March 1, 1994. Beck releases Mellow Gold, his third studio album and debut for DGC Records. It may well be the true Gen X soundtrack.

 

This isn’t 100% my take. Years ago, I read a piece in SPIN Magazine by esteemed Gen X pop culture essayist Chuck Klosterman on how Beck’s “Loser” defined the ’90s. I was actually able to relocate the 2010 piece online here. In it, Klosterman makes the case that when “Loser” dropped in January of 1994, that was the cultural turning point of the decade. Nevermind Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991.

 

And here’s the thing: I kinda agree with him.

 

That’s not to dismiss the importance of Nirvana in 1991. They spearheaded the grunge explosion, which in turn blew open the doors for alternative rock: the defining sound of the decade. Beck’s Mellow Gold isn’t just part of that defining sound. It might be the primary example of what alternative rock was in the ’90s; Klosterman says “Loser” could end up being the only song from that era that’s recognized a century from now.

 

Is Beck’s ‘Mellow Gold’ the True Gen X Soundtrack?

I’d take things beyond the album’s lead single and opening track, though. Sure, “Loser” is a (or the?) quintessential Gen X slacker anthem. But Mellow Gold as a whole acts as a time capsule of that era. Beck himself described the album as a “satantic K-Tel record” to Rolling Stone in 1994. A deep ’70s reference in a decade that was full of them: Gen Xers mining their ’70s youth to fuel their ’90s creativity.

 

The alternative rock of the ’90s was a potpourri of musical styles and subgenres, too. Mellow Gold is a (or the?) prime example of this. Beck blended folk, rock, and hip-hop into porridge of experimental sounds, rife with samples from both music and media fellow Gen Xers would recognize, fueled by his slack, laid-back delivery. Beck looks and sounds exactly like the dude who probably turned you on to Mellow Gold back in ’94. How meta is that?

 

Give the album a spin if you haven’t in awhile. Or, just scroll through the few select tracks I’ve shared below. I think you’ll understand the point I’m trying to make here. Or you won’t. I’m a Gen Xer who grew up in the ’90s, so I couldn’t care less either way.

  • "Loser"

    The story goes, Beck listened back to his raps on “Loser” hoping he’d sound like Chuck D of Public Enemy, the rapper he was trying to emulate. He was so far off the mark, he started singing “I’m a loser, baby.” The chorus and the song were born.

  • "Pay No Mind (Snoozer)"

    Believe it or not, this was the follow-up single to “Loser,” and the first single to be released after Mellow Gold dropped. Clearly, it didn’t have the same impact as “Loser.” But it’s gone on to become a fan favorite and a regular on Beck’s live setlists.

  • "Beercan"

    “Beercan” was Mellow Gold’s third single and was a bit more successful than “Pay No Mind (Snoozer)” as it made it all the way to #27 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts. There’s a Melvins sample in the song and a Buzz Osbourne cameo in the video. There’s that Seattle influence on display. Oh, and a Care Bears TV show sample. Peak Gen X.

  • "Fuckin With My Head (Mountain Dew Rock)"

    That’s one ’90s-ass song title right there. And this might be the best example on the whole album of Beck throwing every conceivable genre of guitar rock into a blender, pouring the results into a ’70s-era tumbler, and serving it to us with a twisted smile.

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