Jack-ass
By: Beck Hansen, John King, Mike Simpson

Written by: Beck Hansen, John King, Mike Simpson

Alternate Titles:

a.k.a. Millius

Versions:
  1. Jack-ass (4:00)
    Available on Odelay and 6 other releases.
    Credits
    Recorded at: PCP Labs
    Beck Hansen: Bass, Electric Piano, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Electric), Harmonica, Mix, Producer, Vocals, Xylophone
    The Dust Brothers: Mix, Producer
  2. Burro (3:14)
    Available on Odelay and 5 other releases.
    Credits
    Recorded at: Sunset Sound Studios
    David Campbell: Arrangement (Strings)
    Juan Morales: Arrangment (Horns)
    Mariachi Los Camperosde Natl. Cono.: Mariachi
    Beck Hansen: Producer, Vocals
    Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Producer
    Joe Chiccarelli: Recording
  3. Jack-ass (Butch Vig Mix) (3:25)
    Available on Beck - Super Rare! Vol. 2 and 1 other release.
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Bass, Electric Piano, Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Electric), Harmonica, Vocals
    Butch Vig: Remix
  4. Jack-ass (Lowrider Mix) (3:25)
    Available on Jack-ass.
    Credits
    Butch Vig: Remix
    Beck Hansen: Vocals
  5. Strange Invitation (4:00)
    Available on Odelay and 3 other releases.
    Credits
    Recorded at: Sunset Sound Studios
    Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Bass
    David Campbell: Celesta
    Jon Clarke: Clarinet (Bass), English Horn
    Smokey Hormel: Guitar (Acoustic)
    Joe Chiccarelli: Mix, Recording
    Beck Hansen: Producer, Vocals
    Suzie Katayama: Strings
Unofficial Versions: [show/hide]
  1. Jackass Beat (2:21)
    Available on Breaks & Beats.
    Credits
    Panzah Sandahz: Remix
  2. Puzzels & Pagans (2:26)
    Available on Deconstructing Beck.
    Credits
    Jane Dowe: Remix
  3. Stand by Ass (4:15)
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Mashed
    Ben E. King: Mashed
 
 
Lyrics:
Jack-ass [Version (a)]:

I've been drifting along in the same stale old shoes
Loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I'll put it together, it's a strange invitation

When I wake up, someone will sweep up my lazy bones
And we will rise in the cool of the evening
I remember the way that you smiled
When the gravity shackles were wild
And something is vacant when I think it's all beginning

I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I'll put it together, it's a strange invitation
Burro [Version (b)]:

Viajo / I travel
sin rumbo fijo / without a fixed course
En mis botas viejas / in my old boots
Cabos sueltos enlazan / loose ends tie
A mi cabeza / to my head

Si pensabas / if you were planning
ir al lugar / to go to the place
Donde los paganos van / where the pagans go
Pongalo junto / put it together
Invitacion extra a / a strange invitation

Despierto / I wake up
alguien arrastra / someone drags [or carries away]
mis huesos / my bones
Nosotros / we
ascendemos en la tarde / rise in the afternoon [or early evening]

Y recuerdo / and I remember
tu sonrisa / your smile
Con el viento salvaje / with the wild wind
Hay algo vacio / there is something empty
Cuando empieza / when it begins

Viajo / I travel
sin rumbo fijo / without a fixed course
En mis botas viejas / in my old boots
Cabos sueltos enlazan / loose ends tie
A mi cabeza / to my head

Si pensabas / if you were planning
ir al lugar / to go to the place
Donde los paganos van / where the pagans go
Pongalo junto / put it together,
Invitacion extra a / a strange invitation
 
Jack-ass (Butch Vig Mix) [Version (c)]:

I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I'll put it together, it's a strange invitation

When I wake up, someone will sweep up my lazy bones
And we will rise in the cool of the evening
I remember the way that you smiled
When the gravity shackles were wild
But something is vacant when I think it's all beginning

I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I'll put it together, it's a strange invitation

It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
Jack-ass (Lowrider Mix) [Version (d)]:

Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation

I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I'll put it together, it's a strange invitation

Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation

When I wake up, someone will sweep up my lazy bones
And we will rise in the cool of the evening
I remember the way that you smiled
When the gravity shackles were wild
But something is vacant when I think it's all beginning

Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation
Strange invitation

I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I'll put it together, it's a strange invitation

It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation
 
Strange Invitation [Version (e)]:

I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
I'll put it together, it's a strange invitation

When I wake up, someone will sweep up my lazy bones
And we will rise in the cool of the evening
I remember the way that you smiled
When the gravity shackles were wild
Something is vacant when I think it's all beginning

And I've been drifting along in the same stale shoes
Loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind
If you thought that you were making your way
To where the puzzles and pagans lay
Put it together, it's a strange invitation

It's a strange invitation, it's a strange invitation
It's a strange invitation, it's a strange invitation
 
The Song:

"Jack-ass" was one of the many singles from Beck's 1996 album, Odelay. A deceptively simple recording of a beautiful song, "Jack-ass" rightfully sits as a centerpiece to the album.

The song samples Van Morrison's first band, Them. They covered Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," giving the song a hypnotic groove and a repetitive keyboard melody. Beck and the Dust Brothers took this keyboard melody and added it to his own folk song. At the 2:50 mark, they drop the Them groove and borrow a funkier beat. A nifty guitar solo, atmospheric harmonica, and some strange murmur vocal effects complete the song (not to mention an actual jackass).

Lyrically, the song explores that mysterious calling that can sometimes rescue you, can pull you out of your blues. Here Beck refers to the blues as "drifting along in the same stale old shoes," "loose ends tyin' a noose in the back of my mind," "lazy bones." It's just a man drifting, presumably after a break-up having left him feeling vacant (he also recalls the way she smiled, "when the gravity shackles were wild," which is one of my all-time favorite lyrics).

However, the song does appear to be written about that moment when you stop drifting, when the puzzles get put together. Something is calling you forward, a strange invitation. When he wakes up out of this, he will feel the cool of the evening.

The song is short and simple, lyrically, but still maintains some mystery and some shadow and some wordplay. It's long been one of my favorites, not by Beck, but by anyone.
 
Live:

Played live 273 times:
Earliest known live version: September 1995 (unknown date)
Latest known live version: June 29, 2016

Since "Jack-ass" has been released, it has been played on pretty much every tour he's done. This makes it one of the most-played songs in his entire oeuvre.

1995-1996 pre-Odelay previews

One early performance of the song was for the BBC at the end of 1995. Not a real radio performance, as Beck went into a studio there and was even allowed overdubs. He plays the song very folky, but overdubs some sweet slinky slide guitar all over it.

The first six months of 1996 also saw Beck play a number of acoustic shows, at which he previewed some material from Odelay. Some nights, he did a folk guitar version of "Jack-ass" (best-known example, KCRW June 19 1996).

1996-1997 Odelay tour

In July 1996, Beck took Odelay on tour for over a year. We don't have setlists for a lot of the shows, but I think it's good to assume "Jack-ass" was at most of them. They do not do anything drastic with the song at all, it starts out calm with keyboards and guitar, until the coda jumps up with the guitar solo and harmonica going off. Better versions nail the ending jam with more spirit than other times. (Personal favorites = February 1997 versions. Beck took to screaming during the ending of the song. The guitar solo always ends too quickly though.)

1998-1999 Mutations tour

Beck toured a little before Mutations came out, and infrequently after. "Jack-ass" was played semi-regularly. Listening to one of the early 1998 versions of "Jack-ass", there is more of a beat to the song right off the bat. Overall, it is not a drastic change though, just a tad more pulse in the beginning of the song.

There are a couple acoustic versions on random radio gigs, but the tour performances stick to the similar arrangements as usual.

2000 Vultures tour

The first 9 months of 2000 (and a bit of 1999) saw Beck hit the road behind Midnite Vultures. Despite being a few albums old now, "Jack-ass" was a regular, played almost every night once again. And despite having a new bigger band (including back-up singers and a horn section), "Jack-ass" did not appear to utilize them. Instead of random yelling at the end of the song, Beck would sing "it's a strange invitation" over and over.

rare live Burros

On May 5 and 6, 2000 (Cinco De Mayo), Beck played a show at home. His opening act was Mexican rock band, Café Tacuba. During his set, he brought them out, and played "Burro"--the mariachi version of "Jack-ass"! Beck did mariachi versions of the song a few other times that year (like when in Spain and stuff).

Post-Vultures end of 2000/summer 2001

"Jack-ass" begins to go through new arrangements! After the Vultures rock shows, Beck did a quiet tour opening five shows for Neil Young. On September 30 2000, in Portland, they played the most mellow version of "Jack-ass" I have ever heard. That funky ending on the record is dropped, and instead they play it calm and acoustic straight through to the end. Very nice! A few days later, on October 3 2000, the song is performed with a snap to it, and the new rhythm almost reminds me of "Tropicalia."

2002 & 2003 solo Sea Change tours

Another arrangement showed up on February 21 2002. This one was just Beck on acoustic guitar, with Justin on stand-up bass as accompaniment.

Beck went out alone in August 2002 and spring 2003 to promote Sea Change. As always, "Jack-ass" was played at many of these shows. Purely folk versions, sometimes Beck even fingerpicked a guitar line instead of the usual strumming of the record and band versions. Very cool to hear the song boiled way way down to its essence. There's not even any harmonica! Sometimes Smokey Hormel would duel with him on acoustic guitar though. (And occasionally, Beck would toss in some Spanish "Burro" lyrics in there too.)

Also at least once (on April 24 2003), Beck played "Jack-ass" on the piano!

2002 Flaming Lips tour

Beck played the song with the Flaming Lips at their first five shows together, but then they promptly dropped it.

Summer 2003 rock band tour

Only three "Jack-ass"es from this rocking tour.

2005-2007 Guero/Info tours

"Jack-ass" was not a regular on these tours, but there are a number of performances. Sometimes Beck dropped it into his acoustic set, but there are a handful of band versions. Nothing really new about these, and by the end of the tour, the song was pretty rare to hear. (Showed up once in Japan with the dinner table percussion, which was cool to hear.)

2008-2009 Modern Guilt tours

Interestingly, "Jack-ass" suddenly and almost entirely dropped out of Beck's repertoire for his Modern Guilt tours. The song was avoided entirely in 2008, and then showed up just once during one of the Japanese shows in March, 2009. (The second to last Guilt show.) It's kind of a weird version too, Beck starts it solo acoustic with a bit of harmonica, but by the end, one of his band is joining in with a bunch of percussion (some bongos and a metallic ringing sound playing the keyboard riff).

2011-2013 pre-Morning Phase tours

After a couple years off the road, Beck returned for a few gigs in 2011 and then 30 shows in each 2012 and 2013. He did play "Jack-ass" at about half of these; often he was with his classic band from the late '90s, and "Jack-ass" was a solid choice for them to play.

2014 Morning Phase tours

Much like the Modern Guilt tours, Beck suddenly dropped "Jack-ass" and it was not played at all during the Morning Phase tour. This surprises me, the acoustic chill vibe of the song would have likely fit with the new songs.

2015-2016 post-Morning Phase tours

"Jack-ass" returned at a show in May 2015, in which Beck and Willie Nelson co-headlined. Willie appears in the video for "Jack-ass" so Beck told the story about the video, and it was used as a backdrop as they performed the song.

But the song didn't stick, and it vanished again until 2016 when they played it twice in March and once in June.


 
Notes: