Deep down in the shadowy, cobwebby corners of many musical legends, you’re bound to come across a stray track that goes way against the grain, differing so drastically from the artist’s signature sound that you might think it was recorded by someone else entirely. These tracks are the outliers, and while a handful of them have become renowned over time, many are still lurking in the darkness waiting for some hardy historian to shine a light on them.
One of the most famous outliers is The Beatles’ “Revolution 9,” in which John Lennon left conventional song format far behind in favor of an utterly avant-garde musique concrète composition. Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music—essentially an album full of feedback and electronic whirring and buzzing—is almost as iconic. But there are plenty of other equally anomalous tunes to discover from the catalogs of major artists.
Creedence Clearwater Revival might seem like the band least likely to go for their own “Revolution 9,” but that’s pretty much what they did with “Rude Awakening #2”; Folk rock trailblazers The Byrds found time to mix synths and Indian influences on the out-there instrumental “Moog Raga”; and everybody from Chubby Checker to Sonny Bono to The Four Seasons managed to turn out a mind-bendingly trippy tune or two in the psychedelic era.
Those who associate Foghat with leaden blues rock boogie will be astonished at the shockingly Squeeze-like power pop nugget “Wide Boy,” and who expected hard rock hero Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy to cough up a Eurodisco-tinged synth-pop tune co-written with Ultravox’s Midge Ure? Tony McPhee, frontman for UK blues rockers The Groundhogs, is a cult hero, but his 20-minute electronic freakout “The Hunt” is such a quintessential example of the outlier phenomenon that it’s the ideal way to close out this carnival of the unlikely.