In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we’re picking from 1994’s most popular cuts.
I liked “Loser” when it first started making the rounds as an underground 12-inch single in 1993, but I didn’t love it—it seemed like an accidentally smart-sounding goof. It was weird to watch the song take off into 1994: It was already a bona fide radio hit by the time Beck signed with Geffen, after a bidding war. Prior to the release of Mellow Gold, in March of 1994, Beck did an MTV interview with Thurston Moore in which he refused to answer questions, threw his shoe, and basically acted like the 23-year-old doofus that he was—which turned me off him even more. (Watch it below, it’s obnoxious.) The song would peak at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100; it remains the biggest hit single of his career. (Odelay would go on to sell more copies than Mellow Gold, but “Loser” reached the mainstream in a bigger way than “Where It’s At” or “Devil’s Haircut” ever did.) It was culturally ubiquitous for a time, and even the best songs can’t usually stand up to that kind of overexposure. It came to represent the non-genre “slacker rock,” and Beck even started to hate it, playing non-representative versions in concert, then eventually not playing it much at all anymore. But now it’s solidly back in his live repertoire, with an older, wiser Beck realizing what maybe he didn’t at the time: “Loser” is a great song when you’re not forced to listen to it every 10 minutes. Built on a foundation of a bluesy slide guitar riff, a hip-hop beat, and a simple, sticky sitar line, the track wouldn’t necessarily have made much of a splash. But Beck’s nonsensical, funny lyrics—some would criticize him at the time for just making shit up—sold it. I think it’s because in between flights of total absurdity (“My time is a piece of wax / Fallin’ on a termite / Who’s chokin’ on the splinters”) there are occasional bits that seem to make perfect sense, like “Kill the headlights, and put it in neutral.” And then there’s that chorus—“Soy un perdedor / I’m a loser, baby / So why don’t you kill me?” It’s so catchy and ridiculous, and did its part to define a moment that would’ve been so aloof about the idea of being defined in the first place.