Beautiful Way
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

  1. Beautiful Way (5:33)
    Available on Midnite Vultures and 3 other releases.
    Beck Hansen: Bass, Guitar (Electric), Harmonica, Producer, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
    Mickey Petralia: Engineer, Mix, Producer, Programming
    Smokey Hormel: Guitar (Electric)
    Greg Leisz: Guitar (Pedal Steel)
    Jay Dee Maness: Guitar (Pedal Steel)
    Roger Joseph Manning Jr.: keyboards, Synthesizer, Tambourine
    Beth Orton: Vocals (Background)
Beautiful Way [Version (a)]:

The searchlight's on the skyline just looking for a friend
Who's gonna love my baby when she's gone around the bend?
Egyptian bells are ringing when it's her birthday
A sweet nothin', I'm talking about you, there's a hurricane blowing your way
Ooh such a beautiful way to break your heart
Ooh such a beautiful way to break my heart
There's someone calling your name
It's driving you insane

You were wearing that stained raincoat and your umbrella was a tangled mess
You were washed up on the glittering shoals, looking for another crime to confess
You bribed yourself out of a place in the sun, but you had some change to spare
So you said you want to spend it on me and shook the blues out of your hair
Ooh such a beautiful way to break your heart
Ooh such a beautiful way to break my heart
There's someone calling your name
You're gonna miss that train

Ooh such a beautiful way to break your heart
Ooh such a beautiful way to break my heart
There's someone calling your name
It's driving you insane
The Song:

"Beautiful Way" in many ways stands out on Midnite Vultures. One way that it sticks out is because the arrangement is simple folk-rock (verse/chorus/verse/chorus/instrumental verse/chorus/coda), as opposed to all the crazy mix-and-match song collage that dominate the rest of the album. This one is much more straight-forward. And lyrically, Beck's words about a broken heart stand in contrast to the sex-filled party atmosphere on the surface of many of the other songs on the album. In fact, Beck even admitted on stage once (August 26 2002) that "Beautiful Way" "got lost" on Midnite Vultures.

Despite sitting in the middle of what is more-or-less a party album, or perhaps because of it, "Beautiful Way"'s simple one-chord groove, elegantly adorned with great instrumentation, stands out. Beck brings in his friend Beth Orton to sing back-up, and their voices work pretty well together, though hers is mixed to the back. The sublime combination of two pedal steel guitarists (no less), Roger Joseph Manning's perfect piano, and Beck's lonesome harmonica all add to the emotion and feel of the song. This is good stuff. The band continues to a fade out, leaving the impression that it goes on forever.

Once again, Beck's lyrics again utilize a contrast of good and bad: "such a beautiful way to break my heart." It's a classic songwriting trick. But unlike most of Beck's other songs, the chorus of "Beautiful Way" borders on cliche to get his point across; though skillfully, it never crosses over into cliche.

But while Beck's lyrics on "Beautiful Way" are hardly linear or literal, the emotion tries to come through, sometimes more successfully than others. Some lines read weak, while others are pretty effective ("your umbrella was a tangled mess"), and at times it feels random ("Egyptian bells are ringing when it's her birthday"?), but I think the prevailing feeling of the song gets through.

"There's someone calling your name" is reminiscent of the character in "Jack-ass" moving on: "it's a strange invitation." Here though, the singer is the one left behind, not the one leaving. And with these lines, it becomes an unrequited (or past) love song. As Beck explained in the Boston Phoenix in 1999, "To me ['Beautiful Way'] is a love song and those are heartfelt words."

Played live 32 times:
Earliest known live version: January 26, 2000
Latest known live version: April 28, 2003

Beck never really made "Beautiful Way" a regular part of his concerts, but between 2000 when it was released and 2003, he did do the song a number of times. And in good Beck fashion, a number of styles!

2000 Midnite Vultures tour

"Beautiful Way" was never a huge part of the Vultures tours. But when it was, it was played very much like the record. Listening to some of these, you cannot help but notice how faithful the band remained to the album (except they don't fade out at the end!). February 1, 2000 is a particularly pretty version of the song done this way. Similarly, the February 19, 2000 version had a more squeaky, distorted guitar solo than one might expect (unless you know the Velvet Underground influence!). Also see March 27, 2000: Beck's back-up singers seem to be adding much more to the song than they did initially (or the sound quality makes it more evident).

Beck did do a version on April 1, 2000 worth noting. This isn't really a very different arrangement than the usual, but it does have Beck's friends from the band Air playing on it. They don't add a whole lot, though there are a few extra swirly keyboards in there. You can give it a view right here:

2000-2001 post-Vultures tour

After the Vultures tour ended, Beck went on a short tour with Neil Young. Instead of using his big funky band, he took a smaller group with him (including Jon Brion). They played a series of very relaxing shows, much more acoustic focused. At one of them, they pulled out "Beautiful Way." Beck purrs through a soporific, yet gorgeous, version of the song. The little twists of country pedal steel stand out. The arrangement is not any different, but it is definitely a new flavor of the song. They only did at one night of the short tour, however.

Beck showed up at KCRW for his (almost) annual visit on May 26, 2001 (though it was recorded a good 2 months earlier). As Beck explained before performing the song, the recorded version of "Beautiful Way" has a lot going on even though it is for the most part one chord. He had to try to make it a little more interesting in order to do it by himself on acoustic. He then plays a terrific finger-picked acoustic version of the song! He adds harmonica at the end, and the whole thing sounds like something out of the '70s--an emotional Bert Jansch-style piece. Here:

Beck's success in transferring "Beautiful Way" into a solo song on KCRW encouraged him: he played it a few other times that summer of 2001 as he toured Europe festivals.

August 2002 version

August 2002 had 20 solo shows, as Beck travelled North America with Smokey Hormel. He played "Beautiful Way" just four times. These were not the same old '70s-style acoustic version, no. Beck took the song farther back into the '30s, and played an old-fashioned Delta-bottleneck-Mississippi John Hurt-version. Reports are that Beck played it on a giant old guitar. It's a blues song now. I have a feeling this is where the song is meant to be.

That said, "Beautiful Way" has not been played since August 2002.

One note: on April 28, 2003, Beck played "14 Rivers 14 Floods," singing it in an exaggerated blues accent. It's beautiful, and done on acoustic slide just like those bluesy "Beautiful Way"s. As he finishes "14 Rivers," he drops some of his "Beautiful Way" blues guitar line into his ending flourish, which somewhat ties the two new arrangements together.