was the darling of the Grammy Awards the following year, winning two Grammy Awards and bringing Beck to the national spotlight for good.
While “Where It’s At” is Beck’s biggest selling single, it was “Loser” that rescued him from a life of poverty and helped to launch his career. Born into a family of artists and musicians who left Beck to test the limits of song structure and musical composition, Beck’s career journey hasn’t been easy but, it has been completely on his own terms. Consequently, Beck is an artist who produces some of the most original and inventive music being created today.
So, without further delay, here is the song that launched one of the most interesting careers in music…”Loser” by Beck. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Loser” by Beck, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Beck, can be found here.
Thanks for KEXP for always supporting innovative bands and artists. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.