How a few hours spent on one song launched Beck’s career
Beck is one of the most precious talents that has emerged over the last few decades, but, one song helped him become the star he is today, and the track was a fluke that almost didn’t happen. After a throwaway comment from his friend, Beck began work on the song that would begin his career in earnest — ‘Loser’.
In 1993, Beck was a struggling musician living in a rat-infested shed in Los Angeles, his career was looking slightly down and out, but a change was just around the corner. He kept on ploughing away, playing coffee houses, bars and wherever would have him which would eventually get him noticed. He then found influential admirers in Margaret Mittleman, the West Coast’s director of talent acquisitions for BMG Music Publishing. The partners behind independent record label Bong Load Custom Records: Tom Rothrock, Rob Schnapf and Brad Lambert all came together to present Beck with his first bite of the apple.
This admiration came after Schnapf saw Beck perform at LA’s club Jabberjaw and thought he’d make a fitting addition to the small label they were starting. After agreeing to record a single for the company, Rothrock then introduced Beck to Carl Stephenson, a record producer for Rap-A-Lot Records after the singer discussed his interest in hip-hop, leading to the duo creating the iconic song, ‘Loser’ together.
The single was supposed to be a one-off experiment that was deliberately different from anything else that he had done and, after recording ‘Loser’ and a flirtation with ‘anti-folk’, he largely went back to his folk roots. The pair initially envisaged the song as a throwaway bit of fun and nothing more, but, it would be one of the tracks that would define his career. After just six-hours in the studio, ‘Loser’ was completed, and Beck’s life would never be the same again.
Beck told Option the story of this song: “Tom had called up and said, ‘Hey, I know this guy who does hip-hop beats and stuff. I said, ‘Oh yeah, well sometimes I rap between songs and get people from the audience to do the beat-box thing into the mike.’ So we went to this guy’s house, and I played him a few of my folk songs.
“He seemed pretty all-around unimpressed. Then I started playing this slide guitar part and he started taping it. He put a drum track to it and it was, you know, the ‘Loser’ riff. I started writing these lyrics to the verse part. When he 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.’ I’m always kinda putting myself down like that.”
Beck later discussed how this song was something he’d been building towards for years, noting: “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.”
The track slowly became a favourite on college radio and alternative music stations, which saw Beck receive recognition for the first time in his career.
The song’s success caught the attention of Geffen Records who Beck hesitantly signed with after Bong Load admitted that they didn’t have the facilities to cope with a track of this popularity. ‘Loser’ was then re-released in 1994 and sold over 600,000 copies in the US alone as well as charting internationally. The song is one of Beck’s highest-charting singles of his career and, the few hours spent pulling it together, ensured Beck’s dynamic career reached fruition.