We know -- trying to make sense of Beck's lyrics is like putting together an all-black jigsaw puzzle that's missing some pieces. But deciphering one of the most restless and creative artists of the past 20 years is part of his appeal. It wasn't easy, and our choices don't always make sense when you think about how words shape songs, but we came up with a list of the 10 Best Beck Lyrics for you to ponder.
"I met you at JC Penney / I think your name tag said Jenny / I cold-step to you with a fresh pack of gum if somehow I knew you were looking for some / ... I wanna get with you and your sister / I think her name is Debra"
On 1999's 'Midnite Vultures,' Beck got funky, soulful and silly as he paid tribute to '70s and '80s R&B. The album-closing 'Debra' channels Prince with a nads-tightening falsetto and hilarious come-on lines.
"Invite me to the seven seas like some seasick man / You will do whatever you please and I'll do whatever I can / Titanic, fare thee well / My eyes are turning pink / Don't call us when the new age gets old enough to drink"
'Lord Only Knows' is one of the few 'Odelay' tracks that doesn't pile on a ton of samples. But even if the music isn't totally stitched together, its words seem to be. We're not exactly sure what's going on here, but the imagery is pretty vivid all the same.
"Your brains went black when she took back her love And put it out into the sun, the birds did fly / When the heavens all went dry / And the cigarettes were smoking by themselves"
'One Foot in the Grave' was recorded before Beck's breakthrough and major-label debut 'Mellow Gold,' but wasn't released until after it. The album sounds a lot like 'Gold,' with twangy folk-rock bumping up against rustic low-fi and other sounds that were way out of step with most '90s indie rock. The zigzagging 'A--hole' is the highlight.
"I quit my job blowing leaves / Telephone bills up my sleeves / Choking like a one-man dust bowl / Freedom rock slime ball talking in code / We went down, lit up the shack / Grab me a beer out of the sack / Everybody bent over twice / Painting the walls, throwing some dice / Leaping up into the air, getting juiced up beyond belief / And they were singing like this"
The follow-up to the career-making 'Loser' follows a similar pattern, from the old-school hip-hop beat to the indie-folk injections to nonsense lyrics that border on surreal.
"There's too many people you used to know / They see you coming, they see you go / They know your secrets and you know theirs / This town is crazy, nobody cares"
After almost a decade of switching up genres, messing up heads and stringing together words and musical fragments that sometimes probably shouldn't have been strung together, Beck got serious on 2002's 'Sea Change,' chronicling a particularly brutal breakup. 'Lost Cause' best captures his hopelessness.
"When I wake up, someone will sweep up my lazy bones and we will rise in the cool of the evening / I remember the way that you smiled / When the gravity shackles were wild / Something is vacant when I think it's all beginning"
One of 'Odelay''s most stripped-down tracks (though it still includes a foundation-laying sample that secures the whole thing) fittingly includes lyrics that don't seem stitched together. It's sorta hippie peace-speak and still a little vague, but its intent is otherwise clear. Sorta.
"She's got cigarette on each arm / She's got the lily-white cavity crazes / She's got a carburetor tied to the moon / Pink eyes looking to the food of the ages"
Hoo-boy. We're not even gonna try to unscramble this mess of words that Beck most likely scribbled down during a late-night writing session. Whatever they mean, the lyrics perfectly suit the tone of this 'Odelay' highlight.
"Heads are hanging from the garbage-man trees / Mouthwash jukebox gasoline pistols are pointing at a poor man's pockets / Smiling eyes ripping out of his sockets"
Like many songs on our list of the 10 Best Beck Lyrics, 'Devils Haircut' doesn't make much sense as standalone words on paper. But when paired with the hyperactive beat the Dust Brothers provide, 'Odelay''s opening cut becomes a '90s classic.
"You can't write if you can't relate / Trade the cash for the beef, for the body, for the hate / And my time is a piece of wax falling on a termite that's choking on the splinters"
Beck's lazy-day flow and 'Loser''s country-blues-meets-hip-hop beat helped make it his breakthrough hit in 1994. But you gotta give some credit to the song's lyrics, even if they spill out like a leftover tube of paint on an already surreal landscape.
"I got two turntables and a microphone"
The line that tops our list of the 10 Best Beck Lyrics isn't even all that substantial. In fact, it's almost a parenthetical afterthought to the song. But it sums up the song and Beck's ethos (especially on his masterpiece, 'Odelay') more concisely than any of the surrealistic outpourings he's delivered over the past 20 years. 'Where It's At''s opening lines may fall more in step with the Beck who puzzles us, but "two turntables and a microphone" is his rallying cry.