"Sissyneck" can be found on Beck's 1997 album, Odelay
. It was the fifth and final single from the record.
The song is an excellent example of Beck's ability to effortlessly mix styles. Maybe 'mix' is not the right word, as they don't really blend in anyway; they just flow next to each other. In this case, the odd pairing of country and funk make up the song. Mike Simpson, one of the Dust Brothers, recalled the song was heavily influenced by a group that did the same thing, not-so-cleverly called Country Funk. Simpson described Country Funk as having "that funk element with a really good backbeat, and then country guitars, and country melodies." The band was more than inspiration though, as the main bouncy guitar riff of "Sissyneck" is a sample (or more likely, replayed) from Country Funk's "Apart Of Me."
The lyrics fit the combination of funk and country, as Beck steps into a character of a bad-ass cowboy. This is funny in itself, but he makes it even better by having the character be more or less a phony. The verses are all manly, tough guy braggin': "I got a beard that would disappear if I'm dressed in leather," "I don't need no wheels / I don't need no gasoline," "Don't talk to me if you're looking for somebody to cry on." The character immediately negates a lot of these boasts with the chorus, admitting he's got a "rhinestone life"--rhinestones being flashy, but cheap knock-offs of diamonds. You can't take this guy seriously with his three-dollar bills and stolen wife. Having everybody know your name at the recreation center is not nearly as impressive as he thinks it is. To that end, Beck memorably explained the vibe of the song: "It's the morning after a full night of line dancing and cocaine. It's the achey-breaky heart after the triple bypass. It's a get-together at the recreation center Ping-Pong tournament."
As Beck explains before singing the song on February 10 1997, "This is a song about not being afraid to be whack."
Played live 185 times:
June 27, 1996July 16, 1996July 24, 1996July 26, 1996August 21, 1996August 27, 1996August 28, 1996August 31, 1996September 2, 1996September 21, 1996
...and 175 more
Earliest known live version: June 27, 1996
Latest known live version: September 20, 2016
There have been a ton of different live arrangements for "Sissyneck" over the years, a song that maybe was never a centerpiece of Beck's sets, but also was never very far away from it.
1996-1997 Odelay tours
The first arrangement of "Sissyneck" was used generally throughout the Odelay
tour (and again on the Vultures
tour), and it felt like more of a rock song. It is pretty similar to the record, I guess. There is some cool electric guitar, and when DJ Swamp was with the band, some nice scratching too.
1997-1998 pre-Mutations tours
Around the end of the Odelay
tour, Beck did a number of "country" gigs. At these shows, the band played a newer version of "Sissyneck" which was much more acoustic-based, yet still maintained the bouncy riff. In fact, I think this arrangement made the country / funk duality even more evident. One of these, on October 10 1998, was a fairly standard run-through of the song, except an amusing sort of rockabilly coda was tacked on the end.
1999 Mutations tours
Then on the Mutations
tour in April 1999, Beck went and did eight shows in Japan and a few in the U.S. The first two shows had the usual arrangement, but on the fifth show, in Osaka on April 16, they premiered a new "soul" version. The bounciness of the original was gone, and instead it is transformed into a much smoother song. It is adorned with a lot of percussion, synthesizer, guitar licks, and what sounds like a flute. It's a fascinating and cool change.
This new soul version of "Sissyneck" did not last too long however, just 3 times, I believe. After the Mutations
tour, Beck took a five-month break, and when he returned to the stage in October 1999, the more regular arrangement of "Sissyneck" returned with him.
2000 Vultures tours
Beck only performed "Sissyneck" around 12 times on the Vultures tour. It's not too far from the Vultures sound, and I would guess the newer Vultures songs basically took its place.
Four more "Sissyneck"s during his summer 2001 festival tour.
The February 21 2002, version of "Sissyneck" is intriguing, I'd love to hear it. The concert was just Beck on acoustic guitar or piano, and Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass. "Sissyneck" seems like a song that needs more musicians than two!
But then again in August 2002, on his acoustic tour, Beck and Smokey premiered a simple bottleneck blues arrangement. More than two musicians is not necessary, I'm happy to admit! Smokey played the slide guitar, and Beck jammed on his keyboard. It was a slow, repetitive blues riff, and was really hot. The August 11 2002 version is really long, and the minimal arrangement allowed for a lot of jamming and improvising (see "Back Streets of Ann Arbor
"). Probably one of my favorite things from the August tour. They did it just 6 times on the 20 shows of this tour, though.
Beck and the Flaming Lips played "Sissyneck" together on their "warm-up" show before the tour (in Claremont, CA on October 14 2002), but they never played during the actual first leg of the tour. On the second leg, however, they played it regularly.
Beck had a new band in the summer of 2003 and they continued to play "Sissyneck" pretty regularly, though the versions I have heard are shortened considerably.
2005-2007 Guero / Info tours
"Sissyneck" was around for these tours, but quite rarely -- 4 times in 2005, 4 times in 2006, and once in 2007. It was then dropped entirely during the Modern Guilt tours.
When Beck resumed touring again after a few years off, at one show early on, he asked for requests and made a comment that he didn't really know what his fans wanted to hear. Someone in the front row shouted for "Sissyneck," and the band -- his classic Odelay/Sea Change band -- dove in on it, unrehearsed. This led to it showing up at many of the shows of 2012 and 2013. In 2013, they began to morph the song into "Billie Jean" as well, which I discuss more in the next section:
2014 Morning Phase tour
Beck played "Sissyneck" at only 17 of his 57 shows on the Morning Phase tour. Most of the times were near the beginning of the tour, before it sort of drifted away. When it did show up, however, it was usually at festivals--because the 2014 arrangement always included a medley with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." (Festival crowds seemed to really get a kick out of that.) Basically, the band would begin "Sissyneck," going through the first verse. Then instead of the second verse, they would improv a bit which would turn into a verse/bridge/chorus/guitar solo of "Billie Jean." After that, they would dive back into "Sissyneck," picking up with the third verse. They didn't play it a lot, but I think because of that this arrangement stayed fresh.
Not a lot of shows in 2015, but one was sort of semi-country focused (Willie Nelson co-headlined), so Beck played "Sissneck" for the only time that year.
So far, in 2016, which is shaping up to be pretty festival-based -- "Sissyneck" has shown up at both shows, both with the "Billie Jean" medley.