Todd Rundgren

TrackAlbum
Hello It's MeSomething/Anything?
I Saw The LightSomething/Anything?
Sometimes I Don't Know What To FeelA Wizard, A True Star
The Spark Of LifeTodd
The Verb "To Love"Faithful
Love Is The AnswerOops! Wrong Planet (Utopia)
Can We Still Be FriendsHermit Of Mink Hollow
CompassionHealing
MatedP.O.V. (Utopia)
Parallel LinesNearly Human

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Contributor: Robert Webb

With his 25th solo project, Global, unleashed today, it’s time for a reappraisal of Todd Rundgren’s productive career as a recording artist in the Seventies and Eighties, the decades in which he made his best-loved music.

Rundgren, the outsider’s outsider, has been issuing records for close on fifty years, starting out with British Invasion-inspired power-pop in the late Sixties with the band Nazz and issuing a classic run of solo albums in the years that followed. Rundgren’s catalogue explodes in a shimmering shower of pop, rock, prog, electro, soul and all points in between – from the radio-friendly Can We Still Be Friends, I Saw The Light and Hello It’s Me (the latter song dating back to the Nazz years), to the rock albums he released under the Utopia banner and solo sets such as A Wizard, A True Star, which in 1973 stretched the listeners’ attention span as much as it tested the vinyl it came on. At over 55 minutes Wizard was the longest single album of its day: and its sound, as padded as a duvet, suffered as a result.

Around 1972 Todd became frustrated at his dependency on other musicians, and with the commitments expected of him by the music industry as a whole, and headed out on his own. He effectively became a one-man band – songwriter, multi-talented musician, producer, engineer, self-marketeer. The early solo albums, The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren and Runt (recorded with a band) were trial runs for the canon’s glittering stars – Something/Anything?; A Wizard, A True Star; Todd and Hermit Of Mink Hollow.

As far as the Seventies are concerned, Todd pretty much wrote the book. On these albums, Philly soul ballads collide with full-on blistering rock and roll, synthesised meanderings and glammed-up wig-outs. Rundgren, as he put it himself, realised you could look at the surface of a record as an unbroken canvas and paint anything you wanted on it. Abandoning the idea of songs that had beginnings and endings, he looked at sound and music as one continuous “mishmash of stuff”. “If you were a Beatles fan you had to think eclectically,” he told me when I interviewed him in the late Nineties for The Independent.

Only Rundgren, in 1976, had the audacity to issue an album (Faithful) featuring note-perfect renditions of Sixties hits by the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Dylan and Hendrix. “Pointless,” the critics understandably snorted. But it was all part of the rich mix. There is plenty to love in Rundgren’s back catalogue. You may not want it all, but then who likes everything?

Commercially, the genre-crossing Todd would be seen today as a record company’s worst nightmare and quickly dropped from any mainstream label. Yet amongst the experimentation and eclecticism there were wider successes. We Gotta Get You A Woman grazed the US Top 20; I Saw The Light was a UK turntable hit in 1973 and remains a staple of British daytime radio. Then there were the covered hits: Mated (David Grant and Jaki Graham), Hello It’s Me (Isley Bros), Love Is The Answer (England Dan and John Ford Coley). Ultimately though, it would be his in-demand work as a producer – notably on the ubiquitous Bat Out Of Hell – that would earn him his keep. As well as Meat Loaf, Rundgren has knob-twiddled for the likes of XTC, Sparks and Hall & Oates. A separate Toppermost is required to round up his substantial studio work for other artists.

By the end of the century, Rundgren had added other roles to his resume – interactive pioneer, multimedia artist and even computer software developer. As a recording artist in his own right, Todd continues to shift styles and try out new ideas (one later album, With A Twist, was re-workings of back-catalogue classics arranged as bossa-novas). His twenty-first-century releases keep the needles flickering into the red. He is never bored and never boring.

 

Todd Rundgren official site

The Todd Rundgren Connenction – information site

Todd Rundgren biography (iTunes)

Robert Webb is a freelance writer and editor. His writing has appeared in The Independent and BBC Online. He is the author of The 100 Greatest Cover Versions and a forthcoming book on John Lennon.

TopperPost #431

6 Comments

  1. David Tanner
    Apr 7, 2015

    Excellent choice of tracks. Agree about the quality of the original vinyl “A Wizard, A True Star” one of the benefits of CDs was getting a decent sounding version at last.

  2. Matthew Savine
    Apr 7, 2015

    Some fantastic selections – I love Todd. Nice to see him get a mention on here!!

  3. Peter Viney
    Apr 7, 2015

    Thanks for an interesting piece. I’m going to note that Todd Rundgren was the engineer on the first Jesse Winchester album (see Toppermost), which led to engineering “Stage Fright” by The Band in Woodstock. The first two solo albums (Runt, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren) define really bad early CD transfers for me. The early CDs are awful transfers, so you have to go back to vinyl. On original vinyl LP, both are superb albums, and Long Flowing Robe is my first choice of all (Ballad of Todd Rundgren) , followed by We Gotta Get You A Woman (Runt). But I love both albums. I’d take the suggested two from Something / Anything, but It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference is sublime song too. I love Todd’s inserted “This is the sound of bad EdTing.” which I have often quoted. I kind of lost interest after Something / Anything (apart from “Faithful” which I agree is an academic exercise), so will take Robert’s list for guidance.

  4. Jerry Tenenbaum
    Apr 8, 2015

    I heard Nazz while walking along Yonge St. It was being pumped out into the street from a clothing store of the time. I was blown away. The rest is history. Todd Rundgren has been on my playlist from that time. I really like some of the hard stuff (Is It My Name? is a good example). He has been at the cutting edge from day 1 and I admire his dedication and commitment to music. If not a wizard, a true star – he’s damn close.

  5. David Lewis
    Apr 8, 2015

    I saw Todd in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. A great band: Steve Lukather, Gregg Rolie, Richard Page, Gregg Bissonette. Todd was head and shoulders above all of them. Which is no small feat. I’d have to have ‘Bang on the Drum’. But where?

  6. Calvin Rydbom
    Apr 12, 2015

    Not to split hairs or anything, but I’ve met and had drinks with Kasim Sulton – Todd’s long time bass player and colleague in Utopia a few times. He told me that being in the studio for a Todd album and a Utopia album were vastly different experiences. So I’d hesitate to include any Utopia song in a Todd list, I’d say they should get their own.
    (Would you oblige Calvin? … Ed.)

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