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.


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.

L is for Lennon: John and Yoko

Lennon’s lead guitar work on Walking on Thin Ice, which he recorded 8 December 1980, was his final creative act.

JohnandYokoJohn Lennon met Yoko Ono at an art gallery in November 1966. Very soon, the thing that would really bug Paul, George, and Ringo was that SHE was in the studio with John and them; this had been the Beatles’ nexus, but now he’s bringing in his girlfriend?

Her vocals would eventually show up on Beatles songs, notably Revolution 9 from the white album, and the very strange song What’s The New Mary Jane [LISTEN, if you want] which actually never made it onto a legitimate record until the third Beatles Anthology album, released in the 1990s.

They did a number of albums together, including two avant-garde albums called Unfinished Music. Two Virgins had the infamous nude cover; the CD release added the Yoko song Remember Love [LISTEN], the B-side to the Plastic Ono Band single, Give Peace A Chance [LISTEN].

The Life with the Lions, which corresponded with Yoko’s miscarriage, also had extra material for the CD release. This was followed by The Wedding Album, with side 1 filled with John yelling “Yoko!” and Yoko screaming, “John!”; at least side two was an informative interview.

Live Peace In Toronto was interesting, with Eric Clapton and “Revolver” cover artist Klaus Voorman playing with John. Side two was all Yoko, mostly experimental stuff. LISTEN for yourself to the whole album.

Almost saw John & Yoko at an antiwar demonstration in 1972 or 1973. We had taken a charted bus down from New Paltz, NY to NYC, but we had to get back at the appointed hour. While we were on the bus, still in Manhattan, we heard John on the radio at the rally we had just left only minutes earlier. Speaking of war: Yoko and a bunch of kids appear on Merry Xmas (War is Over) [LISTEN]. Likewise, John regularly appears as guitarist and/or producer on songs she recorded in the 1970s.

They had their famous breakup, the “Lost Weekend”, but got back together in late 1974, then had a son together, Sean, on John’s 35th birthday, October 9, 1975.

When John decided to go back into recording in 1980, Yoko was inarguably an equal musical partner, with their songs alternating on Double Fantasy and the album after John’s death, Milk and Honey. No song better reflects, for me, John’s evolution as a person than Woman, from the former album.

Perhaps my favorite Yoko song is Walking on Thin Ice:

Released in 1981. She and John Lennon concluded the recording of the song on December 8, 1980. It was upon their return from the recording studio to The Dakota (their home in New York City) that Lennon was murdered… Lennon was clutching a tape of a final mix when he was shot.

Lennon’s lead guitar work on the track, which he recorded [that day], was his final creative act.

The B-side was It Happened [LISTEN], which starts with a dialogue between John and Yoko before she sings. Here’s a list, with links, to Yoko’s best songs, including the aforementioned Walking on Thin Ice.

Yoko has continued to record, as well as keep John’s music in the public eye. Sean is a recording artist as well, and I got to see him play a few years back.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

Sean Lennon’s birthday; and it would have been his father’s

We were JUST THERE, yet we missed seeing John & Yoko in person.

One of those signs that you are getting older is when you start saying things such as “I remember [him or her] when [he or she] was X years old [some age the person hasn’t been for a VERY long time].” And that’s how it was with Sean Lennon. I didn’t know him personally, but, to me, he was frozen in time at five years old, his age when his father was killed.

Here’s an audio of John and Sean talking about birthdays.

Of course, Sean continued to grow up, in spite of my myopia. I think that’s why, when he performed in Albany in the spring of 2007, when he was 31, I just had to go see him. That and, I suppose, that second-hand connection to his late father who I could never see live.

There was an antiwar rally I attended in New York City – must have been 1972, give or take a year – and on our way back to New Paltz on the bus, but still within the city limits, we could hear on the live radio (I’m thinking WBAI) that John and Yoko had shown up at the event! It was thrilling, but also frustrating; we were JUST THERE, yet we missed seeing them in person.

Anyway, here’s a link to bios of the Beatles kids. You’ll note that many of them became musicians as well.

Sean Lennon turns 36 today; John would have been 71.

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