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"Loser" is a song by the American alternative rock singer Beck, from his second studio album Mellow Gold. It was written by Beck and record producer Carl Stephenson, who both produced the song with Tom Rothrock. "Loser" was initially released as Beck's second single by independent record label Bong Load Custom Records on 12" vinyl format with catalogue number BL5 on March 8, 1993.

When it was first released independently, "Loser" began receiving airplay on various modern rock stations, and the song's popularity eventually led to a major-label record deal with Geffen Records-subsidiary DGC Records. After the song's re-release under DGC, the song peaked at #10 on the United States Billboard Hot 100 in April 1994, becoming Beck's first single to hit a major chart.

Conception and recording

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Beck was a homeless musician in the New York Citymarker anti-folk scene. He returned to his hometown of Los Angelesmarker in early 1991, due to his financial struggles. Described by biographer Julian Palacios as having "no opportunities whatsoever", Beck worked low-wage jobs to survive, but still found time to perform his songs at local coffeehouses and clubs. In order to keep indifferent audiences engaged in his music, Beck would play in a spontaneous, joking manner. "I'd be banging away on a Son House tune and the whole audience would be talking, so maybe out of desperation or boredom, or the audience's boredom, I'd make up these ridiculous songs just to see if people were listening. 'Loser' was an extension of that." Tom Rothrock, co-owner of independent record label Bong Load, expressed interest in Beck's music and introduced him to Carl Stephenson, a record producer for Rap-A-Lot Records.

"Loser" was written and recorded while Beck was visiting Stephenson's home. Although the song was created spontaneously, Beck has claimed to have had the idea for the song since the late 1980s; he once said, "I don't think I would have been able to go in and do 'Loser' in a six-hour shot without having been somewhat prepared. It was accidental, but it was something that I'd been working toward for a long time." Beck played some of his songs for Stephenson; Stephenson enjoyed the songs, but was unimpressed by Beck's rapping. Stephenson recorded a brief guitar part from one of Beck's songs onto an 8-track, looped it, and added a drum track to it. Stephenson then added his own sitar playing and other samples. At that point, Beck began writing and improvising lyrics for the recording. For the song's vocals, Beck attempted to emulate the rapping style of Public Enemy's Chuck D. According to Beck, the line that became the song's chorus originated because "When [Stephenson] played it back, I thought, 'Man, I'm the worst rapper in the world, I'm just a loser.' So I started singing 'I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me." According to Rothrock, the song was largely finished in six and a half hours, with two minor overdubs several months later.

Composition and lyrics

Despite being primarily regarded as an alternative rock song, "Loser" is influenced by blues, hip hop, and folk. Beck acknowledged the impact of folk on the song, saying "I'd realized that a lot of what folk music is about taking a tradition and reflecting your own time. I knew my folk music would take off, if I put hip-hop beats behind it." He had also perceived similarities between Delta blues and hip hop, which helped to inspire the song. "Loser" revolves around several recurring musical elements: a slide guitar riff, Stephenson's sitar, the bassline, and a tremolo guitar part. The song's drum track is sampled from a Johnny Jenkins cover of Dr. John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" from the 1970 album Ton-Ton Macoute!. During the song's break, there is a sample of a line of dialogue from the 1994 Steve Hanft-directed film Kill the Moonlight, which goes "I’m a driver/I’m a winner/Things are gonna change, I can feel it". Hanft and Beck were friends, and Hanft would go on to direct several music videos for Beck, including the video for "Loser".

Referred to as a "stoner rap" by Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Loser"'s lyrics are mostly surrealistic and nonsensical. The song's chorus, in which Beck sings the lines "Soy un perdedor/I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?", is often interpreted as a parody of Generation X's "slacker" culture. However, Beck has denied the validity of this meaning, instead saying that the chorus is simply about his lack of skill as a rapper. Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times that "The sentiment of 'Loser' [...] reflects the twentysomething trademark, a mixture of self-mockery and sardonic defiance", noting Beck's "offhand vocal tone and free-associative lyrics" and comparing his vocals to "Bob Dylan talk-singing". After "Loser"'s recording, Beck thought that the song was interesting but unimpressive. He later said, "The raps and vocals are all first takes. If I’d known the impact it was going to make, I would have put something a little more substantial in it." The relationship between Beck and Stephenson soured after "Loser"'s release as a single. Stephenson regretted his involvement in creating the song, in particular the "negative" lyrics, saying "I feel bad about it. It's not Beck the person, it's the words. I just wish I could have been more of a positive influence."

Release and reception

"Loser" was first released in March 1993 as a 12" vinyl single on Bong Load, with only 500 copies pressed. Beck felt that "Loser" was mediocre, and only agreed to its release at Rothrock's insistence. "Loser" unexpectedly received radio airplay, starting in Los Angeles, where college radio station KXLU was the first to play it, followed by modern rock station KROQ-FM. The song then spread to Seattle through KNDD, and KROQ-FM began playing the song on an almost hourly basis. By the time stations in New York were requesting copies of "Loser", Bong Load had already run out. Beck was soon onset with offers to sign with major labels. Convinced that the song was a potential hit, Rothrock gave a vinyl pressing of the single to his friend Tony Berg, who had being working in the A&R department for Geffen Records. Berg said, "I just lost my mind when I heard it. He left my office, and I swear, by the time he got home, I had left a message asking him to introduce me to [Beck]". Beck, in spite of his hesitance to be on any major label, signed with Geffen subsidiary DGC. He explained, "I wasn't going to do anything for a long time, but Bong Load didn't have the means to make as many copies as people wanted. Geffen were involved and they wanted to make it to more of an organized place, one with a bigger budget and better distribution."

In January 1994, DGC reissued "Loser" on CD and cassette, and Geffen began heavily promoting the single. Bong Load, having retained the rights to release Beck's songs on vinyl due to the nature of Beck's contract with DGC, re-pressed the 12" single in larger quantities than before. "Loser" quickly ascended the charts in the US, reaching a peak of number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and topping the Modern Rock Tracks chart. The song also charted in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe. "Loser"'s worldwide success shot Beck into a position of attention, and the media dubbed him the center of the new so-called "slacker" movement. Beck refuted this characterization of himself, saying, "Slacker my ass. I never had any slack. I was working a $4-an-hour job trying to stay alive. That slacker stuff is for people who have the time to be depressed about everything."

The single ranked first place in the 1994 Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics' poll. In 2004, this song was ranked number 200 in Rolling Stone's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Music video

The experimental video for "Loser" was directed by Beck's friend Steve Hanft. Hanft had worked for a week on storyboards for the video, then called a meeting with Bong Load and requested a $300 budget. Filming for the video was done in Humboldt County, California, including at Rothrock's home and backyard. The video is a mashup of various home videos and psychedelic color experiments. Beck insisted they were "fucking around" when they made the video; he told Option in 1994, "We weren't making anything slick – it was deliberately crude. You know? It wasn't like one of these perfect new-wave color soft-focus extravaganzas." Hanft, inspired by 1920s surrealist films, included stop-motion animation footage of a moving coffin in the video. Two coffins were used, one which was a prop borrowed from a local drama school and the other which had been built by Beck and Hanft.

"Loser" ranked sixth in the music video category in the 1994 Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll.

Formats and track listing

All songs by Beck, except where noted.

Bong Load 12" (BL5)
  1. "Loser" (Beck, Carl Stephenson) – 3:58
  2. "Steal My Body Home" – 5:18


US CD (DGCDM-21930)
  1. "Loser" (Beck, Carl Stephenson) – 3:58
  2. "Corvette Bummer" – 4:57
  3. "Alcohol" – 3:51
  4. "Soul Suckin Jerk (Reject)" – 6:10
  5. "Fume" – 4:29


US 7" (DGCS 7-19270) and US cassette (DGCS-12270)
  1. "Loser" (Beck, Carl Stephenson) – 3:58
  2. "Alcohol" – 3:51


UK 7" (GFS 67) and UK cassette (GFSC 67)
  1. "Loser" (Beck, Carl Stephenson) – 3:58
  2. "Alcohol" – 3:51
  3. "Fume" – 4:29


UK CD (GFSTD 67) and Swedish CD (GED 21891)
  1. "Loser" (Beck, Carl Stephenson) – 3:58
  2. "Totally Confused" – 3:28
  3. "Corvette Bummer" – 4:56
  4. "MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack (Lounge Version)" - 3:29


Chart positions

Chart (1994) Peak

position
Billboard Hot 100 10
U.S. Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 39
UK Singles Chart 15
Australian Singles Chart 8
New Zealand Singles Chart 5
Dutch Singles Chart 8
Swedish Singles Chart 6
Swiss Singles Chart 19
Austrian Singles Chart 10
French Singles Chart 20
Norwegian Singles Chart 1


References

  • Ellis, Iain. Rebels Wit Attitude: Subversive Rock Humorists. Soft Skull Press, 2008. ISBN 1593762062
  • Palacios, Julian. Beck: Beautiful Monstrosity. Boxtree, 2000. ISBN 0752271431
  • Quantick, David. Beck. Da Capo Press, 2001. ISBN 1560253029


Notes

  1. Palacios, p. 67
  2. Palacios, p. 69
  3. Palacios, p. 71
  4. Palacios, p. 72
  5. Palacios, pp. 72–73
  6. Palacios, p. 72–73
  7. Palacios, p. 73
  8. Palacios, p. 74
  9. Palacios, p. 47
  10. Ellis, p. 233
  11. Ellis, p. 232
  12. Quantick, p. 22–23
  13. Quantick, p. 32–33
  14. Palacios, p. 77
  15. Palacios, p. 80
  16. Palacios, p. 84
  17. Christgau, Robert. " The 1994 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". Village Voice. February 28, 1995. Retrieved on January 3, 2009.
  18. Kemp, Mark. "Beck: Folk Futurist". Option. March 1994.


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