Starting with his next album, A Wizard, A True Star, Rundgren – while still maintaining his pop sensibilities – started moving in a more prog-rock direction. The first side of the album is somewhat of a suite of tunes. Side two gets back to more traditional Todd fare.
Here’s a cool tune called “Sometimes I Don’t Know What To Feel” that displays Todd’s Philly soul roots nicely:
Rundgren seemed to exist on two planes in the Seventies – the popmeister and the prog-rock guy. He formed a band called Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and they did straight prog stuff with the occasional foray into pop stuff.
From their 1974 debut album here’s all 14 or so minutes of “Utopia Theme.” Live.
During the Seventies, Rundgren continued to do double-duty by both producing and playing. He produced albums by artists running the spectrum from Badfinger to The New York Dolls to Grand Funk Railroad to Patti Smith, to fellow Philly boys Hall & Oates. (Where, one assumes, many cheesesteaks were consumed.)
He famously produced Meat Loaf’s smash Bat Out of Hell album and later did an album for XTC. (This one didn’t go smashingly, Rundgren and bandleader Andy Partridge getting on like oil and water. Or as the Brit say, like “chalk and cheese.”)
In the late Seventies, Todd and his then-pregnant girlfriend moved to Woodstock, NY where he established a studio for Bearsville Records. In what seems like an almost unthinkable event in bucolic Woodstock, he and his girlfriend suffered a home invasion by armed robbers who thought he had a cache of cocaine. (Rundgren was a teetotaler until the early ’70’s but managed to find his way into the drug scene.)
Despite this, Todd managed to still crank out albums along with the occasional hit. In 1978 he released the album Hermit of Mink Hollow. Every single thing you hear on this song “Can We Still Be Friends,” is Todd and Todd alone. So, instruments, vocals – everything. Fantastic sound. Todd continues to mine that personal relationship area. Bebe?
Let’s admit we made a mistake, but
Can we still be friends?
Heartbreak’s never easy to take, but
Can we still be friends?
The last time I remember hearing a hit from Mr. Todd was when he released the album The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect and its massive hit, “Bang the Drum All Day.” I love this fucking song. I have it on my iPod and it always gets me going when I exercise. Todd made a few quid off this when Carnival Cruise adopted it:
To my knowledge, Rundgren hasn’t had a record on the charts since that 1982 hit. He has, however, continued plugging away with any number of solo ventures. He has been an on-and-off member of Ringo Starr’s All-Star band.
Perhaps most interestingly, Rundgren got involved with a reformed version of the Cars called – wait for it – the New Cars. In 2006 they released a live (and studio) album called It’s Alive. The “live” part was done in a studio in Burbank so it’s not entirely clear to me if there was an invited audience. Most of the tunes are Cars songs with a few Rundgren numbers (including “Open My Eyes.”)
In addition to Rundgren, Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes are on board with Ric Ocasek opting out. Kasim Sulton, who played bass for Utopia, rounds out those duties on the album.
How does the mix of Cars and the Runt sound? Not too shabby:
Alas, per Wikipedia: “Several years later, when Rundgren was asked how, looking back, he would characterize his time with The New Cars, he replied “Bittersweet. You know, we all put a lot of effort into it, but we got practically nothing out of it but aggravation.”” I guess there’s a story in there somewhere.
What’s Todd up to these days? Well, he now lives in Hawaii where he performed a while back on Daryl Hall’s show. He’s still touring and in fact, was in my area playing a small venue maybe a month ago which was what made me think of him.
While I like his music, I’ve never considered myself a major-league fan so I didn’t go. Plus I took a look at his recent set list and I think he’s largely moved on from his early days as I recognized exactly one song. If I got word that he was coming back and had a better mix of old new pop and maybe some prog I think I’d go.
Rundgren received honorary doctorates on May 13, 2017, from Berklee College of Music here in Boston, and on May 21, 2017, from DePauw University in Indiana. The fact that he is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is fucking inexcusable.
Sources: Wikipedia, Rundgren’s site, other shit in my head, a Rundgren interview.