Weirdest album from a mainstream artist?

Berry Gordy’s sister

The_who_sell_out_album_frontMy bud Greg Burgas asked his readers: What’s the weirdest album released by a mainstream artist? Off the top, I couldn’t think of any except from one pair of musicians.

Then I found this list of 35 albums. And I own several! The first, though, I heard of only weeks ago.

Frank Sinatra – Watertown (1970). A concept album that one of my news feeds just mentioned. It Was re-released in June 2022. He “was approached by “Big Girls Don’t Cry” writer Bob Gaudio to do a song cycle about a man whose wife left him with his kids.” It’s named for an upstate New York city; I probably should get it.

The Fireman – Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (1994). “Without a drop of publicity, 1994 saw Paul McCartney quietly releasing his ambient techno album.” To me, it sounds “at worst needlessly repetitive.”

Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants (1979). This has some good songs, actually, such as Send One Your Love, but also a lot of tedious “synthesizer experimentation.” It was “a detour so far from the commercial norm that it risked alienating scores of unadventurous listeners.”

Yoko Ono/John Lennon – Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (1968). I wasn’t even going to consider it because I don’t think of Yoko as a “mainstream artist,” even though I own a few of her solo albums. I haven’t listened to Two Virgins in decades. Side one of their Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions (1969) is unlistenable, but side two is conversational, a bit melancholy, and documents Yoko’s miscarriage. Wedding Album (1970) has Yoko yelling JOHN, and John yelling YOKO for twenty minutes; side two is a dialogue about bed-ins and the like.

Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming (1979). Musically interesting but lyrically theologically lazy.

Starkey

Ringo Starr – Beaucoups of Blues (1970). I LIKE this album quite a bit. “Ringo hunkered down in Nashville, rounded up the city’s top session players, and recorded this love letter to Music City that’s as authentic as the most classic George Jones platter… Beaucoups of Blues remains Starr’s most thoroughly enjoyable, though misunderstood, solo outing.” Agreed. Title song.

Paul McCartney – McCartney II (1980). Why is this album even on the list?

The Who – The Who Sell Out (1967). “Arguably the Who’s greatest album… The oddness [comes] from the fact that these are book-ended by radio jingles and commercials.” SpongeBob SquarePants used this model for an album. Tattoo.

Bob Dylan – Self Portrait (1970). As mentioned, I bought this for my high school girlfriend. I specifically recall a strange version of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer. I always wondered if it was in response to the duo’s A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission). “At the end of the 1966 recording Simon says, ‘Folk-rock,’ and, after an audible noise, ‘I’ve lost my harmonica, Albert.’ This presumably refers to Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman.”

What now?

Neil Young – Trans (1983). “He ticked off “his new label by releasing a vocoder-heavy synth-rock album. He followed it up with a rockabilly disc, and was sued shortly thereafter.” I like Trans, and especially Mr. Soul.

The Clash – Sandinista! (1980). “The Only Band That Mattered follow-up London Calling with a three-LP set filled with reggae, hip-hop, and pop experiments sprawled all over the place.” I bought this album right away and listened to it a lot. Police On My Back.

Joni Mitchell – Mingus (1979). I didn’t appreciate the dialogue as much as the music.

Marvin Gaye – Here, My Dear (1978). “Quite possibly the only album that nearly launched an invasion of privacy lawsuit.” A divorce album re: him and Anna Gordy, Berry Gordy’s older sister. Indulgent but oddly interesting.  When Did You Stop Loving Me, When I Stop Loving You?

Devo – E-Z Listening Disc (1987) [Compilation]. Someone from Rykodisc sent this to me when I was working at FantaCo. I think it’s a hoot. Jocko Homo.

The one I think is most “out there” is probably the Fireman or maybe Joni.

Moody Blues, Dylan, the Boss, solo Fab

Smile Away

Bob_Dylan_-_Love_and_TheftIn response to my most recent Ask Roger Anything request – you can STILL ask! – TWO music questions.

My old buddy Kevin, who grew up in my area, but who I didn’t know until college, asked:
What are your favorite albums by 1) the Moody Blues, 2) Bob Dylan and 3) Bruce Springsteen?

The Moody Blues is easy. While I have a few albums on vinyl that I haven’t listened to in forever, I never got any on CD or as downloads, except for a greatest hits CD. So the only album I can remember without looking it up is Days Of Future Passed. And I liked it not just based on its themes of dayparts, but the fact that a 1967 album could generate a hit half a decade later. Nights In White Satin went to #103 pop in 1968, but to #2 pop for two weeks in 1972.

My first favorite Springsteen album was Born To Run, the album that got him on the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously. And Darkness On The Edge Of Town was a very strong follow-up. Born In The USA is, naturally a great album, but I heard it a bit too often in the 1980s.

I should note that c. 2000, my late brother-in-law John asked me what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday. I said any Springsteen CD prior to 1992, most of which I had on vinyl. He bought me Asbury Park, both Born albums, Darkness, and The River, the two-record set which I had never owned.

Around 2006, my sister Leslie bought me We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Some great songs, done well. But many of them appear in the two-CD Live in Dublin that came out in 2007, and they’re even better.

Zimmerman

Considering the vast number of Dylan CDs I now own, it’s peculiar that I never bought a Bob album in the 1960s. It’s due in part to the fact that I had belonged to the Capitol Record Club in 1966/67, where I got the bulk of my Beatles LPs, not to mention albums by the Beach Boys, Lovin’ Spoonful, and others. Bob was on Columbia. The ONLY Dylan song I owned was from a cheap compilation album, The Best of ’66, which had I Want You.

In fact, the first Dylan album I purchased was for my high school girlfriend, the double album Self-Portrait, which came out in 1970. I wasn’t impressed, and I’m not even sure whether SHE liked it.

Eventually, I bought a few LPs – John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline. But it wasn’t until CDs came out that I started to backfill my Dylan collection: Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, and my favorite, Blood on the Tracks.

I had pre-ordered Love and Theft, which was to be released on September 11, 2001. After I left work early that day – we all did – I was riding my bike home and I went past the record store. I stopped, got the album, and stood around the store awhile as the television was recapitulating the awful news of the day.

I didn’t listen to the album for well over a week. But when I did, I LOVED it, especially the run that began with the third track, Summer Days. I played this album a lot, and it made me happy in a very sad time.

Solo Fabs

Julie, who I’ve known for a few years – I have a pic of her holding my daughter when L was a baby – wants to know:
 What is the best solo Beatles album?

Oh, my, I have been musing on this forever. Conventional Wisdom would put All Things Must Pass by George and Plastic Ono Band by John at the top of the list. These would be totally legitimate choices, especially ATMP, which proved that John and Paul underestimated their younger bandmate. I just watched Concert For George from 2002, and it reminded me just how much I loved Wah Wah.

Yet, and maybe it’s because I’ve listened to it recently, that I’m picking Paul’s (and Linda’s) Ram. Your folks would know that when it came out in 1971, it was savaged by much of the music press. Part of this was a function of the less-than-kind things John said about the album.

Really? Yes

As this 2021 review noted, “The record… saw the singer lay down a blueprint that would eventually help build some of the most notable genres around. You can trace everything from Britpop to pure jangle indie back to this record.” Too Many People, for instance, was a jab at John, much more subtle than John’s How Do You Sleep on his Imagine album.

From All Music: “In retrospect, it looks like nothing so much as the first indie-pop album, a record that celebrates small pleasures with big melodies, a record that’s guileless and unembarrassed to be cutesy. But McCartney never was quite the sap of his reputation… There’s some ripping rock and roll in the mock-apocalyptic goof Monkberry Moon Delight, the joyfully noisy Smile Away, where his feet can be smelled a mile away, and  Eat At Home, a rollicking, winking sex song.”

When I played it recently for the first time this century, I said, pretty much to myself, “Damn, I really LIKE this album!” And I remembered it amazingly well.

Oh, and I have a great affection for the Ringo album, which featured all four of them, not all at the same time. Do the Travelling Wilburys count as “solo”? Because I’d stick that first album in the mix.

Some John Lennon Beatles songs

The Beatles in Italy

Lennon.Beatles
Image: GETTY

Sometimes, I just want to play some Beatles music. And since it’s what would have been the 81st birthday of John Lennon today, I opted for some of my favorite Fab songs I associated with him. I described all of these more fully here. But as an exercise, I’m not going to look at what I said at the time.

I Want To Hold Your Hand – this is the archetypical Lennon/McCartney song. Lennon told Playboy magazine in 1980; “We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball… I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, ‘Oh you-u-u/ got that something …’ And Paul hits this chord and I turn to him and say, ‘That’s it!’ I said, ‘Do that again!’ In those days, we really used to absolutely write like that—both playing into each other’s noses.”

Ticket To Ride – I was at a program for the Albany Institute of History and Art which featured the Fab Four almost 20 years ago. I even had some of my records on display, such as my Japanese singles (I think) and the 1965 album The Beatles in Italy (for sure). That LP title suggests a live performance, but it was just the songs that were not yet on albums. In other words, singles, B-sides, and the four tunes from the Long Tall Sally EP. Ticket To Ride, of course, would subsequently appear on the Help! album.

In the beginning, I misunderstood

The Word – my favorite three Beatles songs in a row on an album are on the US version of Rubber Soul: You Won’t See Me, Think For Yourself, and The Word. (The UK version has Nowhere Man between the McCartney and Harrison tunes).

Day Tripper – one of the great hooks in all of pop music.

 Twist and Shout – one of the greatest covers, ever.

Good Morning Good Morning – I did not know for the longest time that McCartney, not Harrison, played the guitar solos.

A Hard Day’s Night – in some ways, I think the whole album is their greatest, done in the midst of Beatlemania, touring, making a movie. And the title song was done on deadline.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – I bought the Abbey Road box set in 2021. It’s interesting to hear the Billy Preston organ explode. It’s much more subtle in the final mix.

Help – my daughter has sung it publicly. I relate to it greatly.

Tomorrow Never Knows – a much better title than The Void.

The FABulous Irish JEOPARDY!

Oxalis triangularis

ireland.map_2007-worldfactbookI have a confession. I’ve never drunk green beer. As someone who is 25% Irish, this may be a sin against Saint Patrick. Of course, the reason is that I don’t drink ANY beer.

You may know that I’m somewhat of a fan of the game show JEOPARDY! So I looked back at the questions referencing the Emerald Isle on the show in 2020. The answers to the first set are below.

BESTSELLING NONFICTION $800: “Say Nothing” by Patrick Radden Keefe examines the historic “Troubles” in this smallest of the 4 U.K. political divisions
TRIANGULAR $400: Oxalis triangularis is the purple clover, or purple this, a word associated with Ireland.
I’M JUST THE “GO” BETWEEN $2000: This patriotic phrase means “Ireland forever”.
EUROPEAN HISTORY IS A DOWNER $200: A lack of genetic diversity in this crop in 1840s Ireland was a major cause of disaster for the population.

HODGEPODGE $200: An early depiction of a demon holding this customary farm implement is on a thousand-year-old high cross in County Louth, Ireland.
ISLAND PEOPLE $800: She was in 13 consecutive S.I. swimsuit issues and despite her name, does not speak with a brogue.
THE IRISHMAN $1600: In 2018 Gerry Adams resigned as head of this 2-word Northern Ireland unification party after 35 years
GOATS (GREATEST OF ALL TIME) $2000: In a 2010 poll this Nobel Peace Prize winner and politician ranked as Ireland’s greatest person.
NATIONS’ SECOND-LARGEST CITIES $400: Put a stopper in this second city of Ireland, found on an island in the River Lee.

A post-Beatles interlude

Both John and Paul wrote and performed songs about the Irish. Each song is very… earnest.

The Luck of the Irish – John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Elephant’s Memory – from the 1972 album Some Time in New York City
Give Ireland Back to the Irish – Paul McCartney and Wings, single, went to #21 on the Billboard charts in 1972. And this the instrumental B-side.

The answer to these is Ireland

ANTIQUES $2000: Treasured Belleek ware pottery was manufactured starting in the 1850s at Fermanagh on this island.
CATHOLIC NATIONS $800: St. Columba’s House and St. Kevin’s Kitchen are 2 historic churches in this European nation that’s about 80% Catholic.
NATIONS IN THE NATIVE TONGUE $200: Éire.
HYDE $600: Founder of the Gaelic League, Douglas Hyde was also the first president of this republic.
MARY: ME $1200: And here’s to you, Mary Robinson, president of this European country from 1990 to 1997.

Answers from the top quiz: Northern Ireland; Shamrock; Erin go Bragh; Potatoes; Pitchfork; Kathy Ireland; Sinn Fein; John Hume; Cork (County Cork is where my people came from.)

Stats! 

When I Heard John Lennon Had Died

The Late Great Johnny Ace

John-LennonShortly before Thanksgiving 2020, I saw in the New York Post Page Six feature some ghoulish murderabilia [PDF p. 12]. “Double Fantasy’ album John Lennon signed for his killer was up for auction. The album — which in 1998 sold for $150,000 — has a starting bid of $400,000”. It even includes “police-evidence markings.” Yuck. I didn’t bother to follow the conclusion of this sale.

John Lennon died 40 years ago? I seem to remember it so well. On December 1, I had broken up with my girlfriend. So a week later, it was another Monday night. I decided this was the opportunity to watch Monday Night Football, which I would generally pass on for her sake. Since she wasn’t there…

It’s odd that I didn’t remember the game even before Howard Cosell informed me that the ex-Beatle had been killed. I do remember trying to call one of my friends repeatedly in Boston, but the line was busy for a couple of hours. Then I called my now-ex-girlfriend. What’s on the radio? WQBK was taking requests, and I may have asked for The End by the Doors.

The next day at lunchtime, I went to a local record store – Just A Song or maybe Strawberry’s – to buy Double Fantasy. It was sold out, so I purchased John’s Rock and Roll album from 1975. That Sunday, I was working at FantaCo, and the comic book store closed for ten minutes around 2 pm, per Yoko’s request for a period of silence.

Songs

(Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon, the first single off Double Fantasy. If I recall correctly, it was selling fine. But in the wake of his death, it soared to #1  for five weeks in the US, one of those odd posthumous #1 hits. The bitter irony of the damn song made me teary; OK, occasionally, it still does. As did Merry Xmas (War Is Over) by John and Yoko, which I heard a lot that season.

Walking On Thin Ice – Yoko Ono. The guitar on this recording is the last guitar John Lennon ever played on a record, on the day he died. I bought the single and still have it. It went to #58 in the US in early 1981. The B-side was It Happened.

All Those Years Ago – George Harrison. Released in May 1981 as a single from his album Somewhere in England. Ringo on drums, Paul and Linda McCartney on backing vocals. #2 for three weeks in 1981.

Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) – Elton John, #13 in 1982.

Here Today – Paul McCartney, from the April 1982 album Tug of War. It was written like a dialogue between Lennon and McCartney.

The Late Great Johnny Ace – Paul Simon. From the 1983 album Hearts and Bones. A haunting coda composed by Philip Glass.

And also:

Coverville 1335: The 17th Annual Beatles Thanksgiving Cover Story, featuring songs from Rubber Soul

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