Maximum Potential
By: Beck Hansen
Written by: Beck Hansen

Alternate Titles:

a.k.a. Sandman

Maximum Potential [Version (a)]:

(from the September 6, 1994 version)

Oh my Lord, you're turning on the world
Walking into filth, how could they ever doubt you?
Ripping in the background, twisting out of focus
You're rising to the bottom
A pendulum in the noose
A fucker with no excuse
A loser with nothing to lose

Maximum letdown, somehow we know better
Everything about you, how could they ever doubt you?
Smoothing out the barrel and scraping off the edges
Rising to the bottom
A pendulum in the noose
A fucker with no excuse
A loser with nothing to loooose

A pendulum in the noose
A fucker with no excuse
A loser with nothing to lose
The Song:

Most of the unreleased songs we know about from live shows are folk songs. "Maximum Potential" however is one of Beck's fully-formed rockers. It is only known from live bootlegs, though it wasn't just once, it seems to have been played throughout the fall of 1994.

The song's tempo is similar to "Fuckin with My Head" on Mellow Gold, but a little less dramatic. The song has a complete arrangement, and the band sounds pretty sharp doing it. Everything is fairly standard (verse/chorus/v/c/solo/c). I'd guess it was probably put to tape at some point. Whether or not that's true, it remains unreleased. Still, it's not the most memorable song Beck's ever written, to be frank.

Again, it's easy to consider "Maximum Potential" as yet another Beck song about the music business. It's not a topic he shied away from back in the day. He mentions "loser" again, and even compares success in music as "rising to the bottom" and "scraping out the barrel."

But the song also goes deeper. The term "maximum potential" itself lingers in the self-help type category, along side Tony Robbins' "Your life is a canceled check"-like catchphrases. Beck's song is about a character hitting the bottom, being "twisted out of focus." The character's outcome seems to be an attempt at "smoothing out the edges" (or reaching maximum potential), but not succeeding or being able to reach that promise, so he gives up. The chorus is further description of someone having hit the end of his rope.

Played live 8 times:
Earliest known live version: September 6, 1994
Latest known live version: December 18, 1994

We know of 8 live versions of "Maximum Potential" over 4 months at the end of the Mellow Gold tour in 1994.

On October 28 1994 Beck introduces the song as "Maximum Potential," thus confirming its title once and for all. This version has an excellent ending, made even more enjoyable by a very smooth continuation right into one of those massive live "Blackhole"s.

The performance on November 5 1994 is a bit lazy. Beck's vocals are mumbled a bit, and the band isn't as tight as other times. This doesn't hurt the song too much though, and the guitar solo after the second chorus is the best one yet. Beck also intriguingly switches the last line from "a loser with nothing to lose" to "a singer with no excuse."

The November 28 1994 version is noteworthy for the nice, almost-funky coda tacked on.