9. Neil Young, Trans (1982)
An album so strange he was sued for making it; Neil Young’s 1982 album Trans, to all outward appearances, was his response to musical trends of the era, but it was also quietly personal. The majority of the songs on Trans were recorded using synthesizers and a vocoder; it’s basically Young doing his own ragged version of Kraftwerk.
But the album’s heavily processed vocals also reflected Young’s difficulty communicating with his son, afflicted with cerebral palsy and unable to speak. These were solid influences and intentions, but coming from one of the earthiest rockers of the 1970s, it was hard to swallow; critics were baffled and the album sold poorly (it has still never been released on CD in the U.S.).
Young’s new label boss, David Geffen, sued the singer/songwriter for making deliberately uncommercial and unrepresentative music. It’s too bad the album was so firmly rejected, because with the benefit of hindsight, Young’s decision to fully commit to electronic music in the early 1980s was refreshingly forward-thinking.
More importantly, Trans boasts some great songs, like the haunting “Transformer Man,” which Young boldly included in his appearance on MTV Unplugged eleven years later, demonstrating how well the album’s material held up stripped of its divisive technology.