Todd Rundgren – A Wizard, A True Star (final of 2)

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:

Spotify link

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?

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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.

 

 

36 thoughts on “Todd Rundgren – A Wizard, A True Star (final of 2)

  1. Interesting read(s). Missed the Todd train. Interesting on the Band connection. Familiar with a few tunes. Reminds me of Carol King. The Hall of Fame thing raises its head again. I would be with you on your comment just because I trust you on this one. Good work Doc.

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  2. Good stuff, Jim. Really quite impressive how many different hats Rundgren has worn over his long career. I suspect this may be one of the reasons he’s not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – though I’m not saying that’s a good excuse.

    Interestingly, The Cars are among the 2018 inductees. Though they are honoring the original formation, not The New Cars.

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      1. He wrote a never-produced off-B’way musical based on Joe Orton’s also never-produced script for the Beatles entitled “Up Against It.” Three of the songs show up on the “2nd Wind” album and a reworked version of another, “Parallel Lines” is on Nearly Human (possibly my favorite Todd album).

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        1. Holy cow, Michelle. That’s a lot of good intel. It makes perfect sense he’d do Broadway, I just didn’t know he had. Also didn’t know Orton wrote a Beatles script. I wonder if that’s out there somewhere.

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  3. I’m guessing Todd’s not in the hallowed Hall because of his Utopia stuff. There’s a distinct prejudice against anything that smacks of “progressive.” But his early solo stuff is brilliant. “Ballad of Todd Rundgren,” his second album, is musical bliss, though only Todd-heads seem to have heard it. But you covered him well, Jim. I’ll just add that the Daryl Hall show is very cool (two Philly-ites jamming in Hawaii!), and that the XTC “Skylarking” album, although Partridge hated Rundgren, is one of the best records of the ’80s.

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    1. You may be spot on about the prog thing, Pete. That one’s a mystery. I think he’ll eventually get in, though. Some artists have that aura of inevitability and I believe he’s one. Yeh, that’s funny about the Philly guys probably saying, How the fuck did we get here? I happened to see a video on YouTube of Todd with his wife just sitting casually at some event in Cleveland. (Is that where you are?) His accent is pretty flat but I can pick out the mid-Atlantic (Philly, Baltimore, southern Jersey) accent anywhere. I was listening to “Skylarking” yesterday on Christian’s recommendation. It sounded great but I need to spend more time with it. Thanks.

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      1. The original “Skylarking” (vinyl), which I have, didn’t include “Dear God.” They added the single later because it became a hit. It’s a good song, although it’s probably out of place on that album.

        I’m actually in Cincinnati area, though I grew up close to Cleveland. The fellows I knew in college who worshipped Rundgren all lived in Ohio, so I think he was pretty popular here. I saw him once, here in Cincy, for his “A Capella” tour. Great show. It was an experimental album, all treated vocals and very weird, but Rundgren made it work.

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        1. Hell if I know. Not everyone gets along with him as you know, but that hasn’t stopped a ton of others. I think a nom will happen in the next couple of years but Warren Zevon will go in first.

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      1. I took your cue and listened to this song on Y-Tube. I now remember it from that Hall-Rundgren Hawaii show. I agree, it’s right up Rundgren’s alley, a blue-eyed soul ballad he could’ve easily written back when he still had multi-colored hair (although it’s a Daryl Hall song). This song sort of shows how closely related musically the two Philly guys were, although Runt was far more eclectic and experimental than Hall-Oates.

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        1. Good call from Michelle Yeah, you don’t grow up in Philly without being exposed to a good chunk of soul. A few years back I went to visit a friend of mine. On a Saturday morning he took me over to this local, really small radio station where a group (4, middle-aged, male and female) came out and sang doo-wop. I think it was pretty much just us in the room with everybody else listening on the radio. You don’t see that everywhere.

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  4. True story: I performed on stage with Todd Rundgren. Went with a friend to see him on his “With a Twist” tour in Cleveland back in ’99. The theme for that tour was a tiki bar; he had one created onstage and invited audience members to come up and be the patrons, and he was the lounge singer. (At one point he wore a sarong and an Easter Island mask, but I digress). At the end he took the mic around and had us join him on “The Individualist.” I hoped he’d skip me, but no, I had to try to carry four notes. Couldn’t tell from his expression if I succeeded or not; couldn’t hear myself for nerves. No one wants to hear me sing. But a fun time was had by all.

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    1. That’s pretty awesome. I’ve never done that but we did once see Marilyn McCoo with the Fifth Dimension invite some woman up to sing. Big mistake. She sang then wandered back up on stage at the encore like she was part of the band. They practically had to get the hook!

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      1. Oh I love Marilyn; what a voice. That’s funny. When I saw U2 on the Joshua Tree tour Bono brought some guy up to strum his guitar and the guy wouldn’t get off the stage. Band was clearly annoyed.

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        1. Heh! 15 minutes of fame. Fifth Dimension was kind of an accidental show we saw. Long story. This was only about two years ago BTW. The band is like a Vegas act in their presentation but we loved it.

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