My 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.
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.”
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.