We’ve all heard music from rock music’s most iconic bands—the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses, and others. You’ve listened to their songs over and over, and you love them all the same. There are many incredible albums in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, but just as fascinating are the train wrecks, the experiments, and the odd detours. Weird, strange albums inspire shock and awe in fans.
Artists that are seen as icons in rock music often have certain styles that fans know them for. Paul McCartney makes Beatles-esque pop, Metallica makes heavy metal, and so on. The albums on this list are ones that mixed up the formula, with varying degrees of success. They made an impact on fans when they were released, and they still turn heads and grab attention to this day because of how incredibly strange they are.
Let’s take a look at some weird, wonderful, and wild records made by some iconic artists.
Related: Top 10 Musicians Who Were Ahead Of Their Time
10 Paul McCartney: McCartney II
The Beatles are all-encompassing when it comes to popular music. So much so that it seems nigh impossible for someone to not have heard something Paul McCartney has made at some point in their lives. Recorded while he was alone on a farm in Scotland, the songs on McCartney II were originally never meant to see the light of day, as they were intended to just be a fun, weird experiment. After the cancellation of McCartney’s tour in Japan due to marijuana possession, however, he decided to release the album anyways.
The album is well known for being polarizing, and it’s not hard to see why. If you listen to tracks like “Temporary Secretary,” for example, you might walk away feeling grated and annoyed. That song was actually an inside joke, as McCartney found the idea of a temporary secretary hilarious, which tracks with the actual song—which also feels like an elaborate joke at times.
Here’s an idea: Make a playlist with 9 songs, including “Yesterday” and “Bogey Music,” and click shuffle. It should make for an interesting game of Russian Roulette.
9 Bob Dylan: Self Portrait
By the time 1970 hit, Bob Dylan was already an American icon. Because of this, the pressure on him was immense, and this Self Portrait was born. Filled with strange covers, abrasive live recordings, and the “smooth flow” of a rocky mountain rapid, it was a shock to music listeners at the time and continues to do the same to this day.
When Self Portrait was first played on the radio in full to listeners, many were utterly confused. Critics began to wonder if Dylan had lost his mind. Well, not really. Dylan later went on to acknowledge that he had made the album intentionally bad, calling the album a “joke” and saying that he “wanted to make something [the hippies] couldn’t possibly like.” This reaction was because of the overwhelming pressure of his fame and situation… and because overzealous fans were following him and his family around in public.
While Self Portrait might be less Van Gogh and more Oh no, it’s a fascinating album for what it meant to the rock icon’s life and career.
8 Johnny Rotten: Metal Box by Public Image Limited
Your first impression after looking at the title of this entry is probably something along the lines of “What an odd name for an album,” and you’d be forgiven for that reaction. The name Metal Box was given because of the packaging that the album was originally included in. The band originally packaged the album in a brutal-looking tin can instead of a traditional sleeve. This packaging is known as one of the strangest choices in music history.
Rotten, originally the singer for the revolutionary punk band the Sex Pistols, had become disillusioned with his life as a leading punk frontman. After the Pistols disbanded, he went on to form Public Image Limited, where he vented his frustrations using abstract and terrifying sounds. No other album they created does this as well as Metal Box. In the song “Poptones,” for example, Rotten wails about a story of a girl who was kidnapped and locked in the trunk of a car, only for the cops to find the culprits by the song the girl heard playing on the radio.
The album is chock full of haunting imagery, such as that which is present in “Poptones,” and fans of the Sex Pistols’ rebellious punk rock may be shocked by what they find inside the Metal Box.
7 John Frusciante: PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone
John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers is one weird guy. When he’s not working with one of modern music’s most popular bands in “The Peps,” he is going solo, creating some truly insane rock music. As hinted by the wacky title, the music contained in the album is weird. At many points, whimsical childlike vocal melodies fly over eclectic electronic sounds like a strange musical bouncy castle.
Frusciante’s eclecticism is clear all over his music. From his rocky history with both substance abuse and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to his descent into the occult, you can see the evidence of a man who has lived an odd life. But there’s also a childlike innocence to it, as some of the songs on PBX feel childlike.
Whether or not you are brave enough to enter the Intaglio zone is up to you, but once you dive in, you may never be able to get out.
6 Nirvana: In Utero
To no one’s surprise, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain experienced many struggles during his time on Earth. These struggles are what make In Utero such a fascinating album to talk about. Recorded in the year leading up to Cobain’s death, In Utero reflects heavily upon his pain. The album is noisy, unabashed, and jagged, being produced by experimental punk legend Steve Albini. It’s a big shift for the band, and In Utero sees the change in Cobain’s persona from “voice of a generation” to a troubled man.
Despite the misery that is being trafficked on this album, it is still beautiful and moving to listen to at many points. Songs like “Serve the Servants” deal with Cobain’s displeasure and anger at the musical establishment and fans that brought him his success, and In Utero can be hard to listen to, knowing that you are witnessing someone’s descent into a dark place.
Nevertheless, it is a fascinating and impactful record, and anyone who makes its acquaintance will surely not be disappointed.
5 Van Halen: Van Halen III
In many ways, there’s nothing more fascinating than a disaster, and this entry might be the textbook definition of one. A famous rock music train wreck, Van Halen III includes the one and only appearance of oft-maligned lead singer Gary Cherone. Not only was there a new singer, but inter-band conflict and the Van Halen brothers’ notorious drinking problems were negatively affecting the band.
There are many reasons this album is considered the disaster that it is. One key example is the final track, “How Many Say I.” The vocal performance is famed guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s lead vocal debut, which does not go well. It is often mocked as one of rock music’s worst vocal performances of all time. Vocal hilarity aside, Van Halen III lacks the party rock grandiosity of Van Halen’s early work and signaled the band’s decline.
Van Halen III represents the fascinating and often hilarious flip side of sex, drugs, and rock and roll and where it can all go wrong. If you choose to witness it, you might want to wear a hard hat.
4 Lou Reed and Metallica: Lulu
Lou Reed and Metallica are two beloved and essential figures in rock history. From Lou Reed’s grimy rock ‘n’ roll poetry with the Velvet Underground to Metallica bringing blistering heavy metal to the pop charts, people had the right to be excited by the collaboration between the two. What they ended up getting was, well, kind of a disaster. Many fans were incredibly confused by the contents of Lulu, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s quite strange and hard to listen to.
An example of Lulu’s infamy is a famous lyric in the song “The View.” Lou Reed yells, “I am the table!” in a voice that is half scream and half demand. The moment has inspired a cascade of memes on the internet in the years since Lulu’s release. It highlights the strange but captivating nature of the album, which was based on a German play about a character named Lulu.
Despite many odd choices, strange sounds, and perplexing lyrics, Lou Reed and Metallica’s unabashedly strange album Lulu will be one that lingers in fans’ minds for decades to come, whether they like it or not.
3 Guns N’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
Beginning the podium on our eclectic rock music list is Chinese Democracy, one of hard rock’s most interesting detours. The recording and release of Chinese Democracy was interwoven with many hurdles. From perfectionism to personal conflict to recording industry blues, this album truly had it all. This smorgasbord of awful circumstances resulted in a 15-year gap between the release of this album and their previous released in 1993.
This album is truly a melting pot of eclectic musical influences and confusing choices from the band. Taking cues from the likes of Industrial rock legends Nine Inch Nails, Chinese Democracy represents an interesting stylistic shift for the band, who sound weirder than they ever had before. While it doesn’t all stick, it’s still a fun and odd listen.
Even though it was bogged down by constant trials and tribulations, Chinese Democracy is just as wild as its namesake.
2 The Beach Boys: Smile
The Beach Boys occupy a fascinating place in rock music history. From surf rock teen heartthrobs to baroque pop innovators, the Beach Boys’ cultural legacy is vast and varied. Many stories exist about the band’s difficulties, especially those of “tortured genius” Brian Wilson, who has often experienced debilitating mental troubles during his life. Maybe the most enduring of these stories for a long time, though, was those that told of the lost album Smile.
Being one of rock music’s most fabled “lost treasures,” Smile was said to be in recording limbo for decades. Fans clamored for it to be released, but year after year, nothing came out. However, in 2011, The Smile Sessions was released, and hungry fans were finally able to dig into one of rock music’s best-kept secrets.
One of rock’s most legendary mysteries, Smile is a beautiful album that will always make you wonder what could have been for The Beach Boys.
1 Yoko Ono: Fly
While Yoko Ono isn’t necessarily known as one of rock’s biggest musicians, she is an icon in her own right. She’s been busy making some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most groundbreaking, challenging, and experimental music for the better part of 50 years now, and everyone knows at least one guy who is still bitter about her “breaking up the Beatles” (which wasn’t her fault, for the record). Fly is certainly one of rock music’s freakiest and most bizarre statements.
Fly is a cornerstone in weird avant-garde rock music. This is apparent in songs such as the 22-minute-long title track, which spends the length of an entire side of a vinyl disc horrifically screeching and doing strange vocal manipulations. Seriously, much of the sounds she makes are akin to a small animal being brutally murdered right in front of you.
A monument to how weird rock music can get, Fly is part album, part medieval torture device, and it wouldn’t be better any other way.