If you were a fan of Album Oriented Rock (AOR) on the FM dial in the 70′s you know who Todd Harry Rundgren is. Yes he had mad success as a record producer; You may recognize Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, Grand Funk’s We’re An American Band or XTC’s Skylarking to name just three smash records on his resume, but Todd Rundgren was, and is, a star in his own right. There isn’t an Oldies or Classic Rock station in the country worth its salt that doesn’t play “I Saw The Light” or “Hello It’s Me ” from his 1972 LP Something/Anything?, but this guy had a slew of great songs between The Nazz, his solo career and Utopia. I knew of the two aforementioned songs by the time I came to Boston to go to school at Emerson College, but I was surprised at how many “Todd is God” fanatics were in my freshman class. He had more of a following than I thought.
I posted the cover of Todd’s 1978 live record Back To The Bars above because of my friend Dave from college. Dave was a tough Italian kid with a heart of gold. We had our ups and downs as friends during school, but we did bond over a lot of music. This record was one of his favorites. I was impressed enough to go out and buy it. I’m not much for live albums as I have mentioned in the past here. Most of the time you just had to be there and even then you often get weary of them. I realize the Waiting For Columbus’s and the Frampton Comes Alives are still big fan favorites, but by and large live records don’t always capture what they are intended to. And many times the live concerts are actually a hybrid of several concerts from the same tour. That seems like cheating to me, but I can roll with it if the recording is clean. Rundgren is known as a sound man and Back To The Bars sounds good. I don’t know if this was his zenith as a performer or not…he’s on my list, but I never seem to catch him. I think I would have loved to see Utopia anyway. I don’t know the intimate details of that situation, but my guess is they won’t be re-uniting any time soon. Anyway, thanks Dave…
Todd Rundgren was born in Philadelphia, PA and that does explain some of the early staunch fandom in the Northeast now that I think about it. His first real commercial band was called The Nazz. They were a trippy psychedelic rock band with some Garage Rock leanings. They had one major hit called “Open My Eyes” which you can find on the famous Nuggets collection. They released three records between 1968 and 1970, but they had unimaginative album titles like Nazz, Nazz Nazz and Nazz III. I’m no expert on The Nazz, but I don’t think their records sold particularly well. Rundgren checked out in 1969 and went solo. Right off the bat he had a Top 20 hit with a song called “We Gotta Get You a Woman” which is still a fan favorite to this day.
Without going album to album, after Something/Anything? his music seemed to morph a bit. The wildly ambitious 1973 LP A Wizard, A True Star was out there by any measure. I remember my neighbor in my college dorm playing that record fairly often. It didn’t have the easy mellow gold sound of Hello It’s Me, but it was interesting. Rundgren began to mix in sounds from the Far East and compose longer songs. I would venture to say only true Rundgren followers know every note from A Wizard, A True Star or all of the songs from 1974′s Todd. It was much easier to digest songs like “Real Man” from 1975′s Initiation. In fact “Real Man” is right up there with my own personal Rundgren favorites. In 1976 he did an album of covers called Faithful which I really liked. Did I mention I like covers? And in 1978 The Hermit of Mink Hollow re-established Rundgren’s radio friendly star power. It’s a quality record through and through, but “Can We Still Be Friends” was a big hit for him. It was here that I jumped off the bandwagon of Todd Rundgren’s solo career personally. He did have one more huge hit I wish I never heard with “Bang The Drum All Day” in 1982, but I just lost some interest as my tastes migrated. No offense to Todd or any of his fans, but I felt he was a tad unfocused although I’m sure to get some hate mail for saying as much.
What I did love to death was Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. I don’t know if it was a function of having a crack band around or what, but if you don’t own a copy of 1980′s Adventures in Utopia I feel sorry for you. Exquisite record. Utopia was together from 1973-1986 give or take a year. In my opinion the best of their 13 or so records (including compilations and live records) was easily Adventures in Utopia, but 1982′s Utopia has several great cuts on it and 1977′s Oops! Wrong Planet contains the great “Love in Action.” Utopia combined Rundgren’s great sense of melody with some good old fashioned Rock & Roll urgency. Between his solo career and Utopia, if you distilled the massive output down to around a dozen tracks this guy was as good as anyone. And don’t talk to me about “Bang The Drum All Day” please.
Todd Rundgren was born on June 22, 1948. Today is his 62nd birthday. Rock on my friend and remember to stay away from “Libertine!”
Buy or download The Very Best of Todd Rundgren from Amazon here.