MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Alternate Titles:

a.k.a. MTV
a.k.a. MTV (Smoke Crack)

Versions:
  1. MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack (3:42)
    Available on MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack.
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Guitar (Acoustic), Harmonica, Vocals
  2. MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack (3:29)
    a.k.a. MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack (Lounge Version)
    Available on Loser.
  3. MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack (3:30)
    Available on We Like Folk... Who Cares... Destroy Us and 1 other release.
    Credits
    Beck Hansen: Guitar (Acoustic), Harmonica, Vocals
  4. MTV
    Available on Mellow Gold.
 
 
Lyrics:
MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack [Version (a)]:

MTV makes me wanna smoke crack
Fall out of the window and I'm never comin' back
MTV makes me wanna get high
Can't get it right no matter how I try
Everything's perfect and everything's bright
And everyone's perky and everyone's uptight
I watch those videos, I watch them all day
And I plug 'em in my eyeballs...hey!
And the colors are nice and the pictures are nice
And the girls are nice, everything's so nice
MTV makes me wanna smoke crack
Fall out of the window and I'm never comin' back
MTV makes me wanna get high
Can't get a ride, can't get a ride
Can't get a ride, can't get a ride

Well, I work at the video store makin' change
And I'm countin' out the pennies, twistin' in my brain
Condos in the distance and smog in the air
No-one in the streets and no-one anywhere
And I drink when I drink and I eat from a can
And I'm standing by the microwave 'til I feel special!
And I'm checking out the furniture, I want to buy a sofa
I might buy a wheelchair and roll out of this town
And MTV made me wanna smoke crack
Fall out of the window and I'm never comin' back
MTV makes me wanna get high!
Can't get a ride, can't get a ride
Can't get a ride, can't get a ride
Can't get a ride, can't get a ride
MTV makes me wanna burn flesh
Have a little orgy down in that satellite dish
MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack [Version (b)]:

MTV makes me wanna smoke crack
Fall out of the window and I'm never comin' back
MTV makes me wanna get high
Can't get it right no matter how I try
And everything's perfect and everything's bright
And everyone's perky and everyone's uptight
I love those videos, I watch them all day

What's the problem?
Just start the tape.


Hey alright, MTV, whoa, makes me want to smoke crack
Fly out the window and I'm never coming back
MTV makes me want to get high as a moon
Like a rubber balloon, ah get that squeegee!
Everything's wonderful, everything's grand
Everything's swinging all across the land, you know it!
Bust out the biscuits, strike up the band
Play those videos, every woman and man
'Cause MTV, whoa, makes me want to smoke crack
Hey, fly out the window and I'm never coming back
Oh MTV makes me want to get hiiigh as a kite
Gettin' all uptight, take it!

[piano solo]

Ah yea, fake it 'til you make it!
Right about now, steppin' into a cold-ass fashion
Ah yea, weed-whack that thing!

I worked down at the video store making some change
With a sparkle in my step and a smile on my face
Condominiums rising above
And those videos are better than love
Yea, MTV, whoa
MTV, check!
MTV makes me want to smoke crack!
 
MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack [Version (c)]:

MTV makes me wanna smoke crack
Fall out of the window and I'm never comin' back
MTV makes me wanna get high
Can't get a ride no matter how I try
Everything's perfect and everything's bright
And everything's slick and everything's uptight
I love those videos, I watch 'em all day
And..the way they look and I love the things they say
And the pictures are nice and the girls are nice
And the music is nice and everything's so nice!
MTV makes me wanna smoke crack
Fall out of the window and I'm never comin' back
MTV makes me wanna get high
Fall out of the window and I'll never say goodbye

I work at the video store makin' change
And I'm countin' out the pennies and I'm losin' my brains
Condos in the distance and smog in the air
No-one in the streets and no-one anywhere
MTV makes me me wanna smoke crack
Fall out of the window and I'm never comin' back
MTV makes me wanna get high
Can't get a ride, can't get a ride
Can't get a ride, can't get a ride
Can't get a ride, can't get a ride
Can't get a ride
 
The Song:

"MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack"... what can I say? It's one of Beck's oldest classics. No, it is THE oldest classic. It certainly holds up with anything he's written since, in my opinion. It was Beck's first real release, as a shared single with Bean on Flipside Records. Side A included "MTV" and "To See That Woman Of Mine." (Side B was given to Bean, who was Steve Moramarco, Beck's friend of "Steve Threw Up" fame.) Later, the song would be released to bigger numbers as a b-side on the UK "Loser" single, albeit in the more novelty "lounge" version. (There is also a rawer demo version on some early Beck tapes.)

To the surprise of many, it's actually quite a poignant song and commentary. On the surface, it's hilarious; dig a little deeper, and it's kind of sad. A song called "MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack" would have been a dumb joke and/or novelty in hands of a lesser songwriter. As it turns out, it is actually one of the more autobiographical songs Beck has ever written, which gives it a powerful depth. He wrote the song while working at a video store in the fall of 1992. It was the last job Beck would have; after being canned, he went on unemployment, busked around, and then his music began to take off. His voice on the original recording is raw and he sounds rough and broken. The lyrics match.

Beck, in an article with the London newspaper, The Independant, remembered this time of mini-mall jobs. He felt disconnected from the other employees, and one day he "realised, 'Oh my God, everyone I'm working with is imitating a sitcom.' That's why I couldn't relate to them." It is this observation which inspired "MTV Makes Me Want To Smoke Crack."

So despite the title, Beck is not just making a comment about the videos you can see on MTV. He uses MTV, where everything is perfect and perky, to contrast that with a real life experience. To that point, he had been struggling for money, trying to make it; things were rarely perfect and perky. As Beck explains it, "It’s just a stream of conscience with a dulled mind. I wrote it while I was working at a video store. It has that mini mall, video store spirit to it." Beck's brilliance is in the details of his commentary, little observances and a great humor to convey the struggle and reality vs. the dream and TV.
 
Live:

Played live 9 times:
Earliest known live version: July 23, 1993
Latest known live version: July 6, 2013

Beck has never taken to playing "MTV" live very often. Seems likely that he would do it some in the earliest days, in coffee houses or whatnot, but once he got famous and started touring wider, it only popped up with some level of indifference.

On KCRW in 1993, as "Loser" began to hit big on MTV, Beck couldn't resist singing this, though he does the lounge version instead. Beck didn't play the piano, or bring someone with him to play it, he sang the song as a tape was played. Actually, I'm not sure if this KCRW led to him recording the lounge version for the b-side, or if the b-side recording came before this. They're very similar, but there are seem to be some minor differences.

One other rare live performance of "MTV" came on the radio in Montreal, in 1996. I'm not sure the date, but Beck did play a concert there on August 23 1996, so surely around then. Beck improvises some new lyrics, but keeps it short:
MTV makes me want to smoke crack
And it feels so good when you lay right back
The sofa is on fire and the wheelchair is getting all wheeled up
You can slick up the ground and move a little bit faster
'Cause everything's uptight and everything's alright
And you pump up the volume and you can go, baby, go
You can stick it in your jeans
You can stick it into the fax machine
And the cameras are sucking everything so clean
You can airbrush, you can put on a moustache
And you can suck in all the cash
'Cause MTV makes me want to hype up
But don't believe the hype


"MTV" is one of the more oft-requested songs for Beck to do, especially on the acoustic tour of August, 2002. Most often Beck shoots it down as too silly or that he doesn't remember it or whatever, but in August 2002 Beck finally relented, and sang an "updated" version on August 22 2002. Before the song, he admitted, "I wanna do something different tonight." Someone shouts for "MTV," and he relented. Not really the same song, it's more just an hilarious improvisation about MTV:

I'll give this song a facelift right here. Or a breast reduction, I don't know. Some laser hair removal.

MTV...is a serious channel, programming almost night and day, 24 hours
Lot of people working for the MTV
Lot of people punching the clock down at the MTV
Hard-working people, MTV...feeding a lot of families!
It's an infrastructure you just don't even understand
Serrated edges of the bosses commands
I'm working on a night shift, working on a night shift, yea, down at MTV
It was a night shift night and the stars were black
And the faces were tense, faces, because they were on somebody's head
A lot of important jobs going down at the network, yea
Gotta make those numbers fit
Get more of those bathing suits and jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle
Showing something that you never get
You can look, but you can't touch
On the MTV, ohhh, it's a beautiful melody, MTV yea
MTV makes you feel like smoking...crack
But don't forget to take your vitamins too
Because when the crack wears off you're gonna feel a bit rough
You're gonna feel like VH-1 coming down, yea
Talking about VH-1 coming down on a VH-1 morning
We're coming down!


On November 16 2002, Beck did sing a little bit of "MTV," but really just the first few lines. Is that all Beck remembers? Probably.

Then the song vanished for about 10 years, when in December 2012, Beck was playing a benefit concert in between a bunch of stand-up comedians (Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman, and Chelsea Peretti). It was actually performed quite fully, though Beck couldn't remember quite everything but the structure was there. He said he included it because it was "comedy night."

He did it two more times at some acoustic shows in 2013 as well. On May 19 2013, Beck started the song and used it to kick off a quick medley with "Pay No Mind" and "Cold Brains." In July, he started it as well but ended up improvising lots of new lyrics.
 
Notes: