• Alternative rock musician, singer and songwriter born Bek Campbell in 1970 in Los Angeles California.
  • He grew up in an artistic household – his mother was a performance artist, his father was a composer and conductor, and his maternal grandfather was an avant-garde artist. He also spent time living with his paternal grandfather, a minister who exposed Beck to church music. When his parents separated, he stayed with his mother in Los Angeles and he was influenced by the musical culture of the time, including Latin music and hip-hop. He obtained a guitar when he was 16 years old, and he performed on the streets, playing folk and blues music. Feeling out of place in school, he dropped out after junior high, and he hung out at Los Angeles City College, exploring music at the library and using a fake ID to attend classes that interested him. He performed on city buses, and at coffee houses as part of a band called Youthless.
  • At age 19, he took a bus to New York City with his guitar and $8 in cash. He discovered the anti-folk music scene in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and he became part of it, making up songs about pizza, MTV and working at McDonalds, performing at open mic nights at clubs. He returned to Los Angeles in 1991, working at a video store and performing ridiculous songs at arthouses, sometimes wearing a Star Wars stormtrooper mask. He made some demo tapes in the living room of a friend, and he passed cassette tapes of his music to whoever would take them. Some executives of an independent label saw him perform, and soon he had developed a relationship with a record producer.
  • Beck had recorded over a dozen of experimental, odd-sounding, low-fidelity songs, and a small number of cassettes were released by an independent label, making the album Golden Feelings his debut album, released in 1993. Later that year, while living in a shed in an alley, his first single was released. Loser was released despite Beck’s concern that it was mediocre – only 500 copies were pressed on 12-inch vinyl. College radio stations in Los Angeles started to play it, and after he performed it at a club full of talent scouts, the song spread to Seattle, and LA radio stations were playing it hourly. Several record labels began a bidding war to sign him, and nine months after Loser was released, he was signed to a major label. Loser was included in his first major label album, Mellow Gold, released in 1994. Loser peaked at #10 on the Hot 100 and at #1 on the Alternative Airplay chart, and it was in the top 20 in eighteen international markets. Meanwhile, Mellow Gold reached #13 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and eventually it was certified platinum, despite its purposeful low budget sound and eclectic mix of rock, hip-hop, blues psychedelia and country.
  • Skeptics began to denounce Beck as a fraud, and his bizarre live performances didn’t help with his credibility. Still, other musicians liked the sound of Mellow Gold and artists like Tom Petty and Johnny Cash made recordings with a similar style. Beck wanted to release an album of original music that sounded more professional, and in 1996 he released Odelay, working on it for a year and a half. It was a breakthrough, going 2x platinum. Three singles were hits – Where It’s At reached #5 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, The New Pollution made it to #9 on the Alternative Airplay chart, and Jack-Ass peaked at #15 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. All three songs charted on the Hot 100, and Beck won two Grammy awards – Best Alternative Album and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for Where It’s At. All of the success left Beck (and his record label) bewildered, never anticipating that he would become a musical icon. The album was ranked #424 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Albums of All Time in 2020.
  • His next album, 1998’s Mutations, led to a third Grammy award for Beck, for Best Alternative Music Performance. It reached #13 on the Billboard album chart, but the singles did not chart. Similarly, singles from 1999’s Midnight Vultures album were only a modest success. The songs were purposely upbeat, and fans and critics were confused, uncertain as to whether Beck was serious or was goofing them. Nonetheless, the album earned a Grammy nomination. Four albums were released during the 00s, leading to five more Grammy nominations, and some notable singles – E-Pro became his second single to reach #1 on a Billboard chart, topping the Alternative Airplay chart, Girl peaked at #8 on the same chart, and Nausea reached #13 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.
  • During the 10s, Beck found renewed success with his album Morning Phase, released in 2014. The single Blue Moon topped the Adult Alternative Songs chart, and the album won three Grammy awards, including Album of the Year (beating Sam Smith, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Pharrell Williams) and Best Rock Album. His 2017 album Colors also won two Grammy awards, including Best Alternative Music Album, with four charting singles. His final album of the decade, Hyperspace, had two charting singles, with Saw Lightning peaking at #3 on the Adult Alternative Songs chart and Uneventful Days topping that chart.
  • Beck’s story is another musical “you can’t make it up” story – starving artist becomes an overnight sensation. But in Beck’s case, he was able to sustain the success with an evolution of alternative music that continued to be relevent more than 25 years later. His real uniqueness was his ability to meld together so many different styles, from folk to Latin to hip-hop to electronic to blues to soul to many forms of rock. His creativity shines through his work – you can see it in many of his music videos. Try this one – the video to the title track of his Grammy winning album Colors. It’s excellent!

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