Beck explained this amazing recording's inspiration when he was on KCRW in 1998:
["Diamond Bollocks"] happened because we'd been in [the studio] about 10 days, I think, doing all these waltzes and dirges and all these 3/4 songs. And I came into the lounge and everybody was watching these acid rock videos, Justin and Roger and everybody were. I think we all just needed to rock out for a minute because we'd been, like I said, in the slow lane for awhile. And the studio is fairly sedentary and we needed to get our cockles warm, just kinda kick it into gear a little bit.
Later Beck described the process with a little more detail. "We literally, in one night, recorded eight songs, then took the 24-track tapes and cut them all up on a tape and created this crazy song. It was more about the process than the actual song, but I ended up liking the song too," he explained.
And what a fantastic recording it is! The band wanted a change of pace, and they sure got it. Opening with a little carnival beat, which in a way predicts the whirlwind pace and structure about to follow, the song blasts off. The gallimaufrey goes something like this:
- carnival-esque harpsichord intro (with panting) to choral bridge [:00-:27]
- the big rock guitar riff, borrowed from "Megaboob," and first verse (with lyrics from "Erase the Sun") [:27-1:22]band jam, with Joey Waronker's phenomenal drumming [1:22-1:52]
- birds tweeting [1:52-1:57]
- Justin's bass solo mixed with Roger's harpsichord [1:57-2:23]
- Beck's middle "Lonesome Whistle" section [2:23-2:53]
- a noisy bridge [2:53-3:07]
- the "Megaboob" rock section, and end verse [3:07-4:12]
- a calm harpsichord chorus ("Looking back at some dead world...") [4:12-4:54]
- one last rock blast, with more mad drumming from Joey [4:54-5:36]
- a synthesizer coda [5:36-6:01]
So if this was literally 8 songs combined (that seems slightly high hyperbole to me), I guess they would include "Dead World," "Megaboob," "Erase The Sun," and "scented eunuchs" sections.
Lyrically, the song is a dazzling mix of creative phrases, probably just spun together randomly. In 1995, Beck recorded a b-side called "Erase the Sun
" which included a number of these lines and phrases, such as "choice cut meets from derelict boulevards," "dazzlements of accidents," "hari-karis," "spinning round the golden loms," and "offices and fountains they named for you."
The initial idea was to put the song as track two on Mutations
, but Beck changed his mind and moved it (on American versions of the album) to be a hidden track at the end of the album. He explains, "It's part of the record, but it doesn't really. . .it's like the wayward son at the Thanksgiving dinner who just doesn't really fit in with the family anymore, is the black sheep. So you put him at the end of the table..."
Over the years, Beck has on occasion returned to "Diamond Bollocks" on stage a few times. It's never been played a lot, but a few times in 2006, once more in 2012. Beck drops a lot of his old songs completely, but "Diamond Bollocks" seems to be a song and recording of which he is proud, an ambitious and over-the-top and fun track.
Played live 18 times:
May 17, 1998May 24, 1998May 26, 1998May 28, 1998June 1, 1998June 2, 1998June 3, 1998June 6, 1998April 11, 1999April 12, 1999
...and 8 more
Earliest known live version: May 17, 1998
Latest known live version: May 27, 2012
Beck has played "Diamond Bollocks" live in a couple of spots over the years, but not on any of the big tours.
The first tour after the recording sessions for Mutations
was a short world tour in May/June, 1998. The album was not released until November, but Beck and band could not resist bringing out some of the new gems: "Diamond Bollocks" included! It was not played regularly, or too often after that, really, but there have been a number of performances of the song.
On June 6, 1998, in Saratoga, NY, Beck introduced the song by saying "Alright, now we're gonna step into some experimental shit. It's a little rock and roll odyssey called 'Diamond Bollocks.' I hope you're all with it. If you're not, then just eat a hot dog." He sounded a little nervous about freaking out the audience with this strange new song, but he should be because it is even wilder and freakier on stage. The harpsichord intro was converted into a part for the Brass Menagerie. The main riff was a bit sluggish, not as sharp as the record, which gave the performance a lazier feel. Joey Waronker, as usual, was a madman on the drums. The "lonesome whistle" verse was surreal and beautiful, with echoed vocals and cool effects.
Then on the Mutations
tour of Japan in April, 1999, "Diamond Bollocks" was performed seven times (all but the final night). He introduced it again as a "little odyssey" on April 19, 1999, in Tokyo. This version seemed a bit closer to the record than the previous one I discussed. I like the way Beck sang it too--sort of mumbling, drawling, half-spoken, like he's asleep. The ending was pretty fascinating too, and it sounds like a violinist has joined them?
Then the song was dropped for ages until the end of 2006, when it was played once in September 2006 at a warm-up show in LA before going on tour. Then they went on tour and didn't play it, except at one of their post-show shows in a bar in Toronto. Can't imagine how rowdy that version might have been!