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Beck Talks Grammys and Ghetto-Tech

New year brings Grammy noms, new project from Beck

January 4, 2001 12:00 AM ET

Beck wasn't expecting the early morning call he got Wednesday telling him that his Midnite Vultures was nominated for two Grammys, including Album of the Year. For one thing, the album didn't even come out in 2000, having been released in the tail end of 1999. But thanks to the tricky configuring of Grammy eligibility rules (the qualifying dates were between Oct. 1, 1999 and Sept. 30, 2000), Midnite Vultures' November 1999 release date let Beck slip right into contention.

"Someone called and woke me up," Beck says, "and I think I yelled, like a decrepit old cowboy, 'Aaagh-ooh-hoo'! I didn't anticipate it, I never anticipate anything, and I certainly wasn't anticipating even anticipating. But it was sweet, a nice validation, since I worked insanely hard on this last one. And then I thought, it was kind of weird, like it fit in between times. It's really a 2000 record, though it came out at the end of 1999. It was built for 2000, like a car model that comes out just a little before."

Beck suggests that fellow nominees for Album of the Year -- Eminem, Radiohead, Paul Simon and Steely Dan -- made sense to him. He is particularly encouraged that so many "challenging" records like Radiohead's Kid A made the cut, "especially at the moment, considering what's being played on the radio." But he expressed concern about the sheer number of other categories propelled by genre divisions that don't allow for much crossover, which in one case resulted in his being pitted against Paul McCartney for Best Alternative Music Album.

"I honestly don't know how the whole thing comes to be or how it works," Beck says. "But how many categories are there? Country, pop . . . I'm all for some diversity. I would love to be nominated in the gospel category. I mean, [Midnite Vultures] is probably more gospel than rock. It would be nice to mix it up, to see that not everything falls under the grip of the pop superstructure, get some wayward nominees here and there. Convenience is such a strange structure."

The last time Beck was up for Album of the Year, for 1996's Odelay, he lost out to Celine Dion's Falling Into You (though he did win two other Grammys, Best Alternative Performance and Best Male Rock Performance). The experience taught him a few things. For one, he needs "to have a gang ready." "When Celine won, she had like twenty producers on stage," he says. "I need to have a unit in place in case we do need to claim the podium." And a speech prepared as well, he says, joking he's about to pen it as he speaks: "I have quill in hand, and my scroll is unfurled." What might he say? "I have no idea. They should just give it to Celine Dion." But what about the little matter of her not being nominated in the same category this time around? "It doesn't matter. Just give it to her anyway."

In the meantime, Beck is more concerned with working with Timbaland on putting the finishing touches on his cover of David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" for the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, set for release in June. "We gotta put some ghetto-tech in there," he says, "because we heard that was the next big thing. We're going to ride the ghetto-tech wave to the next Grammys."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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