Beck rose to fame some two decades back with a lo-fi brand of collage rock -- mixing and matching folk, blues, funk, psychedelia and hip-hop -- all while projecting a cool post-modern demeanor. He held an abiding passion for classic rock all along, however, as evidenced by the way he's consistently returned to the likes of David Bowie, John Lennon and the Rolling Stones, both on stage and in the studio.
Our Top 10 Beck Classic Rock Cover Songs delves into those moments when one of the '90s' confirmed hipsters reached back into influences and/or passions that also included Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground and INXS, as well.
'Black Angel's Death Song' (2009)Velvet Underground and Nico
In this driving acoustic version by his cover band the Record Club, Beck keeps the junkie nihlism of the groundbreaking 1967 original in tact, but strips away the turbulent strings once provided by John Cale. Beck has long been a fan of the Velvets, covering 'Sunday Morning' and 'Who Loves The Sun?' on stage, and reportedly basing his song 'Beautiful Way' on VU's long-lost demo 'Countess From Hong Kong.'
Beck seems as if he's going to play it straight on this update of John Lennon's deeply personal ode from 1970's 'Plastic Ono Band,' even echoing the opening piano figure. Soon, however, Beck switches gears - adding a ringing guitar and layered vocals (all handled by Beck himself) to a version that appeared on Valentine's Day release from Starbucks. The song has been part of Beck's repertoire since 2001, when he recorded it for a Lennon tribute show, and subsequently added it to his sets..
As featured on Bowie's 1975 'Young Americans' album, 'Win' unfolded like a soul-tinged rumination. Beck, again taking up his acoustic for a rangy reinterpretation, gives the song a new bite -- sounding more peeved than nostalgic. He has also sampled Bowie's original as part of the track 'Debra' off the 1999 'Midnite Vultures' studio project.
'Sweet Virginia' (2002)Rolling Stones
Beck adds a scorching harmonica alongside Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Mike Ness of Social Distortion on an appropriately raucous version of this 1972 country honk from the Rolling Stones' 'Exile on Main Street' project. 'Sweet Virginia' ends -- how else? -- with all three howling the iconic line: "Got to scrape that s--- right off your shoes!"
'Guns in the Sky' (2010)INXS
This propulsive update arrived as part of Beck's 'Record Club No. 4,' which focused entirely on INXS' 1987 smash album 'Kick.' Beck is joined by members of Lairs, St. Vincent and Os Mutantes on the first of our Top 10 Beck Classic Rock Cover Songs so far to mimic his typically post-modern sound - right down to a randy "Where It's At"-style call-and-response. The video makes clear how much fun they had.
'Diamond Dogs' (2000)David Bowie
If you didn't know the lyrics to the title track from Bowie's 1974 'Diamond Dogs' release, you might not even recognize this as a cover. That's how completely Beck, and guest collaborator Timbaland, reimagined this suddenly minimalist post-modern track as part of the soundtrack for 'Moulin Rouge.'
'Sunday Morning' (2009)Velvet Underground and Nico
The first-ever Record Club single, 'Sunday Morning' was later included on the deluxe vinyl edition of 1994's 'One Foot In The Grave.' The surprise might just be how faithfully Beck, paired here with Icelandic singer Thorunn Magnusdottir, approaches this track. That, in its own way, tends to underscore his enduring passion for classic rock, too. He knows it note for note.
'No Expectations' (2000)Rolling Stones
This backstage recording from 2000 with Beth Orton (who was opening his shows) begins with some discussion about the key and the arrangement. Then, together they underscore the quiet desperation of Mick Jagger's lyric of the 'Beggars Banquet' cut.
'Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat' (2008)Bob Dylan
Part of an interesting charity project called 'War Child Presents Heroes,' which asked legends to select next-generation performers to cover their music. Bob Dylan selected Beck to do this iconic track from 1966's 'Blonde on Blonde,' and Beck proceeded to unleash a torrent of electro-creativity. Something clicked for Beck, too: He then performed 'Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat' at the close of the 81st Academy Awards, and added it to his live set.
'Sound and Vision' (2013)David Bowie
Talk about 'Sound and Vision.' Beck explodes the lithe new-wave feel of Bowie's 1977 version of 'Low,' performing amidst some 157 musicians while conducting from atop a rotating stage. It's the height of 1970s-style pomp, but re-formulated for a new era: He employs an offbeat group that includes a yodeler, Chinese percussion, a marching band and, at one point, what appears to be a saw blade.