Dec 152010

I’m fascinated by weirdo albums by major artists, records that may not necessarily be great but are in their own weird way more interesting that a lot of the artists’ “better” work because they strive for something unique, show an extreme version of the artist and/or show them in a good-spirited I-don’t-give-a-crap mode. These records were generally hated by both critics and the public but look a whole lot better in retrospect than they did upon release.


  • Leonard Cohen‘s Death of a Ladies Man (a collaboration between two geniuses, Cohen and Phil Spector, in which the sparsest of the sparse meets wall of sound and tries to rock out while fantasizing about naked bodies. He never sounded happier. I think it’s a masterpiece, but I can also sympathize with people who think it sucks).
  • Randy Newman‘s Born Again (in which the artist tries to offend absolutely everyone, including those who previously liked him for the right reasons, both lyrically and with bizzare snyth-heavy arrangements that do not sound like an ’80s sell-out, but rather like nothing else from the ’70s or ’80s).
  • John EntwistlesWhistle Rymes (a deeply personal, uniquely quirky album that I find a zillion times more evocative than Tommy or Quadrophenia).
  • Prince‘s Black Album (though that one tended to get favorable critical commentary).
  • All those crazy Neil Young albums from the ’80s.

Anyone wish to nominate a few more and comment on them?


  34 Responses to “Do Oddball Albums by Major Artists Reveal More About Them Than Their “Better” Work?”

  1. pudman13, I like this piece and am trying to think of artists I may feel this way about. However, I have trouble thinking of Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman as “major artists,” and Entwistle’s status as a major artist was attained through The Who. I guess what you’re getting at, though, is established artists or distinctive artists, right?

    I’ve only heard bits and pieces of Whistle Rymes years ago, but the only solo album by him I really know (and own) is Smash Your Head Against the Wall. I can’t remember: is Whistle… a departure from Smash…?

    I DON’T like most of those crazy Neil Young albums from the ’80s. I remember trying hard to appreciate Trans, but it was hard enough for me to get much more than laughs out of listening to Devo. That old Neil Young interview that someone posted, in which Young explained that Trans was an effort at expressing the inability to communicate with his son, or something like that, was interesting to read.

    What’s your take on Their Satanic Majesties Request?

    I’m drawing blanks on albums that fit your criteria that I may appreciate for their oddities. I’m sure something obvious will be suggested that’s not coming to mind.

  2. pudman13

    Mr. Moderator, I do think in the grand scheme of things Newman and Cohen are major artists, but I think that the very top echelon of major artists don’t have records that fall into this category, except maybe the one you mention, THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES REQUEST (I can’t count something lousy like METAMORPHOSIS or something offhand like JAMMING WITH EDWARD, or APPLE JAM.) I have always loved TSMR and play it as much as any other Stones’ album, even though I find much of it quite flawed. If you asked me to rate it, I’d have a hard time, because I think about half to two-thirds of it is truly excellent, and the rest of it is obnoxious in a memorable but not necessarily appealing way. I forget which critic said this, but I agree with the person who said that the Stones were the only major artist to make an acid rock album that sounded like a bad trip. The obvious exception is “She’s A Rainbow,” which is their greatest pop song.

    I guess I do think it’s fair to change “major” to “established” artists. My point is people who critics take seriously, or who critics take seriously by connection (i.e. Entwistle.) Lennon’s SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITY might well qualify, though I don’t like it much. I can’t consider something like NEBRASKA, because it’s so critically admired and sold reasonably well.

    WHISTLE RYMES sounds nothing at all like SMASH YOUR HEAD AGAINST THE WALL, which I always found mediocre. WR is a much much more disciplined example of songwriting, with each song telling a distinct story that is either disturbing, funny, sad, or all three. Musically it’s much better produced and played (Excellent guitar from Peter Frampton.) It really plays like a concept album, but the songs are catchy and hooky in a way the ones on SMASH YOUR HEAD are not. It’s not as heavy, but it definitely rocks. I didn’t discover it until maybe five years ago, and I was blown away. It always struck me as a great lost album, but I suppose you have to in some way connect to its peculiar sensibility to appreciate it.

  3. Thanks for the details. I’m curious to revisit that Entwistle album. He always seemed like a “behind-the-scenes” bandmember who might be capable of something more.

    At the time it was released and during the late-’70s and mid-’80s Lou Reed’s Berlin was talked about in terms along these lines, but this was the same artist who’d really veer off course with Metal Machine Music. Anyhow, I really like Berlin, so maybe that’s the first album for me that comes close to what you’re getting at. I liked it when I first heard it, in 1981, so maybe I was a little ahead of the critical curve? Now, of course, like everything else Reed has ever committed to tape, it’s an undeniable masterpiece.

  4. BigSteve

    Doesn’t Mighty Like a Turd say a lot about EC and who he thought he was at that time? I don’t know that I’d say that it looks “a whole lot better in retrospect than [it] did upon release,” but I certainly find it interesting.

    When you look at Leonard Cohen’s records as a whole, Death of a Ladies Man doesn’t seem like that much of an outlier, but yeah at the time it probably seemed like a big departure. I only heard it after I’d already digested I’m Your Man, partly because its reputation was off-putting. Now it’s one of my favorite albums of his.

  5. For me, Dylan’s Desire fits this bill. It was somewhat maligned, I’d say deservedly so, particularly for some real missteps. Joey, anyone? But at the time, and to this day, I thought it showed Dylan really trying to open things up in a way that the more consitent but less prickly Blood on the Tracks didn’t do at all. With that rough, rockin’ crew of New York pick up musicians, it is in some ways Dylan’s own Sometime in New York City, but a more successful version.

  6. Here’s a question I keep getting stuck on, pudman13—and don’t think I’m immune to this: What is the value of an artist “revealing” something? I mean, some of these works may reveal another side of an artist, but if it don’t swing, does it mean a thing? Believe me, I’m a huge fan of the possibly highly revealing Boulders, by Roy Wood, who surely did more visceral work in the confines of The Move. I guess for me the oddball perspective an album like this allows me makes me feel I’m closer to the “true nature” of the artist as a person, just like I know more about myself when I’m alone than when I’m mixed in with my posse. Is that part of what you think we might get out of these types of albums?

  7. I’d have to throw Beach Boys’ Love You into the mix. I remember playing it one night in the record store I was working. My manager came out and wondered what crap that was. Of course, I love it.


  8. misterioso

    I think this is frequently true, and I would say that the tendency towards “weirdo” records is in direct proportion to one’s interest in the artist and is not necessarily a reflection that one thinks the weirdo record in question is BETTER than an artist’s other work. Perhaps this is obvious. Hence, I am much more likely to listen to Dylan’s Street Legal, usually dismissed as a minor record or worse, than Bringing It All Back Home, which is unquestionably a major work and a classic by any measure. I think Street Legal is sorely underrated and is quite good, in fact, though hardly flawless; I feel the same way about several other “lesser” Dylan records, too–though, geo’s point about “Joey” notwithstanding, I wouldn’t call Desire one of Dylan’s “weirdo” records, it was, I think, his biggest selling record to that point. I don’t go as far as others who now, in a rush of revisionism, hail Self Portrait as a secret classic (though I certainly agree that it is better than it was initially thought to be).

    Anyway, I think it is safe to say that this is a tendency among completists, obsessives, and get-a-lifers, such as, I trust, all in this hallowed hall, even if there is no rhyme or reason to how it works.

  9. pudman13

    Re: SELF PORTRAIT. Here’s the truth about it:

    “Self Portrait was a bunch of tracks that we’d done all the time I’d gone to Nashville. We did that stuff to get a [studio] sound. To open up we’d do two or three songs, just to get things right and then we’d go on and do what we were going to do. And then there was a lot of other stuff that was just on the shelf. But I was being bootlegged at the time and a lot of stuff that was worse was appearing on bootleg records. So I just figured I’d put all this stuff together and put it out, my own bootleg record, so to speak. You know, if it actually had been a bootleg record, people probably would have sneaked around to buy it and played it for each other secretly. Also, I wasn’t going to be anybody’s puppet and I figured this record would put an end to that…I was just so fed up with all that who people thought I was nonsense.”

    I’m not saying people who like it are “wrong,” but it is important to understand that Dylan knew it wasn’t an item of quality and never intended it to be one.

  10. Has anyone around here read Nick Hornby’s Juliette, Naked? I’m in the home stretch of finishing it. It’s highly applicable to where we can’t help but going in this thread. Let’s keep it rolling!

  11. I’ve got a soft spot for Street Legal.

  12. I don’t know the backstory behind this album, but The Four Seasons’ psychedelic would-be masterpiece, The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, is an oddball album by them that I truly like, even though it’s in many ways ridiculous and lacking in the concise punch of all their ’60s singles, which I also like a lot. In the case of this attempt at a psych album, I find it endearing to hear once-hip, now “square” stars of just 2 years earlier trying to get “with it.” I don’t know if it reveals much about The Four Seasons, who never resonated much for me as individuals, but it’s one of those time-piece albums that represents something about the times better than movies made these days about that period in middle-class culture seem capable of doing.

  13. misterioso

    I think it is at least 2/3 great, and the 1/3 that fall short are at least interesting. It helps, too, that it was finally remixed and remastered–one of the few cases where the results are truly revelatory.

  14. misterioso

    Of course, I’ve read this and other comments he made on the record, and his comments in Chronicles on this whole era, when he says be basically was doing everything possible to alienate an audience he no longer wanted to claim him as their own. And while I largely believe him, there may also be a retrospective element of self-justification–we can never really know. Self Portrait walks a fine line between sincerity and craftsmanship on one hand and (self)parody and carelessness on the other. Which is what makes it interesting, of course, if not great.

  15. shawnkilroy

    Lennon’s Rock and Roll shows how truly tired he was.

    Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome shows his willingness to have a good time a little better than his own albums do.

    The Melvins’ Prick shows what a bunch of pricks they are.

    Sonic Youth’s Dirty shows that they could write catchy pop songs if they wanted to make money.

    McCartney’s Liverpool Sound Collage shows that he can make some interesting noise when he’s not so consumed with being “the last real Beatle”

    Super Furry Animals Mwng shows that they whatever language they choose, they Rock!

  16. pudman13

    The part that I find most illuminating is that so many of these songs were not even seriously done–they were just studio practice warmups, cover versions that they never had any intention of releasing at the time.

    It’s also worth noting that the notorious DYLAN is actually not an album of SELF-PORTRAIT outtakes, as most people believe. 7 of the 9 songs were outtakes from NEW MORNING, though my guess is they aren’t actually “outtakes,” but once again songs that were performed as warmups. It’s hard to imagine how else these songs could have been recorded during those sessions.

  17. I mentioned Desire because it is somewhat neglected in comparison to the endless praise heaped on Blood On the Tracks. I think it was somewhat lost in the shuffle, but some of the songs on ther, for example Isis showed that he could be heading out there into the wild again.

    Another one that I would consider somewhat neglected is John Wesley Harding. I like that one for its low key surrealism backed by the most subtly simmering rhythm section work on any Dylan record. I was trying to steer Fritz in that direction when he asked announced that he found a Dylan album he appreciated (Blood on the Tracks, I think) and wanted to know if there was anything else in the catalogue that wouldn’t offend his sensibilities. I like the way so many of the songs on there, All along the Watchtower for example, just hang in the air like haikus.

  18. I’m glad you brought up John Wesley Harding. For the last 7 or 8 years that’s the Dylan album I listen to most frequently. I can’t say that any Dylan album is that much of an “oddball,” because like Bowie, isn’t that part of the deal? However, I love the simplicity of JWH and the seeming lack of artifice. I don’t know that Dylan ever recorded from that stance before or after. “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” is one of those songs that could play on for days as far as I’m concerned. Great description of the album’s strengths, geo.

  19. misterioso

    geo, I see your point. Certainly Blood on the Tracks enjoys a unanimity of acclaim whereas Desire does not, even though it is quite good. Of course, it Dylan had ditched Joey and replaced it with two of the top-notch songs he held back from the lp (Abandoned Love and Golden Loom, both of which only came out much later), it would be a stronger record. But this is so often the case with Dylan.

  20. Desire’s good, but the live versions of those songs (from Bootleg Series Vol. 6) blow the studio recordings away. And I just discovered “Abandoned Love” this week — both the studio version and the live Bitter End rendition — and it probably vaulted up into my top 10 Dylan songs.

  21. underthefloat

    Hall and Oate’s “War Babies” would qualify as a weirdo album I would think. Produced by Rundgren. A strange sounding album with songs such as “Johnny Gore and the C Eaters”, I’m watching you (a mutant romance)”, “Beanie G. and the Rose Tattoo”. This was before the hits and most of the songs sound like they are trying a bit to hard. Still, the next album was the “Silver album” and then follow by “Bigger then Both of Us”…this was the late 70′s hits era version of the band. After this success the “weird” came calling somewhat and they then released and alienated many fans with “Beauty on a backstreet”. It slightly went back for the “weirder” stuff again. It had songs such “Bad Habits and Infections”… weird compared to the prior two albums in style and lyrics. It also had the god awful “Winged Bull”. The drop in sales must have in part inspired them to leave the “weird” behind and eventually led them back to the pure 80′s slick (mostly IMO not so good) pop they became most known for. I find the weird more interesting then their 80′s output but neither that strong. I admit to liking some of the late 70′s stuff.

    I hope this long post on Hall and Oates doesn’t get me booted from the list…..

  22. underthefloat

    That seems like a good assessment. I’ve always liked it and it was “weird” for Dylan at the time I think. I need to give it a listen again.

  23. pudman13

    egads, I just did some research on this one, and listened to some songs on youtube. It sounds completely like a Rundgren album, and in a good way. Holy moley! You learn something new every day here.

  24. Underthefloat, I really like some 70’s era H&O and even a few stray 80’s tracks of theirs, so I got your back (although I have to say the depth of your H&O knowledge is a bit disconcerting).

  25. Wow, I was not expecting that either…

  26. underthefloat, let he who is without questionable taste cast the first Townsperson from the Hall! Hell, even I like a couple of things that most people think blows:)

  27. underthefloat

    Cool! Glad to have surprised you. Some of the tracks are pretty good/weird. War Babies with lyrics like “Ate puffed wheat, x-rayed his feet. In the Atom age”. A different lyric then say …”Your a rich girl”.

    Hall also did a solo album with Fripp producing. I “think” this was post 70’s pre the hits of the 80’s. I never heard it but I think it’s unlike what one expects.

  28. underthefloat

    Whew. Thanks!
    Yeah, the depth of my knowledge is alarming…
    More confessions: I actually saw them live a few times. From stadium rock in the 70’s to a small bar called Thumpers prior to their financial comeback in the 80’s. Hey, I was into Iggy, etc then too. Just to set the record straight. 🙂
    They seem to be the guys that just won’t go away. I just heard they are enjoying yet another come back as new young fans enjoy them in a frivolous kind of way.

  29. underthefloat

    Good. I have a few more skeletons for sure!

  30. I always thought Ian Anderson was pretty much the dirtbag depicted on Aqualung. So I wonder what he was doing as spaceman on “A”. I meant to ask my one friend from whom I recorded all of the early 70’s Tull albums but I never got around to it.

  31. sammymaudlin, I believe, did a piece on that Fripp-Hall album here a couple of years ago. When I get time I’ll search the archives for the link, if you don’t do so first. It was an interesting album.

  32. underthefloat

    Yeah, I will be interested to read more about it.

  33. I have Exposure by Fripp and Hall sings on that one including You Burn Me Up I’m a Cigarette, and a beautiful song called North Star or something like that.

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