Was there a more surprising hit in 1994, or in the first half of the '90s for that matter, than Beck’s "Loser"?

When it was released early that year, it sounded at first like any one of the disposable alt-rock goofs that mixed and matched music genres for yuks and was given the green light during the post-Nirvana signing frenzy. But "Loser" turned out to be so much more.

By the time Beck’s major-label debut, Mellow Gold, was released on March 1, "Loser" was well on its way to hitting the Top 10 and reaching No. 1 on the modern-rock chart. And by the end of the year, it sounded like a revelation.

Greasy slide guitar. Bedroom hip-hop beats. A drum sample lifted from a Dr. John cover. Imagery pulled from Captain Beefheart’s lyric book. And a white-boy rap so mumble-mouthed that there’s no way this dude was serious. It all added up to one of the decade’s most defining songs.

The rest of Mellow Gold is pretty great, too. The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter had already released two albums of low-fi indie rock, dusty-road twang, experimental noise and deconstructed folk music on tiny labels.

They attracted enough attention that Beck was scooped up in the majors’ mid-‘90s rush to find the next alt-rock money machine. But there couldn’t have been a weirder, less commercially minded candidate. Yet somehow Mellow Gold became an unlikely hit, and Beck didn’t have to change a weird, wonderful thing about it.

Watch Beck's 'Loser' Video

From the strung-out and strung-together Dylanesque second single, "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)," to "Beercan"'s backwoods hip-hop, Mellow Gold proved "Loser" wasn’t just a lucky strike. The album consistently shifts away from the predictable, dodging expectations at every turn.

And it still made it to No. 12 and sold a million copies. Odelay, Mellow Gold’’s proper follow-up from 1996, is Beck’s masterpiece, but the genre-jumping smirks and left-field success of Mellow Gold made it possible for a skinny white kid with mediocre flow and a bedroom full of beats to become a star.

 

 

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