35 Albums in 35 Years: 1994

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it. Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.


beck1994: Beck’s Mellow Gold

“…Like a giant dildo crushing the sun.”

I could have easily made this article a two-parter with last week’s 1993 entry. Beck’s 1994 major label debut Mellow Gold, like The Flaming Lips’ Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, holds a special place in my heart as an album that not only made me want to make music, but made me feel like it was something I could actually do and accomplish. It’s kind of weird how much the two records have in common. Both are odd and eclectic efforts from now long-running acts that spawned popular novelty hits that seemingly came out of nowhere. Both followed up these albums with arguably better material that harnessed and streamlined their collective sounds and intuitions. Both influenced me in ways I am eternally grateful for, and they made an impact on a good friend of mine I will always lovingly think of as “my drummer” as well. Hell, in 2002, the Lips even toured with Beck as his backing band.

But let us get back to where it began.

Starting around 1989/1990 and going through 1998 or so, I was a pretty devout MTV acolyte, a devourer of music videos, weird animation, and incorporated teenage culture. Amid all of the indigestible nuggets of bullshit and pop junk, there still existed some pretty brilliant and extraordinary music and art readymade for my perusal and consumption. A lot of my favorite albums were introduced to me during this time, and though MTV would eventually devolve into a wasteland of “reality” television, a spray-tanned, empty husk of its former glory and relevance, I’ve got to give them credit for Beck. “Loser” struck me immediately upon hearing it and seeing the video for the first time. I was hooked on that first crusty guitar loop. I was sold at the footage of a man removing a censored and blurry image from his head (later on to be revealed to me as a Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet).

At 14 and 15 years old, I had a fairly diminutive and limited amount of disposable income to throw about, as should be the norm for most young teenagers, and so, buying an album was not an overly common occurrence. My lack of funds, compounded by the fact that CD’s were pretty damn expensive in the 90’s, led to a cherry-picking of albums I deemed worthy to blow my cash on. Sometimes this decision was really difficult, especially going into an album only knowing the single. But I needed to have it.

There was no difficulty in selecting Mellow Gold.

When I got home, opened the cellophane packaging, and put the disc in my stereo, my pop addiction for “Loser” was sated. I had no idea what to expect next. It was a strange and fascinating roller coaster of folk, hip-hop, psychedelia, punk, funk, soul, and all around experimental weirdness. The album really is all over the place. “Pay No Mind” is a folk ballad. “Fukin with my Head” is bar rock and roll. “Soul Suckin Jerk” is a hip-hop song. “Beercan” is funky soul. And on and on and on. And even though the album bounces around from idea to genre to sound, sound to genre to idea, the whole thing still feels cohesive. It still feels like a unit, like the songs belong together, like everything is in its place. I had never heard anything like it before…and honestly, there hasn’t been much like it since.

After listening to Mellow Gold, and then re-listening to it again and again, I felt like this whole giant and wonderful musical world had been opened up to me, like I was a member of some secret, awesome club. I remember feeling like the possibilities for music were endless, even if the lyrics were nonsense. It was like being sheltered for years and years and years, and then released into the wild to discover what the world had to offer. Mellow Gold got me into music the way no other album before it ever had (not even Nirvana’s output), and sent me on a trajectory to discover new, odd, interesting, and challenging sounds to swim and float around in. It made me love music. I’ve spent everyday since trying to find other albums that make me feel the same.

And on one last note, the fact that Mellow Gold is one of three amazing Beck albums released in 1994 is testament to how awesome a year that was.

- Favorite song: “Soul Suckin Jerk”
– Runner up: “Blackhole”
(I adore every single song on this record. It’s probably in my top five of all time, and thus my favorite song selections are whatever I would have listened to right at this moment.)*

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Soundgarden’s Superunknown; Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral; Weezer’s Weezer (Blue album); Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand; Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary; Beck’s One Foot in the Grave.

*I actually changed and re-changed them multiple times.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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