Just to note, I was bummed out to hear about the passing of Dolores O’Riordan. Never did do any Cranberries songs on this blog and I liked them quite a bit.
Todd Rundgren is an artist who hails from my hometown of Philadelphia, PA. While no longer selling out arenas, the 69-year old Mr. Rundgren has been a mainstay in music since at least the late ’60’s.
In addition to the usual blues band flirtations, Todd was a member of a popular (at least in Philly) band called Nazz. (The name came from a Yardbirds song called “The Nazz Are Blue.” ) Nazz recorded a couple of albums and some version of the band lasted till 1970.
But the song I know (and have always dug) by them the best is called “Open My Eyes” from their self-titled first album. Rundgren was Nazz’s chief songwriter and he wrote this rockin’ little number. (Can’t find on Spotify.) If you find yourself overwhelmed by the psychedelic effects, well, it’s 1968. Todd admits he borrowed some of the intro from The Who’s “Can’t Explain.”:
But “Open My Eyes”* was not the song the record company wanted to push. Some DJ’s in Boston got hold of the single and started playing the flip side “Hello It’s Me.” Yeah, the same tune that became a hit for Rundgren solo a couple years later. But the two songs then got into fairly heavy rotation on underground Philly station WMMR.
As mentioned, Nazz continued until 1970 but Rundgren bailed out in 1969. Todd’s songwriting was influenced by a wide variety of sources (classical music, Burt Bacharach, British bands, Beach Boys, Broadway, R&B, pop, soul) but he was a devoteé of singer/songwriter Laura Nyro**:
“I knew her fairly well. I actually had arranged a meeting, just because I was so infatuated with her and I wanted to meet the person who had produced all this music. We got along, and we were kind of friendly, and actually, after I met her the first time, she asked me if I wanted to be her band leader. But the Nazz had just signed a record contract and I couldn’t skip out on the band, even though it was incredibly tempting.”
Rundgren moved to New York and – unhappy with production on Nazz albums – familiarized himself with recording techniques and became a producer. Through connections, Rundgren got recommended to be the engineer on an album Robbie Roberton*** was producing for fellow Canadian Jesse Winchester. (Winchester, opposed to the Vietnam War, left America and became a Canadian citizen, an idea that becomes more and more tempting to me every day.)
In 1970, Rundgren produced his first post-Nazz album, Runt. His band consisted of Tony and Hunt Sales, son of goofy pie-in-the-face American TV comedian, Soupy Sales. The Sales brothers went on to play with Iggy Pop and most notably, David Bowie as part of Tin Machine. (Rick Danko and Levon Helm play on the album as well.)
Runt had one terrific hit called “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” still a staple of classic rock radio. Compare the sound to the Nazz and listen to how it punches out of the speakers:
We gotta get you a woman
It’s like nothin’ else to make you feel sure you’re alive
We gotta get you a woman
We better get walkin’, we’re wastin’ time talkin’ now
And when we’re through with you
We’ll get me one too
Todd relocated to LA and started to produce local bands. At the same time, like a lot of multi-talented musicians, he became increasingly dissatisfied with anyone’s playing other than his own and learned to play bass and drums.
And in 1972 he released his landmark double album Something/Anything? on which he played (Sides 1 – 3) all instruments and did all vocals. There’s some great stuff on this album and he is a major contributor to the genre known as power pop.
The first song on the album is “I Saw the Light” which Todd says he made the opening number as he knew it would be a hit. Yeah, still sounds good. And Todd is a terrific, underrated guitarist BTW:
This was a big hit for Rundgren. But even bigger than that was his remake of “Hello It’s Me” from Nazz days. This track – the very first song he ever wrote – was from Side 4 where he used other musicians including the Brecker Brothers on horns, who were mainstays of popular music back then.
ME usually likes to stick to the music and avoid the tabloid scandal stuff. But it’s a well-known fact that Mr. Rundgren dated model Bebe Buell throughout the 70’s. (Q: Why do rock stars date models? A: Because they can.)
And it’s also well-known that she had a brief dalliance with Steven Tyler which produced a daughter. (Rockers have never heard of birth control.) For a while, Buell called her Liv Rundgren to protect her from Tyler’s drug issues.
But a few years later she told actress-to-be Liv that her real father was Steven Tyler. She remains close to both rockers but, I believe, considers Rundgren to be dad.
Next (and final) post – Utopia, Ringo, The Cars and on.
*Both the Bangles and the Move have covered “Open My Eyes.” Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick says he wished he’d written it.
**I’ve got a post coming up on Nyro.
***Rundgren also engineered The Band’s Stage Fright album not to mention albums by James Cotton and Butterfield Blues Band.