Is there an appropriate and accurate way to describe "Sexx Laws"? Cheesy hiphop banjo funk? Well, let's leave it to Justin Meldal-Johnsen: "We like to call it boogaloo rather than funk. It's inspired by the '60s British TV style. You know, where you have this really over-active bassline like some guy's popped a couple of pills and just really gone for it? There is a black 70s element, but it's not quite laid back enough. Oh there's nothing laid back about 'Sexxlaws'." (from this interview)
A relatively corny but still entertaining Brass Menagerie horn line leads the song, along with Beck's exaggerated vocals. It sounds as if this song (along with "Debra
") kick-started the whole Midnite Vultures
vibe, and with that memorable chorus and title, it certainly made the song an appropriate first single.
Beck explains his inclusion of horns here, and throughout Midnite Vultures
: "I think my main interest in using the horns was for performance - so much music today is so guitar heavy. I sought other places to get muscle into the music. Many bands rely heavily on guitar to pump up the sound, but I thought it would be interesting to make the horns into the guitars." More specifically, he says he got the sound for the horns of "Sexx Laws" from the L.A. Rams: "I think it was the L.A. Rams. I used to watch them when I was growing up, and it just reminded me of Monday Night Football in 1978."
"Sexx Laws" is a superb band performance, as well. Justin plays a super-funky bassline. Beck of course tosses a twist into the song -- some country banjo and pedal steel! Only Beck could pull something like that off and get away with it. Herb Pedersen, the banjo player, sounds like he's having a great time. Interestingly, no drummer is credited in the liner notes.
Lyrically, the song sets the standard for what's to come on Midnite Vultures
, putting it in a good spot as the first track. Beck's persona of adventure and sexx and exotic locations and Sports Illustrated
moms and not being afraid to cry is one he would use throughout the album. Beck also makes it sound like there was a bit more work and thought put into it than one would initially assume: "It?s me playing with the ridiculousness of those entrenched ideas about what a man does and what a woman can do. A lot of soul music comes from a real masculine strength, but there's also this intense vulnerability about it. You have the masculine tough-guy exterior and the emotional openness, which is feminine, as well. I wanted to have fun with that, turn up that contrast a little bit without getting bogged down into preciousness and psychobabble." This idea is clearly where lines like "I'm a full-grown man but I'm not afraid to cry" here or "I'll do your laundry, massage your soul" on another Vultures
song come from. In fact, in 2005, he was asked specifically about the "full-grown man" line, and Beck replied, "it was also a play on R&B songs where these strong, masculine figures break down like little babies. There's something interesting about that world where you can be intensely sensitive and fragile and take care of your woman."
Also to note, the idea of defying sex laws originated with Ol' Dirty Bastard, on his song "Don't U Know": Ripped off my drawers as if she had claws / Broke the rules that defied sex laws / She responded quick, with a slick, welcoming kiss and an ice cream lick / Ooh I begged, I begged, "Easy on my balls, they're fragile as eggs.
Played live 273 times:
Earliest known live version: June 6, 1998
Latest known live version: September 9, 2017pre Vultures
"Sexx Laws" itself is a song that was built from one of Beck's on-stage ad-libs: "I wanna defy the logic of all sexx laws" was an occasional war-cry during some concerts in 1998.
Vultures tours 1999-2001 HIJACKING YOUR EQUILIBRIUM version
Beck played "Sexx Laws" immediately as he started promoting Midnite Vultures in 1999, and continued with it at nearly every show on the Vultures tours of 2000 and 2001.
The song regularly sounded quite fresh and exciting, Beck and the band clearly invigorated by it. The Brass Menagerie and his new back-up singers were a great addition. In fact, Beck memorably described singing "Sexx Laws" on stage, "I thought it was interesting performing in front of the horns. Makes you want to run for your life and do 300 pushups. There's something about the overtones—the sax and trumpet—they're really still a novelty to me."
One great addition to the song on stage is some cool piano by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. It kind of fits in with the pedal steel and banjo side of things, adding some more of the country flavor to the song.
Interestingly and somewhat rarely for Beck songs, "Sexx Laws" would drift around the setlist - first song, middle of the set, closing encore, whatever. The version on February 19, 2000 closed the show, ending with about six minutes of noise, feedback, and Beck shouting.
A new addition to "Sexx Laws" was developed later in the Vultures tour: a live banjo solo! Earlier in the tour, the banjo part was a tape, but by the time of the Japanese leg, at least, lead guitarist Lyle Workman was playing a banjo on stage. It's really cool, and Beck seems to enjoy it: on May 21, 2000, at the end of the solo, he gives a loud "Oh shit!" of amazement. I'm not quite sure when this new arrangement first began exactly. It seems to have begun around May, 2000, and it continued through until the end of the Vultures tour.
A surprising one-off new arrangement of "Sexx Laws" was performed at the spontaneous "secret" concert at The Largo club in Hollywood on June 16, 2000. Having played with Jon Brion, Roger Manning Jr., and Justin Meldal-Johnsen a short improvised set, Beck was about to leave the stage. They fortunately decided to quickly add one more song. "What should we do?" they wondered. Jon Brion suggested "Sexx Laws" and Beck found the suggestion amusing, but was game, despite not having the horn section, banjo, or anything like that! It was scaled back to bass, piano, and drums. Roger asked what key, Beck said "Whatever" and off they went. The sparse arrangement showed off the quality of the song at the core of what is usually a wild, fully-layered performance.
2003 Sea Change band MIDNIGHT SNACKS version
After ignoring the song on early Sea Change shows (the solo tours, and the Flaming Lips tour), Beck put "Sexx Laws" back in on his other full-band tours at the time (Australia/Japan, and the US and Europe summer trips).
In March 2003, Beck took Smokey, Justin, Joey and Greg with him to Australia and Japan. During the Japan portion of the tour (naturally, that's where the Ginza line is), they played "Sexx Laws" for the first time in a few years. Without a horn section, Greg played the main riff on his keyboards. The whole song is a bit slower and laidback, not so upbeat, much more soul to it. A cool re-working.
Since then the song has crept into a few of the European festival sets. Beck wrote in his journal from Europe that the fans "like the sexx laws out here, even though it kicks like some saturday morning cartoon jizzy." Sometimes however, they did do a shortened version of the song (just a verse/chorus quick arrangement).
2005-2007 Guero/Info tours PIXELATED DOCTORS version
Beck played "Sexx Laws" with some regularity on the Guero/Info tours, esp. earlier throughout 2005. In 2006-2007, Beck and his band moved away from it, though it did pop up on occasion.
2008-2009 Modern Guilt tour KOWLOON NIGHT version
Similarly, Beck did not frequently perform "Sexx Laws" on the Guilt tour, but it was never too far from his setlists and it showed up just around 15 times over the two years.
2014 Morning Phase tour FREON BY THE CANDLELIGHT version
After a few years away from touring, and then ignoring the song in 2012-2013, Beck returned to doing "Sexx Laws" on his Morning Phase tours. "Sexx Laws" was not performed on the first leg of the Morning Phase tour, but when Beck returned on the second leg, he brought it out and ended up playing it at almost every night afterwards. The song had a lot of rowdy moments, but pretty much followed the album version. The horns were a tape, Gus played the banjo solo, Jason and Smokey shredded on guitar, Justin dropped a MAD bassline. "Sexx Laws" really allowed this all-star band do their thing, and it was a great fun time.
2015-2016 post-Morning Phase tours TEA AND SYMPATHY version
The success of the song in the encore of shows in 2014 led to the song continuing as one of his closing set of songs in 2015-2016 as well.
To sum up all that: the song has not changed all that much over the years, mainly just the frequency of the song has gone up and down. It is one of Beck's most popular song choices though, and is never far from his setlists. There are a few rare new arrangements out there, but mainly the changes are in the flavor: will someone play live banjo or a tape? Horns? Backup singers? Over the years, sometimes they do short versions as well (verse/chorus), just to tease the popular fan favorite.