Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren (born June 22, 1948) is an American vocalist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, and producer, originally from Philadelphia. He first emerged in psych-rockers the Nazz, which released two proper albums in 1968–69.

He initially recorded solo under the band moniker Runt, issuing the 1970/71 Bearsville albums Runt and The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. Under his own name, he issued a string of conceptual self-contained efforts, including Something / Anything? (1972), A Wizard, A True Star (1973), Initiation (1975), and Healing (1981).

In 1974, he assembled the maximalist-rock band Utopia, which issued nine studio albums over the ensuing 11 years. As a producer, he oversaw recordings by Sparks (Halfnelson), the New York Dolls (st), Hall & Oates (War Babies), Meat Loaf (Bat Out of Hell), The Tubes (Remote Control), The Psychedelic Furs (Forever Now), Zerra One (Zerra 1), XTC (Skylarking), and many others.


Background

Todd Rundgren was born in Philadelphia on June 22, 1948, and raised in nearby Upper Darby, Penn. As a child, he absorbed his parent’s record collection, which consisted of classical music, operettas, and show tunes. During his teens, he was simultaneously fascinated by the onslaught of English acts (The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, Small Faces) and the stateside up-swell of smooth-soul groups (The Delfonics, The Spinners, The Impressions, The O’Jays). An autodidact with perfect pitch, he became a proficient guitarist and keyboardist.

Rundgren joined his first professional band, blues-rockers Woody’s Truck Stop, in the summer of 1966. During his seven-month tenure, he played alongside a young Tim Moore. Both departed prior to that band’s singular album. (Moore surfaced in Gulliver with a pre-fame Daryl Hall.)

In 1967, Rundgren and Woody’s bassist Carson Van Osten formed the Nazz with drummer Thom Mooney and keyboardist Robert Antoni. The band issued two eponymous albums and scored a hit with Rundgren’s “Open My Eyes.” It was backed with the original version of “Hello It’s Me,” which would later become his biggest solo hit (US #5, 1973) after he rerecorded it for his 1972 solo album Something / Anything? During his time with the Nazz, he gained his first experience as a producer while remixing tracks for their first album.

Rundgren left the Nazz when his penchant for Who-style rock got supplanted by a newfound fixation on the work of Laura Nyro, who inspired him to write more on piano and incorporate major-sevenths into his songs. The band issued its final album, comprised mostly of session leftovers from Nazz Nazz, after his departure.


1970: Ampex Productions, First Album

Rundgren moved to New York, where record mogul Albert Grossman hired the 21-year-old to produce folk acts for the start-up label Ampex, a spinoff of the electronics company. Todd’s earliest soundboard credit is “Give It To The World,” a 1969 a-side by the veteran folk duo Ian & Sylvia.

In 1970, Rundgren produced the singular album by Philly psychsters The American Dream (Ampex cat# A10101), followed by a self-titled effort by Canadian folk-rockers Great Speckled Bird (A10103) and the debut by singer–songwriter Jesse Winchester (A10104). That summer, Rundgren recorded his first solo album (A10105) with the rhythm section of 18-year-old bassist Tony Sales and his 16-year-old brother, drummer Hunt Sales — sons of sixties children’s TV personality Soupy Sales.

In light of Jesse Winchester and its hit single “Yankee Lady,” Canadian roots rockers The Band asked Rundgren to engineer their third album, the 1970 Capitol release Stage Fright. Rundgren also produced and co-engineered a 1970 live double-album by the Butterfield Blues Band. He was tapped to produced the second solo album by Janis Joplin but didn’t click with the singer. The album in question, Pearl, was produced by Paul A. Rothchild (Ars Nova, The Doors, Love) and released in January 1971, three months after her death.


Runt

Todd Rundgren debuted as a solo artist with Runt, his first of two albums under the band moniker Runt, released in September 1970 on Ampex. Rundgren wrote, arranged, and mostly self-performed the ten tracks, assisted by the Sales brothers and Nazz engineer (and ex-Electric Prunes singer) Thaddeus James Lowe.

Musically, Runt encompasses blues-rock (“Broke Down and Busted,” “Who’s That Man”), Nyro-esque piano ballads (“Believe in Me”), an Abbey Road-like medley (“Baby Let’s Swing–The Last Thing You Said–Don’t Tie My Hands”), and the layered-vocal experiment “There Are No Words.” Bassist Tony Hunt plays shakers on the Mountain-like hard-rocker “Devil’s Bite.”

Rundgren cut three tracks without the Sales. He sings with a garbled low voice on the ballad “Once Burned”, recorded with Band members Rick Danko (bass) and Levon Helm (drums). “I’m in the Clique” is a hyper soul-rocker (in 6/8) with freelance bassist John Miller (Al Kooper, Tim Buckley), jazz drummer Bob Moses (Free Spirits, Larry Coryell, Roland Kirk, Steve Marcus), and keyboardist Moogy Klingman, a member of the James Cotton Blues Band.

Runt climaxes with “Birthday Carol,” a lengthy (9:14) psych-rock epic with three-fifths of The American Dream: guitarist Don Lee Van Winkle, bassist Don Ferris, and drummer Mickey Brook.

Sessions started at I.D. Sound in Los Angeles (with Lowe) and finished at the Record Plant in New York City with engineer Jack Adams, who also worked on 1970–71 albums by Buddy Miles, Danny O’Keefe, LaBelle, and Petula Clark.

Runt spawned the Billboard No. 20 hit “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” in which tender piano verses build to a swelling singalong chorus where the narrator seeks a prostitute for his “post-hanging” friend.

Runt contains a printed inner-sleeve with hand-written lyrics and photos of the parties involved, including a sax-playing Rundgren and a pair identified as “Pig and Miss Christine.” The back cover has a comic illustration of a dynamite-brewing wizard whose likeness resembles Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Fantasia (minus the ears).

For the album’s initial pressing, Ampex used Rundgren’s second mix. In November 1970, when they pressed more copies, they accidentally used an earlier rejected mix composed of twelve tracks. This version features “Baby Let’s Swing” as a separate, non-medley song (3:25) and includes two songs not on Runt proper: “Say No More” and the ballad “Hope I’m Around” (re-recorded for his second album). Three tracks (“Believe in Me,” “Devil’s Bite,” “We Gotta Get You a Woman”) appear with alternate mixes. “Broke Down and Busted” opens with 27 seconds of “There Are No Words.”


1971: Sparks, Second Album

In late 1970, Ampex launched the Bearsville imprint, which switched its distribution to Warner Bros. and assumed the Ampex catalog. Before this happened, Rundgren produced an album by Canadian blues-rockers Jericho (A10112) and completed his second solo album (A10116).

Rundgren assumed responsibilities for Straight Up, the third album by Apple recording artists Badfinger, when the project’s original producer, George Harrison, assumed his role as the organizer of Concert for Bangladesh. Todd produced eight of the album’s twelve songs, including “Baby Blue,” a No. 9 single on the Cash Box Top 100.

As an engineer, Rundgren handled the 1971 Bearsville–Reprise album by Jesse Frederick, a future writer of American sitcom themes (Full House, Perfect Strangers, Family Matters, Step by Step, etc).

Rundgren received a demo tape from LA brothers Ron and Russell Mael, who’d recorded an album of psychedelic pop but failed to land a deal. Todd agreed to produce their band, Halfnelson, whose debut album appeared in September 1971 on Bearsville. It features two re-recorded songs from their demo tape (“Roger,” “Saccharin and the War”) and nine new numbers, including “Fletcher Honorama,” “(No More) Mr. Nice Guys,” and the regional hit “Wonder Girl.” The music blends early sixties pop and recent music-hall psych with off-kilter structures and comical space-age effects: a template that presaged the new wave by five years. Shortly after Halfnelson hit shelves, the Maels renamed their band Sparks and Bearsville reissued the album in a brick-back cover. The Maels credited Rundgren with launching their career, which generated twenty-four albums as of 2020.

Todd plays a more hands-on role on Taking Care of Business, the November 1971 Capitol release by the James Cotton Blues Band. It features Rundgren’s guitar work on four tracks, including the Nazz Nazz cover “Kiddie Boy.” He plays slide guitar on two numbers, including “Tonight I Wanna Love Me a Stranger,” which he co-wrote with keyboardist Mark Klingman, who co-produced and arranged the album with Rundgren. They collaborated with drummer N.D. Smart II (ex-Remains, Mountain) on “Goodbye My Lady.” Todd himself earns one of his earliest drum credits on “Can’t Live Without Love.”


The Ballad of Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren released his second Runt album, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, on June 24, 1971, on Ampex. Like before, he performs everything apart from the rhythm tracks on this album, which emphasizes piano balladry with three exceptions: “Long Flowing Robe,” “Bleeding,” and “Parole.”

“Long Flowing Robe” is mid-tempo guitar pop number (in C) about mixed signals from an attractive woman at a dance event. “Bleeding” is a Leslied rocker with sarcastic lyrics about pain-coping among injured soldiers. “Parole” is an uptempo circular-riff rocker with comedic lyrics in which a freed, recurrent felon pleads with his crime partner to change her crooked ways.

The ballads on side one deal with romantic observations and self-discovery. “The Ballad (Denny & Jean),” one of three waltzes, is a two-sided account of a young, splitting couple with divergent aspirations. “Wailing Wall” is a tender, metaphorical ballad of minimal piano and light, layered vocals. “The Range War” is a medium-slow piano waltz with countrified harmonies and lyrics about a Philly family headed West on the old frontier.

“Chain Letter” starts with strummed acoustic chords and lyrics about once-bonded young men going their separate ways (possibly about the Nazz’s breakup) and morphs into an electrified harmony rocker about the narrator’s search for his writerly muse. Words soon give way to a lengthy guitar jam with elongated vocables.

The side two ballads address self-reflection, regret, and the act of letting go. “A Long Time, A Long Way to Go,” the album’s shortest proper number (2:12), is a moderate ballad with angelic vocals and misty layers (in C). “Be Nice to Me” is a slow, tender piano–vocal ballad with angular key shifts in the verse and a plain-spoken chorus.

“Boat on the Charles” is a reflective ballad with faint pauses and glowing vibraphone. Just as the narrator’s mind drifts along with the passing boats, trains, and planes, he sings of romantic longing and suicidal thoughts: revealed in the lines “I don’t give a damn for my immortal soul, it’s just about time I let my insides show.” The “here I go” coda fades out on reeds and percussive sundries (vibraslap).

“Hope I’m Around” is a slow waltz with misty ride cymbal and faint, plucked guitar, which builds to a swelling chorus. In the album’s starkest romantic vignette, the narrator find himself at an impasse with the subject of his affection, knowing she will one day regret taking his love for granted.

The album wraps with “Remember Me,” a tender piano–vocal postlude with gospel harmonies.

Rundgren plays assorted keyboards (piano, organ, Clavinet, Wurlitzer electric piano, EMS VCS 3) and string instruments (guitars, mandolin, fiddle). He also tries his hands at saxophone (tenor and baritone) and vibraphone, plus talk box and percussion.

Tony Sales plays bass on ten of the album’s twelve songs but Hunt only drums on “Parole” (and congas on “Boat on the Charles”). Great Speckled drummer N.D. Smart II accompanies Tony on the other nine numbers. Two tracks (“Be Nice to Me,” “Hope I’m Around”) feature a different rhythm section: Elvis Presley bassist Jerry Scheff and Wrecking Crew drummer John Guerin.

Rundgren self-produced The Ballad of at Bearsville Sound Studio in Woodstock, New York. The mastering engineer, Lee Hulko, also worked on 1971 albums by Claire Hamill, Glass Harp, Mary Hopkin, Ten Wheel Drive, and Traffic.

The Ballad of is housed in a gatefold sleeve with a Carl Fischer backshot of Rundgren garotted at his grand piano. The back cover has a distant shot of the face-planted singer looking out to the camera through the piano shell. Ron Mael took the monochrome inner-gate pics, which correlate to the printed song lyrics. Fischer also photographed the cover to the recent self-titled album by brass-rockers Gas Mask.

As singles, “Be Nice to Me” (b/w “Broke Down and Busted”) and “A Long Time, A Long Way to Go” (b/w “Parole”) both dented the Billboard Hot 100.


1972: First Double Album, Moogy

Rundgren opened 1972 with his third album in the can. This would be his first of two studio double-albums. He also produced three songs (“Midnight Bus,” “Glory to the Day,” “Silly Heart”) on Third Down, 110 to Go, the second album by Jesse Winchester.

Todd reteamed with Klingman on the keyboardist’s debut solo album Moogy, which contains a re-recording of “Tonight I Wanna Love Me a Stranger.” On select tracks, Rundgren plays organ (“Crying In the Sunshine”), drums (“Me and Richard”), and guitar (“Kindness,” “Just a Sinner”). Moogy features numerous guests, including percussionist Buzzy Linhart, who plays vibraphone on “The Sun and the Moon.” Klingman reciprocated with keyboards on two tracks on Linhart’s 1972 fourth album Buzzy, which Rundgren mixed for Kama Sutra Records. (Klingman and Linhart also co-wrote “Friends,” a single by Bette Midler on her 1972 debut album The Divine Miss M).

In a smaller role, Todd added piano to “Trouble Trouble” on the debut album by English blues-rockers Foghat. Dave Edmunds (ex-Love Sculpture) produced the album at Rockfield, an 8-track residential studio on Monmouthshire, Wales.

Todd hit the road with The Hello People, a New York rock band of singing mimes who cut two 1968 albums on Philips and the recent Have You Seen the Light on MediaArts. They did a six-night stand (April 18–23, 1972) at the Troubadour in Los Angeles with Ry Cooder, followed by shows in Chicago (4/28: Brown Shoe) and NYC (5/8: Radio City Music Hall). On May 13, they played the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina with Alice Cooper and Free. Mid-month, Rundgren did three Northeast double-bills with the Jeff Beck Group. On June 2, he opened for the Mahavishnu Orchestra at Orlando Sports Stadium, where comedian George Carlin MC’d the event.


Something / Anything?

Todd Rundgren released his third album, Something / Anything?, in February 1972 on Bearsville. It’s his first of two studio double-albums and the first release under his own name. Each side is subtitled to a theme with liner notes and anecdotes for each song. He self-performed the first three sides and recorded the fourth live in-studio with assorting groups of musicians. At ninety minutes, the album contains twenty-two Rundgren originals plus a spoken-word bit, a live R&B covers medley, and a Klingman composition (“Dust In the Wind”).

Side one (subtitled A Bouquet of Ear-catching Melodies) contains a mix of forthright pop (“I Saw the Light”), sentimental ballads (“Sweeter Memories”), and sixties soul pastiches (“Wolfman Jack”). “I Saw the Light” opens the album with an open two-chord progression (F7minor–G) laced with slide, cymbal-laden bass drum, and lyrics about an unexpected romantic spark. “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” is a slow, harmonized ballad (in A) that addresses duplicity in a fading relationship with undefined boundaries. “Wolfman Jack” is a Motown-style number (evocative of “Shotgun” by Jr. Walker & the Allstars) with lyrics about tuning into the DJ’s broadcast during a cruise on Mulholland Drive.

“Cold Morning Light” starts as a flute-laced acoustic ballad in standard time but slows to a crawl and back in waltz time as the singer reflects on a Hollywood weekend affair. “It Takes Two to Tango (This Is for the Girls)” winds fast and slow with repurposed IStL chords and a spinning chorus where the narrator rationalizes his romantic misadventures to one disgruntled subject. “Sweeter Memories” is a lurching soul ballad with looming organ, bluesy guitar licks, rising harmonies, and lyrics about making the most of time amid life’s tragedies — a recurring theme on Rundgren’s later albums.

Side two (The Cerebral Side) opens with a spoken-word bit (“Intro”) where Todd teaches listeners how to identify “sounds of the studio” such as hiss, hum, and tape defects. The remaining six tracks encompass psych-tinge pop (“The Night the Carousel Burned Down”), misty love vignettes (“Marlene”), and dark piano numbers (“I Went to the Mirror”).

On the instrumental “Breathless,” Todd uses the whirlwind effects of his Putney VCS3 synthesizer, an instrument he mastered for these sessions. “The Night the Carousel Burned Down” uses phasing and calliope-like sounds to animate a circus fire and its aftermath — as the narrator recalls “And we all left town… The next day.” He takes an inspirational path on “Saving Grace,” a buoyant harmony track about perseverance and faith in comeuppance. “Marlene” is a variably paced ballad about inappropriate love, laced with vibes and chimes. “Song of the Viking” is a music-hall sea shanty with taut piano, backward cymbals and dizzying fast–slow variations. “I Went to the Mirror” deals with the narrator’s hazy impressions of his own reflection upon waking, delivered in a garbled low voice over a slow lounge-piano motif that succumbs to swelling motor sounds at the climax.

Side three (The Kid Gets Heavy) contains a mix of dark and light lyrical and musical themes. “Black Maria” is a slow, heavy blues-rock number with rising organ, wailing guitar licks, and lyrics about an ominous presence. “One More Day (No Word)” is a Nyro-esque pop ballad with dominant root notes and major-sevenths, adorned with crisp piano and harpsichord. “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” is an uptempo rocker with interlocked guitar (plucked and strummed) and shouted, harmonized lyrics about the singer’s frustration over an unwilling subject. “Torch Song” is a heavenly ballad of piano, organ and voice with angelic lyrics about undying loyalty for a lost love. “Little Red Lights” is a smoldering, engine-fueled rocker about reckless GT highway racing. Todd shifts the speed, volume, and panning to illustrate the spectacle, described as “a terrific chase” that results “in many new highway statistics and ultimately, the realization of the desire expressed in the chorus.”

Side four (Baby Needs a New Pair of Snakeskin Boots (A Pop Operetta)) contains six numbers performed in single takes with hand-picked players. The first, “Overture–My Roots,” is a deliberately shoddy live recording of two R&B standards (“Money (That’s What I Want),” “Messin’ with the Kid”) that were setlist staples of his stint in Woody’s Truck Stop — performed here with an ad hoc group dubbed Money. “Dust In the Wind” is a piano-laden gospel in which a lifetime cheater accepts his fate before the eyes of the Lord. “Piss Aaron” is a music-hall shuffle with lyrical hand-down tales about 1932-era dorm life.

Todd resurrects the 1968 Nazz ballad “Hello It’s Me” with an organ-laden, mid-tempo arrangement, overlaid with fluttering winds and fuller, harmonized vocals. Amid the songs arching key changes and modulations, he offers open-ended commitment to a long-time love interest whose feelings don’t quite reflect his. 

“Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me” is a piano-rattling boogie in which Todd apes the phrasing of a black soul belter. “You Left Me Sore” contrasts jovial music (2/4 progression, soul-jazz instrumentation, crooning vocals) with sad lyrics about the singer’s heartbreak over a woman who ghosts him after a one-night affair — a predicament underscored by the switch from major- to minor-key modality for the chorus. On the brassy, uptempo soul-rocker “Slut,” Todd sets his sights on a dance-floor subject who, despite her questionable appearance (saggy thighs, baggy eyes), looks like suitable prey in his current state.

Klingman, who plays on five-sevenths of side four (apart from “Overture” and “Slut”), summoned numerous players for A Pop Operetta. “Dust In the Wind” features guitarist Rick Derringer (The McCoys), bassist John Siegler (Air), drummer John Siomos (Linhart’s Music), backing vocalist Vicki Sue Robinson (among several), and the Dreams–Air brass section of trombonist Barry Rogers and the Brecker Brothers. The last four parties also appear on “Hello It’s Me,” which has several false starts, as does “You Left Me Sore,” recorded with a smaller lineup that features Siomos and Brethen bassist Stu Woods.

“Piss Aaron” features Mother Earth steel player Ben Keith and two Great Speckled members: guitarist Amos Garrett and drummer Billy Mundi, who interacts with Kingman and three Butterfield Blues players (including Full Moon saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie) on “Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me.” On “Slut,” the Sales brothers appears with jazz–pop session saxophonist Jim Horn (5th Dimension, Billy Preston, Joni Mitchell, Kenny Rankin), and guitarist Rick Vito, a prominent sideman in subsequent years.

Rundgren recorded the first three sides, plus “Piss Aaron” and “Some Folks,” in late 1971 at Bearsville Studio. Sessions for the remaining Operetta tracks occurred at the Record Plant in New York City (“Dust In the Wind,” “Hello It’s Me,” “You Left Me Sore”) and ID Sound in Los Angeles (“Slut”). Thaddeus James Lowe engineered Something / Anything? directly before A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing, the second of two Sparks albums on Bearsville.

Something / Anything? is housed in a gatefold sleeve with a purple-backed rose illustration and the word “Something” (front) and a yellow-lit dark room photo of Todd with the word “Anything” (back). The inner-gate shows a back-shot of Todd in his home studio, where he planned the arrangements and mastered the electronic equipment used on this album.

Bearsville lifted “I Saw the Light” (b/w “Marlene”) in March 1972 as the album’s first single. It reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 11 on the Cash Box Top 100. The second single, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (b/w “Wolfman Jack”), dented the lower Hot 100 that summer. In December, as Rundgren readied his fourth album, Bearsville issued “Hello It’s Me” (b/w “Cold Morning Light”). In August 1973, five months after the release of his next album, Bearsville reissued “Hello It’s Me,” which rose that autumn to a peak of No. 6 on the Hot 100. They subsequently issued “Wolfman Jack” as an a-side (b/w “Breathless”).

Something / Anything? reached No. 29 on the Billboard 200 and No. 34 on the Canadian RPM Album Chart. In 1975, the album was certified Gold by the RIAA.


1973:

Rundgren produced and engineered the March 1973 Reprise release Mother’s Pride, the fourth album by Fanny. It features thirteen tracks, including one (“Polecat Blues”) with Dreams trombonist Barry Rogers.

In April, Rundgren produced the debut album by the New York Dolls at Manhattan’s Record Plant. On select tracks, Todd adds Moog synthesizer (“Vietnamese Baby”), backing vocals (“Trash”), and piano.

New York Dolls appeared on Mercury in July, the same month as the Capitol release We’re an American Band, the seventh studio album by Michigan hard-rockers Grand Funk Railroad. Rundgren produced the eight-song set, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 (No. 1 on Cash Box) and scored a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with the title-track, a road-life anthem that name-checks noted Arkansas groupie Connie Hamzy.

Later that year, Rundgren earned production credits on two songs (“The Winner,” “I Can Love You”) on Ass, the protracted fifth album by Badfinger. Sessions began some eighteen months before the November 1973 release of the album, which changed multiple hands after Todd abandoned the project.

Rundgren also mixed the 1973 Bearsville release M. Frog, a pseudonymic title by French electronic musician Jean-Yves Labat.

As a backing musician, Rundgren appears on multiple 1973 albums, including Still Alive and Well by blues rocker Johnny Winter (Mellotron on “Cheap Tequila”), Ultra Violet by the namesake Warhol Factory star (aka Isabelle Collin Dufresne), and the debut album by Cleveland hopeful Michael Stanley (Clavinet on “Rosewood Bitters”).

Todd embarked on another tour with Hello People on January 25 in Austin. They swung through the Northwest in February with stops in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC. In April, he launched the first version of Utopia with Labat, keyboardist Dave Mason, and the Sales brothers. On April 27, they played the Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania with King Crimson.


A Wizard, A True Star

Todd Rundgren released his fourth album, A Wizard, A True Star, on March 2, 1973, on Bearsville. At nearly an hour (55:56), the album contains nineteen numbers with segued tracks and few pauses. The album’s sound expands on prior experiments (“Breathless”) with extensive use of multi-layered nuances and space-psych effects.

Side one (26:21) is subtitled The International Feel (in 8) and consists of twelve numbers that mostly run together. The first track (“International Feel”) is a proper song followed by six songlets in the 60–90-second range. Four songs of regular length appear in succession, followed by a bookend number.

“International Feel” fades in with sundry effects (buzzing, zooming engine sounds). A stacatto figure heralds the cymbal-laden, phaser-swept number: a swelling psych trip where Todd urges the listener to believe in “interplanetary deals” and “universal ideals.” A repetitive “I know.. I know..” line fades into “Never Never Land,”a glistening snippet of the number from the 1954 musical adaptation of Peter Pan. The last utterance of “laaaand” blends into the taut piano intro of “Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off,” a cabaret carnival instrumental, which drops into the rockier “You Need Your Head,” a litany of “don’t need” negations over a fuzzy riff in C minor. Closing feedback summons “Rock and Roll Pussy,” a smoldering Cream-on-Hendrix-style snippet with fractious words.

The song sequence cuts for “Dogfight Giggle,” a 66-second interlude of layered voices (human, and canine). An actual pause precedes “You Don’t Have to Camp Around,” a rollicking shuffle with irregular meters and chords poached from the chorus of “You Left Me Sore.” A chirping bird effect signals “Flamingo,” a sparkling, multi-layered electronic instrumental that veers between frantic and slow; regular and waltz time.

“Zen Archer,” the album’s longest original (5:35), laments pretty birds who die at the hands of a misanthropic archer. Todd sings in a high register over martial verses (in G minor), which cut to misty, open-cadence bridges. A phased coda ensues with flowing reeds and vocables over marching drums.

“Just Another Onionhead; Da Da Dali” is a harpsichord-driven music-hall number with fragmented lyrics and an open-ended chorus (“You want the obvious, you’ll get the obvious”). The garbled gramophone vocals on the “Da Da Dali” third verse collide with flying sonic overlays.

“When the Shit Hits the Fan; Sunset Blvd.” (4:02), signaled by a snare roll, is a manic number (in stately C major) with floodgate bridges and piping, wheezing Moog sounds — elements that contrast the doomsday lyrics (“Earthquake in New York City, The Chrysler Building fell in my yard”). After three verses and bridges, it slows into “Le Feel Internacionale,” a swooping recap of the first track.

Side two (29:35) is subtitled A True Star and features four songs of regular length and two miniatures, plus a four-part covers medley.

“Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel” pairs a brassy sixties showtune arrangement with grim lyrical references to mania, paranoia, and psychosis; tempered in the final verse (“I got to keep on keepin’ on, there’s nothing else I can do”). “Does Anybody Love You?” flings staccato Clavinet and cabaret piano atop a darting melody with jovial lines (“You’re so lovely, so wise, you could make Venus crawl”).

“Medley” (10:34) is a sequence of four sixties soul covers: “I’m So Proud,” a 1964 Impressions hit (written by group leader Curtis Mayfield); “Ooh Baby Baby,” a much-covered 1965 evergreen by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles; “La La Means I Love You,” a 1968 Thom Bell-produced hit by The Delfonics; and “Cool Jerk,” a jittery 1966 R&B hit by Detroit soul-trio The Capitols. Rundgren renders the first two songs with contemporary Philly-style lushness and modulates the Delfonics number, on which he mimics a high-pitched soul croon.

“Hungry for Love” is a barroom boogie with fuzzy guitar (break) and comic vocal delivery of food–sex metaphors (verse 1) and drug references (verse 2). “I Don’t Want to Tie You Down” is a tender ballad of voice and glistening piano sustains; marked by an arching, angular chorus. “Is It My Name?” is a smoldering rocker with crisp sax, booming drums, and distorted guitar layers. Todd takes issue with a subject who loves the music but not the man.

“Just One Victory” opens in bare piano ballad form but mutates quickly into a mid-paced song (in C) with organ, multi-tracked harmonies, decorative glockenspiel, and inspirational lyrics.

Rundgren recorded A Wizard, A True Star in the winter of 1972–73 at Manhattan’s Secret Sound Studio. He performed most of the instruments (guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, bass, drums, percussion, saxophone). He recorded “Just One Victory” separately at Advantage Studios.

For select backing, he assembled Moogy & the Rhythm Kingz: comprised of Klingman, Siegler, Siomos, and (ex-Clear Light) keyboardist Ralph Schuckett. Additional musicians include Labat, bassist Buffalo Bill Gelber, ex-Brethen guitarist Tom Cosgrove, and Butterfield Blues saxophonist David Sanborn, plus the returning Pop Operetta players Derringer, Rogers, and the Brecker Brothers.

A Wizard was engineered by Sterling staffer Bob Ludwig, whose recent credits included albums by Audience, Banchee, Cold Blood, Cymande, Dust, and Stone the Crows.

A Wizard, A True Star is housed in a gatefold with die-cut corners and surreal image overlays that illustrate Todd with multi-perspective (ear-over-eye) amid ribbons, jewels, and origami on a sea-and-sky backdrop. Artist Arthur Wood painted the image, which mirrors on the back cover. The inner-gates have a green monochrome landscape photo of a cluttered mirror-wall dressing room where Todd takes a razor to his lathered face. The inner-sleeve has hand-written lyrics in red ink over a blue monochrome photo collage; designed by the firm of Jansen, Eding, Clapper.

Rungdren lifted no singles from A Wizard, A True Star because he wanted the tracks to be heard in their proper context. He toured the album with a new Utopia lineup featuring Labat and three Rhythm Kingz (Klingman, Schuckett, Siegler) plus Kevin Ellman, a drummer on The Divine Miss M.

Canadian singer Tom Middleton covers “Just One Victory” on his 1973 Columbia release It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference along with the title-sake Something / Anything? ballad.


1974:

Rundgren produced and engineered The Handsome Devils, the 1974 ABC Dunhill release by Hello People. It features his synthesizer work on the tracks “Future Shock,” “Destiny,” “Ripped Again,” “Creego,” “How High Is the Moon,” and the Wizard cover “Just One Victory.” Utopia provide backing on “Finger Poppin’ Time” and “Save a Dance For Me,” the album’s Klingman-penned closing number. In the liner notes, Rundgren states that Hello People have “outlasted most other American bands since ’67” and hopes that their act can “now be heard as successfully as it has been seen in the past.”

Todd continued his Grand Funk association as the soundman on their 1974 eighth studio album Shinin’ On. Rundgren plays guitar on the track “Carry Me Through,” which features the band’s guitarist–singer Mark Farner on organ. Shinin’ On reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and generated the band’s second Hot 100 No. 1 with their cover of the Goffin–King dance standard “The Loco-Motion,” originally a 1962 No. 1 for singer Little Eva.

Rundgren co-produced the debut solo album by ex-Rascals singer–keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, released in September 1974 on Bearsville. The album features eleven songs co-written by Cavaliere and string arranger Carman Moore. Felix Cavaliere features Utopia’s rhythm section (Siegler, Ellman) with Todd’s guitar work on four tracks: “A High Price to Pay,” “I Am a Gambler,” “Mountain Man,” and the psych whirlwind “I’m Free.” Keyboardist Roger Powell plays ARP synthesizer along with Ken Bichel, whose credits include 1973–74 titles by Aretha Franklin, Exuma, Jobriath, Margie Joseph, Stories, and Bette Midler’s eponymous second album. Powell, who recently cut the electronic album Cosmic Furnace on Atlantic, would join Utopia in time for their second album.

Rundgren also produced War Babies, the October 1974 release by the Philly duo Hall & Oates. Todd imparts his current space-psych sound and misty, otherworldly vibe on the album’s ten songs, which include the Daryl Hall titles “Beanie G and the Rose Tattoo,” “War Baby Son of Zorro,” “70’s Scenario,” “I’m Watching You (A Mutant Romance),” and “Screaming Through December.” The Hello People sing backing vocals on “Johnny Gore and the “C” Eaters,” the harrowing epic that closes the album. War Babies features Siegler, who later served in the duo’s backing band. The drummer on War Babies, John Wilcox, would soon replace Ellman in Utopia. This was the third and final Atlantic release by Hall & Oates, who found greater chart success on RCA, starting with their self-titled 1975 fourth album.

Utopia released their debut album, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, in October 1974 on Bearsville. It contains the band’s eponymous theme (14:18), recorded live at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre on April 25, 1974. With Klingman and Siegler, Rundgren co-composed “Freak Parade” (10:14), a dizzying display of interlocking pyrotechnics. Todd himself wrote “Freedom Fighters,” a short rocker chosen to represent the band on the 1975 Warner sampler The Force. Side two consists of “The Ikon,” a ten-part suite that (at 30:22) challenged the limits of LP side-length.

Overall, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia layers elements of his three 1973–75 solo albums with the added influences of jazz-rock (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever) and English symphonic rock, particularly the 1972–74 Yes albums Close to the Edge and Relayer. (The keyboardist on Relayer, Patrick Moraz, employs similar cosmic density on his debut solo album The Story of i.) Soon after this release, Labat and Ellman cleared out for Powell and Wilcox.


Todd

Todd Rundgren released his fifth album, Todd, in February 1974 on Bearsville.

“Sons of 1984” comes from Utopia’s proper live debut on August 25, 1973, at Wollman Rink in Central Park, NY, where the first-recorded lineup performed with the Operetta brass (Rogers, the Brecker’s). A second rendition, at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, was used for overdubs. Rundgren brought the audience to speed on the lyrics so they could sing it with the band en mass. The voices are credited to “First United Church of the Cosmic Smorgasbord, New York and San Francisco chapters.”

Utopia members Klingman, Schuckett, and Ellman also appear on “Everybody’s Going to Heaven–King Kong Reggae” and “Don’t You Ever Learn?” Siegler plays alongside them on “No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator.” On “The Last Ride,” Todd enlists saxist Peter Ponzol, bassist Buffalo Bill Gelber, and drummer Wells Kelly.


1975:

In 1975, Rundgren co-produced Bricks, the second of two ABC Dunhill titles by Hello People. It features a cover of “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” with strings by Kirby Johnson, an arranger for Carly Simon, Libby Titus, Little Feat, and Ike & Tina Turner. The album’s cover shows the pancaked members cavorting in glittery star and diamond prints.

Rundgren also plays guitar on another 1975 Something/Anything cover: Hawaiian singer Yvonne Elliman’s version of “Sweeter Memories” from her third album Rising Son, which also features Klingman and Schuckett.

On July 4, 1975, the third Utopia lineup (Rundgren, Klingman, Schuckett, Siegler, Powell, Wilcox) debuted at the Nelson Ledges Road Course in Warren, Ohio, as part of a triple-bill with Pure Prairie League, Hello People, and Buzzy Linhart. They played more athn twenty-four North American concert that summer, including an August 23 show at Cape Cod Coliseum in Yarmouth, Mass. with Orchestra Luna, an operatic rock ensemble that recently cut an album for Epic with producer Rupert Holmes.

In October 1975, Utopia issued Another Live, culled from their August 25–26 concert at Wollman Rink in New York’s Central Park. The 46-minute disc features a number each from Wizard (“Just One Victory”) and Todd (“Heavy Metal Kids”), plus four unique pieces with no studio counterparts, including Rundgren’s “The Wheel.” Their cover of The Move oldie “Do Ya'” (a b-side from the time of Message from the Country) helped popularize the song, prompting its writer Jeff Lynne to cut a new version with Electric Light Orchestra on their 1976 album A New World Record.

That fall, Utopia shrunk to the four-piece lineup of Rundgren, Siegler, Powell, and Wilcox. Before that happened, Rundgren, Siegler, Wilcox, Klingman, and Schuckett partook in the sessions for Songs for the New Depression, the 1976 third studio album by Bette Midler. It features the Kingman composition “Let Me Just Follow Behind” and the Midler–Moogy co-write “Samedi et Vendredi.”

In late 1975, Rundgren involved himself in a project pitched by composer Jim Steinman and singer–actor Meat Loaf, then best-known as Eddie (the biker) in the recently released big screen adaptation of the musical horror-comedy The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rundgren produced their album Bat Out of Hell, a set of theatrical rock epics suffused with Spectorian effects and vignettes of fifties drive-in culture. Sessions spanned the winter–spring of 1975–76 at Bearsville Studio, where Utopia played on select tracks alongside members of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band. After rejections by multiple labels, Bat Out of Hell appeared in October 1977 on Epic-subsidiary Cleveland International. A sleeper hit, the album went on to sell an estimated 43 million copies.


Initiation

Todd Rundgren released his sixth album, Initiation, on May 23, 1975, on Bearsville.

“Real Man” opens on a windy, glistening semi-tone drop (D… C#….). Todd sings in a wavering, heavenly tone with a melody that spirals upward between verse and bridge. The lyrics are a manifesto for his spiritual pursuits. As a grown man, he realizes that his true essence is metaphysical. Physical form has its limitations (“my body just drags me down”) and there’s deeper meaning than the hear and now (“the vision shines on and on, it will shine when we all are gone”), though human existence does have its purpose (“I’d like to add a little sparkle while I’m here”). The middle-eight is a phased-out rebuke of materials (“Some men’s world is only hate and money”).

“Born to Synthesize” is an echoey a capella with treated (sometimes garbled) double-track vocals over faint wind noise. The lyrics consist of seven stanzas. The first line (“A handful of nothing is all that I need”) acknowledges that he needs his hands (as a musician) to “synthesize” — combine things (notes, sounds) into a coherent whole (songs).

“A Treatise on Cosmic Fire” (36:00)

“Intro – Prana” (4:27) fades in like backward engine sounds, soon overlaid with sparkling effects. Chords enter that slowly form a theme amid the swirling vortex. The theme (at 1:25) takes shape: a percolating staccato motif over a three-chord pattern (Dm…Bmaj7…E…) that modulates with scaly guitar overlays.

“II. The Fire of Mind – or: Solar Fire” (3:43) fades in with sliding, glistening sounds (like comets). A pattern takes hold (at 1:04) with piano, xylophone, and misty sounds (in D). The pattern holds with slight chordal traveling until the sliding intro recap.

“III. The Fire of Spirit – or: Electric Fire” (7:34) begins with perforated sparkle that greets crowd noises. This greets a plodding carnival waltz. Fanfare melodies ensue with pitch-bent keys, flanked with brittle harpsichord. A church organ theme takes hold. An F# sustain (at 1:58) supports a slow-resolving theme that (at 3:04) cuts to a jerky, irregular-time section (in D) with random percussion: a pattern that modulates and grows ever frenetic until the F# recap (at 6:02). In the closing minute, the track retraces its intro steps.

“I. The Internal Fire – or: Fire by Friction” (20:16) begins with harmonic notes that summon a slow, smoldering Hendrix-style guitar figure overlaid with cosmic sounds.

  • “Mûlâdhâra: The Dance of Kundalini” — hyperactive rhythms; synth sparks and torrents; improvisational guitar licks.
  • “Svâdhishthâna: Bam, Bham, Mam, Yam, Ram, Lam, Thank You, Mahm” — open cadence (in B) with cosmic sparkle and brash, punctual keyboard runs. Smoldering guitar seeps in as the rhythm subsides.
  • “Manipûra: Seat of Fire” — echoey sounds with backward effects and sitar.
  • “Anâhata: The Halls of Air” — trebly, fuzzy ascending runs; countered with shiny electronic overlays and momentary guitar breaks.
  • “Vishudda: Sounds Beyond Ears” — slow, dark passage with fade-ins and swelling effects.
  • “Ajnâ: Sights Beyond Eyes” — slower, darker section with wind, sputtering sounds, and faint noodling.
  • “Brahmarandhra: Nirvana Shakri” — slow but louder with echoey sounds and disconnected guitar runs.
  • “Outro – Prana” — a recap of “Intro – Prana.”

1976:

Utopia opened 1976 with a January 2–3 engagement at Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix. The current four-piece lineup (with Powell, Siegler, and Wilcox) backed Rundgren on his seventh studio album, a split project with six covers and six originals. They also recorded a Utopia studio album comprised of sci-fi and Bicentennial themed instrumentals, but Bearsville shelved it after Siegler cleared out for bassist Kasim Sulton, a sideman of singer–publicist Cherry Vanilla. (The album appeared in 2001 as Disco Jets on Rhino Entertainment.)

In early In May–June 1976, Rundgren produced and engineered L, the second solo album by space-rock guitarist Steve Hillage, a veteran of the English post-psych scene (Arzachel, Khan, Gong). It features covers of The Beatles (“It’s All Too Much”), Donovan (“Hurdy Gurdy Man”), and three lengthy originals, including two (“Hurdy Gurdy Glissando,” “Lunar Musick Suite”) co-written by Miquette Giraudy, Hillage’s life partner and fellow Gong traveler. She plays keyboards and vibraphone on L, which also features Powell, Sulton, and Wilcox, plus jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and percussionist Larry Karush. L appeared in September 1976 on Virgin Records and reached No. 10 on the UK Albums Chart.

As Rundgren prepared an uncharacteristically covers-heavy studio album, other acts cultivated his original numbers. The Manhattan Transfer cover “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” on their 1976 Atlantic release Coming Out. Singer Laurel Massé, the group’s tall redhead (later replaced by Cheryl Bentyne), renders the song with sultriness on the silky bedrock of keyboardist Bill Payne (Little Feat) and guitarist Bob Bowles (Jerry Butler, Minnie Riperton).

Another Something/Anything evergreen, “I Saw the Light,” inspired 1976 covers by English jazz singer Cleo Laine, UK–Aussie MOR stalwarts The New Seekers, and American soul-pop singer Cory Braverman, whose version appears on her singular album Fire Sign, recorded at New York’s Hit Factory.


Faithful

Todd Rundgren released his seventh album, Faithful, in May 1976 on Bearsville. Side one contains six covers of iconic rock songs from 1966. Side two consists of six new Rundgren originals. Utopia’s Disco Jets lineup appears on all tracks apart from “When I Pray,” a self-performed Rundgren number.

The purpose of side one was two-fold: to pay a tenth-anniversary tribute to the music of 1966 — Rundgren’s first year as a professional musician — and to recreate the songs “faithful” to the originals in a similar manner to works in the classical canon. Faithful includes the following covers, all written by the original artists:

  • “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” by the Yardbirds; an non-album single between their 1966–67 albums Roger the Engineer and Little Games. (The US bi-side, “The Nazz Are Blue,” inspired the name of Rundgren’s earlier band.)
  • “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys; a non-album followup single to Pet Sounds (later included on Smiley Smile, a remnants collection of their abandoned Smile project).
  • “Rain” by The Beatles; the b-side to their non-album single “Paperback Writer,” recorded during the Revolver sessions.
  • “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” by Bob Dylan from his album Blonde on Blonde.
  • “If Six Was Nine” by Jimi Hendrix; actually recorded in May 1967 and released that December on his second album Axis: Bold as Love.
  • “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles; a non-album a-side recorded in late 1966 but released in February 1967 as a preview of their experiments on the upcoming Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Rungren conjures his late-sixties influences in the originals on side two, which scale back the space-psych experimentation of his 1973–75 output.


1977:

Ra

Oops! Wrong Planet


1978:

Rundgren plays unspecified guitar parts on Along the Red Ledge, the 1978 seventh studio album by former clients Hall & Oates. The album also features guitar work by George Harrison (“The Last Time”) and King Crimson mastermind Robert Fripp (“Don’t Blame It on Love”), who recently cut an art-rock collaborative album with Hall that RCA vaulted for the time being. (The album appeared in 1980 as Sacred Songs). For Red Ledge, the duo enlisted Canadian producer David Foster (Skylark), a high-tech, hands-on soundman who later lent his sheen to Boz Scaggs, Chicago, and Olivia Newton-John.

Todd is one of two guests guitarists (along with Frank Zappa) on Flint, a 1978 Columbia power-trio disc by the post-Farner remains of Grand Funk. Rundgren plays on “Too Soon to Tell,” “Keep Me Warm,” and Flint’s cover of “For Your Love,” a 1964 Graham Gouldman song made famous by the Yardbirds.

Rundgren also plays guitar on the Grossman-produced sessions for the debut album by blues rocker Elizabeth Barraclough. Additional sessions took place in England with guitarist Smoke Abingdon (of Indiscreet-era Sparks) and drummer Malcolm Mortimore (of Three Friends-era Gentle Giant). Eddie Offord, a prior soundman for ELP and Yes, recorded and mixed Elizabeth Barraclough, released in 1978 on Bearsville.


Hermit of Mink Hollow

Todd Rundgren released his eighth album, Hermit of Mink Hollow, in May 1978 on Bearsville.

Robert Palmer


Back to the Bars

In May 1978, Rundgren played week-long engagements at Manhattan’s Bottom Line (5/10–14) and LA’s Roxy (5/17–23). He performed two shows each night, backed by Klingman, Siegler, Wilcox, and The Hello People: Bobby Sedita (guitar, saxophone, vocals), Larry Tasse (synthesizer, vocals), and Norman Smart and Greg Geddes (both vocals).

In August, Utopia embarked on a coast-to-coast tour with a setlist of group and Rundgren solo numbers. They hit fifteen cities and played two shows per night in Cleveland (8/23: Agora), Chicago (8/25–27: Park West), and Boston (8/29–31: Paradise). On August 26, they appeared at Cleveland Stadium as part of the World Series of Rock, a multi-act event with sets by Fleetwood Mac, The Cars, Bob Welch, and Eddie Money.

On September 9, Rundgren made a surprise UK appearance at the second Knebworth ’78 Festival, where he joined headliners The Tubes for renditions of the Who chestnuts “Baba O’Riley” and “The Kids Are Alright,” performed as tributes to Who drummer Keith Moon, whose recent death sent shock-waves through the music world. Todd returned to England for a five-night December engagement at London’s Venue, where Peter Gabriel made an impromptu guest appearance on the 20th. While there, Rundgren produced an upcoming album for Gabriel’s friend Tom Robinson.

In December 1978, Todd Rundgren released Back to the Bars, a live double-album culled from the two April engagements with Hello People (sides 2 and 3) and the August Utopia show at Cleveland’s Agora (sides 1 and 4). With a duration of 103:22, the collection focuses on his 1972–76 repertoire.

The Agora sides feature three numbers from Something/Anything? (“It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference,” “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” “Hello It’s Me”), one from Todd (“A Dream Goes on Forever”), three from Initiation (“Real Man,” “Eastern Intrigue,” “Initiation”), and two from Faithful (“Love of the Common Man,” “The Verb ‘To Love”’), plus the Oops! rocker “Love In Action.”

The Hello People sides showcase material from A Wizard, a True Star (“Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel,” “Never Never Land,” “Zen Archer”) and two numbers each from Todd (“The Last Ride,” “Don’t You Ever Learn?”) and Faithful (“Black and White,” “Cliché”). The dark Something number “Black Maria” appears on side three along with a medley that links the Wizard soul covers with “I Saw the Light.” Side two features The Ballad of song “The Range War,” the one pre-1972 number in Rundgren’s recent setlists.

Guest performers on Back to the Bars include Spencer Davis (harmonica on “The Range War”), Schuckett (organ on the medley), and guitarist Rick Derringer, who plays on the closing “Hello It’s Me,” which features backing vocals by Davis, Hall, John Oates, and Stevie Nicks.

Back to the Bars is housed in a gatefold designed by the post-psych firm Hipgnosis. It shows a shirtless Rundgren with half-clenched hands bracing a superimposed electric circuit (front), seven neckless guitar strings lined with song titles (back), and live photos from the tour (inner-gates).


1979:

On February 16, 1979, Rundgren and Utopia played two benefit shows at New York’s Palladium as part of an event dubbed the Indochinese Refugee Concerts, which also featured sets by Blue Oyster Cult, Meat Loaf, and Rick Derringer. One of Todd’s current projects involved BOC keyboardist Allen Lanier’s ex-girlfriend, singer Patti Smith, one of the benefit’s guest performers.

In March 1979, EMI Records released TRB Two, the second album by the Tom Robinson Band. Rundgren produced the album during seven brisk days (December 13–19) at Pye Studios, London. Robinson, then one of UK rock’s most politically outspoken figures, dedicated the album to Mrs. Mary Towers, the mother of boxing coach Liddle Towers, whose 1976 death in police custody sparked widespread mistrust of British law enforcement. (The Jam reference the Towers case in their 1977 song “Time for Truth.”) TRB Two contains “Bully for You,” a Gabriel–Robinson co-write with the refrain “We don’t need no aggravation” — a probable inspiration for Roger Waters’ lyric “We don’t need no education” on the transatlantic No. 1 hit “Another Brick In the Wall, Part Two” from the upcoming album The Wall by Pink Floyd, a fellow client of TRB’s management.

In one of his more hands-on productions, Rundgren plays guitar, keyboards, and mans the soundboards on the March 1979 A&M release Remote Control, the fourth studio album by reformed shock rockers The Tubes. Todd encouraged the album’s unifying theme based on singer Fee Waybill’s then-favorite book, Being There, a 1970 comedic novel about a simpleton-turned-religious spokesman by Polish–American author Jerzy Kosinski. Remote Control contains two Rundgren co-writes (“T.V. is King,” “Love’s a Mystery (I Don’t Understand)”) in its tracklist, which also includes the rocked-up Ohio Players pastiche “Only the Strong Survive,” the punked-out climax “Telecide,” and the swooning ballad “Prime Time,” a UK Top 40 duet between Waybill and Tubes dancer Re Styles.

Rundgren’s association with Patti Smith yielded Wave, the singer’s fourth album, released in May 1979 on Arista. It features a Byrds cover (“So You Want to Be (A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star)”) and three co-writes each with Smith Group bassist Ivan Kral and guitarist Lenny Kaye, the compiler behind the seminal 1972 collection Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968 (which contains the Nazz hit “Open My Eyes”). Smith lone-wrote the opening number “Fredrick,” a love song dedicated to her future husband (and onetime MC5 guitarist) Fred “Sonic” Smith, who miraculously shared her maiden name. Rundgren, who produced and engineered Wave, plays bass on the Smith–Kral cut “Dancing Barefoot.” Wave reached No. 18 on the Billboard 200 and went Top 20 across Europe.

On June 2, Rundgren appeared at the Palladium, where he joined the Tom Robinson Band for their encore rendition of the Rolling Stones classic “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” On June 17, Utopia played Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, as part of a multi-act bill with Boston, Outlaws, and Poco. That summer, they swung through the Northeast and Midwest with a notable July 1 stop at Legend Valley in Columbus, Ohio, for a multi-bill with The Cars, Cheap Trick, Eddie Money, and Roadmaster. Todd made another encore guest appearance with The Tubes at their July 18 Wollman’s Rink show, where the parties rehashed the two Knebworth ’78 Who numbers.

Utopia appeared at Knebworth ’79 as one of the opening acts for the August 4 and 11 headliners, Led Zeppelin, who made their final live appearances with drummer John Bonham at this event. On September 2, Utopia performed on the syndicated Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. On the 28th, they played the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Calif., as part of a triple bill with Mistress and Gamma, the new band led by ex-Montrose guitarist Ronnie Montrose.

Rundgren co-produced and engineered the October 1979 Blue Sky release Guitars and Women, the third solo album by ex-McCoys guitarist Rick Derringer (and his first since retiring the mononymic band name Derringer). Rundgren and Sulton sing backing vocals on nine-tenths of the album, which features Powell’s synthesizer and organ work on three tracks.

On November 18, Rundgren appeared as a guest speaker at Billboard‘s first annual video music conference, held at Sheraton Universal Hotel in Los Angeles. Todd and Utopia closed out the seventies with a New Year’s Eve show at the Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, with support by Rick Derringer.


1980:

Todd Rundgren and Utopia opened 1980 with Adventures In Utopia, their first album in twenty-eight months. It features ten group-written numbers that range from intricate and spacey (“The Road to Utopia,” “Caravan”) to quirky and emotive (“Shot in the Dark”). Rundgren — who produced and engineered the album and conceived its galactic gatefold cover — sings lead on “Second Nature” (a peppy keyboard-driven cut), “The Very Last Time” (which veers between synth-laden, melodic verses and an explosive chorus), and “Rock Love” (a space-age disco–rock anthem). The Sulton-sung “Set Me Free” reached the Billboard Top 40.

Utopia toured across the US between March and July 1980 culminating with August 8–9 Wollman Rink concerts. Rundgren plays the e-bow guitar solo on “Morning Chorus,” a track on the 1980 Bearsville release Air Pocket, the second solo album by Roger Powell.

Rundgren partook in the followup to Bat Out of Hell. Sessions commenced in August 1980 amid numerous personal difficulties for Meat Loaf, who was unable to muster his voice for the songs. Steinman took over and released the album, Bad for Good, under his name in 1981 on Epic. The finished product credits Rundgren and Steinman as co-producers along with Bat engineers Jimmy Iovine and John Jansen. Todd plays guitar on the album, which features Sulton and Powell on three tracks each.

A 1980 single issued on the French one-press NDA by an entity called Frog & Roll lists Rundgren as its producer. It features a cover of the 1966 ? and the Mysterians organ-psych nugget “96 Tears,” backed with the punk original “I’m In Between.” The back-sleeve reveals this to be the work of Jean-Yves “Mr. Frog” Labat. (In a July 1978 Trouser Press interview, Rundgren reveals that he produced a recent session for a punk album by Labat.)

Rundgren also produced Wasp, the fifth and final album by pop singer Shaun Cassidy, who redefined himself as a new wave rocker on this release. Wasp features three new Rundgren-penned songs (“Pretending,” “Wasp,” “Selfless Love”) and covers of David Bowie (“Rebel Rebel,” interpolated with The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel”), Talking Heads (“The Book I Read”), The Who (“So Sad About Us”), Four Tops (“Shake Me, Wake Me”), and Ian Hunter (“Once Bitten, Twice Shy”). Rundgren plays guitar, bass, drums, and saxophone on the album. Cassidy co-wrote one track, “Cool Fire,” with Rundgren and the album’s other two musicians, Powell and Wilcox. Sulton plays bass on “Selfless Love.”

In September 1980, Utopia issued Deface the Music, an album of Beatles pastiches with lifted arrangements and altered melodies from various songs in the Fab Four’s catalog. Several tracks conjure two or more Beatles songs in one, such as “Everybody Else Is Wrong,” a hybrid of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Am the Walrus.” Utopia take group-credit on the album’s twelve songs, which side-step direct plagiarism.


1981: Solo Concept Album, Utopia Sound Work

Todd Rundgren opened 1981 with his ninth solo album, an entirely self-performed conceptual work. In April, Utopia embarked on the Camouflage Tour, which saw them don military fatigue for a string of Northeast and Midwest dates, including two shows at Detroit’s Royal Oak Music Theatre.

Rundgren produced the June 1981 Elektra release Walking Wild, the third album by Boston rockers New England. He co-wrote one track (“L-5”) with members Jimmy Waldo and John Fannon. Todd is also one of two credited guitar soloists on “Don’t Ever Let Me Go,” one of three tracks lifted as a single from the album.

He worked on Walking Wild in succession with That’s What Friends Are For, a mysterious album by The Moondogs, a pop-punk trio from Northern Ireland. It appeared without the band’s knowledge on the German branch of Sire with twelve tracks, including a Utopia Sound rerecording of their 1980 a-side “Who’s Gonna Tell Mary?”

Todd also produced the proposed second album by New York melodic rockers Touch, who cut a 1980 self-titled album on Ariola. However, the second album would only exist as a Masterdisk acetate until Japanese archivists Barenuckle combined the two albums on the 1998 double-CD The Complete Works I & II.

Utopia Sound was the engineering site for one track (“I Need Your Love”) on Short Back N’ Sides, the fifth solo studio album by ex-Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter. Saxist Gary Windo (Centipede, Brotherhood of Breath) plays on the track, which features Rundgren on bass and backing vocals (alongside Powell). Mick Ronson and Clash guitarist Mick Jones co-produced the balance of Hunter’s August 1981 Chrysalis release at New York’s Power Station and London’s Wessex Studios.


Healing

Todd Rundgren released his ninth album, Healing, on January 28, 1981, on Bearsville.

Alembic guitar

Rundgren didn’t tour the album but did perform its title track on the February 11 broadcast of Saturday Night Live with a backing band composed of Powell, Sulton, Schucket, guitarist Pat Travers, drummer Ernest Carter (David Sancious & Tone), percussionist Mike Shrieve (Santana, Automatic Man), and backing vocalists Eric Troya and Rory Dodd (of various Steinman projects). Dallas actress Charlene Tilton hosted the episode, which broke convention by featuring two musical guests, each performing one number. The second musical guest, Prince, performed “Partyup” from his recent third album Dirty Mind.


1982:

In April, Rundgren welcomed The Psychedelic Furs at Utopia Sound Studios. The English post-punk band built their reputation with two albums produced by Steve Lillywhite (Ultravox, U2, XTC), including their recent stateside breakthrough Talk Talk TalkSince trimmed of two members, the now-four-piece Furs picked Rundgren when their initial choice, David Bowie (an avowed fan and noted influence), was unavailable for the project. Rundgren produced and co-engineered their September 1982 CBS–Columbia release Forever Now, which features input by Windo and trumpeter Donn Adams (NRBQ) and backing vocals by Flo & Eddie. Todd, who double-functions as the album’s keyboardist, plays saxophone on “No Easy Street” and marimba on the international hit “Love My Way,” a staple of early MTV that endures as an evergreen of eighties new wave playlists.

Swing to the Right

Utopia


The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect

Todd Rundgren released his tenth album, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, on December 30, 1982, on Bearsville.


1983:

Todd embarked on a spring 1983 solo tour that included an April 23 show at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC, with The Producers and U2. The Irish rockers were consolidating their stateside conquested with their just-released third album War. That summer, Utopia played the Eastern United States with another rising act, Marillion.

Rundgren worked with Cheap Trick on their seventh studio album, the August 1983 Epic release Next Position Please. Todd produced and engineered eleven of the album’s songs (everything apart from The Motors cover “Dancing the Night Away”) in December 1982 at Utopia Sound. The album contains an exclusive Rundgren original, “Heaven’s Falling,” a shouted guitar-driven rocker reminiscent of “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.”

Rundgren also produced the 1983 EMI America release Watch Dog, the debut solo album by songwriter Jules Shear, a onetime member of Funky Kings and the namesake leader of Jules & the Polar Bears. One track, “All Through the Night,” became a 1984 Billboard Top 5 hit for Cyndi Lauper. Another, “Whispering Your Name,” became a nineties-era UK hit for singer Alison Moyet. Todd produced, engineered, and played select guitar parts on Watch Dog, which also features backing by Powell, guitarist Elliot Easton (The Cars), bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson), session drummer Rick Marotta (Carly Simon, Michael Franks), and fellow Polar Bear Stephen Hague, who recently played on albums by Andy Pratt, Gleaming Spires (Sparks’ current backing band), Cars frontman Ric Ocasek (Beatitude), and Slow Children, a duo with Shear’s eventual wife, Pal Shazar.

Utopia (minus Todd) perform on the 1983 Warner release Party of Two, a five-song EP by The Rubinoos. This was the first release in four years (and last overall) by the Bay Area pop combo, which shrunk to a guitar–vocal duo since their two late-seventies albums on Beserkley. Rundgren produced and co-engineered Party of Two with Utopia Sound staffer Chris Anderson.

Rundgren mixed the 1983 Island release Dancing for Mental Health, a collection of comedic dance-pop tracks by Will Powers (aka celebrity photographer Lynn Goldsmith). Conceived as a spoof on the self-help industry, Goldsmith co-wrote tracks for the album with Steve Winwood, Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers, and lyricist Jacob Brackman (a longtime Carly Simon collaborator). Todd is one of five co-writers on the Simon-sung “Kissing With Confidence.” The aforemention names appear on a lengthy inner-sleeve list of figures who supported Goldsmith’s mission, including Police frontman Sting and Thompson Twins singer Tom Bailey, who each co-wrote a Mental Health track.

Utopia Sound hosted Lords of the New Church, who dropped by for one song on their 1983 second album Is Nothing Sacred? Rundgren produced, engineered, and added keyboards to their cover of “Live for Today,” a 1967 hit for the Grass Roots (as “Let’s Live for Today”) that originated as “Piangi con me,” a 1966 Italian hit by Rome-based English beatsters The Rokes. The Lords’ version dented the lower reaches of the UK Singles Chart.

In 1983, as Rundgren marked fifteen years as a professional recording artist, his pop evergreens inspired new versions by electro-funksters Shock (“We Gotta Get You a Woman”), retro garage-rockers the Insect Surfers (“Open My Eyes”), and Dutch jazz-pop singer Mathilde Santing (“A Dream Goes On Forever”). “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference,” by now one of Rundgren’s most-covered songs, saw two 1983 renditions: a smooth-soul take by Planet Patrol and an MOR pop reading by Bearsville singer Nicole Wills.


1984:

Utopia opened 1984 with Oblivion, the classic lineup’s seventh album and their first of two on Passport. Rundgren sings lead on half the album’s ten songs, including the hypnotic “If I Didn’t Try” (a slow, heavy, electro-layered number), the evocatively titled “Welcome to My Revolution” (a melodic rocker in which the narrator explains his dissilusionment with political struggle), and the upbeat “Crybaby,” a bursting harmony rocker in the vein of “Heaven’s Falling.” Passport lifted Sulton’s swooning “Maybe I Could Change” as the lead-off single, followed by “Crybaby,” which hit No. 30 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. Utopia promoted Oblivion with an April–May tour of the Eastern US.

Rundgren plays synthesizer on two tracks (“Man In the Moon,” “Trees of the Ages”) on the January 1984 Columbia release Mother’s Spiritual, the sixth studio album by Laura Nyro and her first since 1978’s Nested. Todd is credited with production assistance on the album, which features Nyro on electric and acoustic piano with a small group of female backing players, including onetime Isis percussionist Nydia Mata. Titled after her recent immersion in motherhood, this was Nyro’s only release of new material during the 1980s.

Rundgren also produced the first of two Mercury albums by Irish post-punks Zerra I, a recent Boomtown Rats opening act with ties to The Cure. Zerra I marks the final appearance of Forever Now cellist Ann Sheldon, who died in an auto accident on New Year’s Eve 1984. Mercury issued Zerra I in the UK and Europe, but not the US. In 1985, a revised version of the album appeared as Mountains and Water on Canadian Vertigo.

Todd also produced and mixed A Side of the B-Sides, a 1984 maxi-single by his onetime partner Bebe Buell, the November 1974 Playboy Playmate of the Month. The single, released under the band moniker Bebe Buell and the B-Sides, contains three songs, including one (“Battle Cry”) with Rundgren on synthesizer. Her band includes drummer John Rousseau of Texan symphonic rockers Hands. B-Sides appeared on a US–Canadian picture sleeve by Vinyl Visual with a vampish photo of the redhead model–singer by scene photographer Mick Rock.

Rundgren recorded an album of songs composed of sampled vocal parts but Bearsville, in light of its financial struggles, blocked its release. Todd closed out 1984 with a short solo tour of the Eastern Seaboard, where he sang and played guitar and piano to pre-recorded backing tracks.


1985:

Utopia opened 1985 with the January Passport release POV. It features ten songs in the vein of its predecessor with a balance of keyboard-driven melodic numbers (“Mimi Gets Mad”), neon-powered dance tracks (“Zen Machine”), and explosive modern rockers (“Play This Game,” “More Light”). Rundgren and Wilcox co-produced the album at Utopia Sound.

On January 5, Todd appeared live with The Tubes at the Gift Center Pavillion in San Francisco. The group performed material from their upcoming Rundgren-produced album Love Bomb, which dropped in February on Capitol. The album marked an attempt to recapture their earlier musical edge after the slickness of their 1981–83 releases The Completion Backward Principle and Outside Inside (both produced by David Foster). Rundgren co-wrote five Love Bomb numbers: “Piece By Piece,”Come as You Are,” “One Good Reason,” “For a Song,” and “Feel It.” The last two belong to the nine-part “Night People” suite that consumes side two.

Utopia and The Tubes teamed on a five-month North American tour that commenced on February 17 at Humboldt State University and wrapped on July 11 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Both groups disbanded at the end of the tour. For his new backing band, Rundgren enlisted two Tubes: drummer Prairie Prince and keyboardist Vince Welnick.


A Cappella

Todd Rundgren released his eleventh album, A Cappella, in September 1985 on Warner Bros.


1986:

Rundgren produced the August 1986 Oceanic Polydor release Dreams of Ordinary Men, the eighth studio album by Kiwi–Aussie rockers Dragon. On this album, the ever-changing band are a four-piece comprised of mainstays the Hunt brothers (Marc and Todd) and two American musicians: keyboarist Alan Mansfield (a onetime Robert Palmer sideman) and drummer Doanne Perry, who started a longstanding run in Jethro Tull with their 1984 release Under Wraps. With Tull on hold, Perry stepped in for Englishman Terry Chambers, the original drummer of XTC (1976–82) who served Dragon on the 1984–85 albums Body and the Beat and Live One. Windo and American saxist Lenny Pickett (Tower of Power) appear on select Ordinary Men tracks.

Australian jazz-pop guitarist Tommy Emmanuel funtions as a fifth wheel on Dreams of Ordinary Men, which reached No. 18 in Australia and spawned three Top 20 singles: “Speak No Evil” (a February 1985 release cut prior to Rundgren’s involvement) and the Rundgren–Dragon co-writes “Dreams of Ordinary Men” and “Western Girls” (co-written with Kiwi singer Sharon O’Neill). Rundgren, who adds guitar and backing vocals to the album, contributed an exclusive original, “Midnight Sun,” a Utopia-like rocker with melodic similarities to “Welcome to My Revolution.”

Rundgren sings backing vocals on the May 1986 Columbia release Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire, the sixth album by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler. Producer Jim Steinman wrote half the album’s songs, including the meladramatic “Holding Out For a Hero,” a recent UK No. 2 hit first heard on the soundtrack to the 1984 musical drama Footloose. Todd duets with Bonnie on another Steinman composition, the epic power ballad “Loving You’s a Dirty Job But Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”

That spring, Rundgren worked with XTC on their eighth album, the October 1986 Virgin–Geffen release Skylarking. Todd, who’d followed the band since their 1980 Black Sea tour, suggested the new album’s track sequence and time-cycle concept. Skylarking contains fourteen songs, starting with the conjoined orchestral sequence of “Summer’s Cauldron” and “Grass.” Musically, the album explores Tin Pan Alley (“Ballet for a Rainy Day”), music hall (“Season Cycle”), and lavish balladry (“Sacrificial Bonfire”) with forays into Merseybeat (“Earn Enough for Us”), chamber rock (“1000 Umbrellas”), and beatnick poetry jazz (“The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul”).

Rundgren produced and engineered Skylarking, which features his orchestration and computer programming. Select tracks feature him on melodica (“Summer’s Cauldron”) and synthesizer (“Grass,” “That’s Really Super, Supergirl”). For the role of drummer — an XTC vacancy since Chambers jumped ship to Dragon — Todd enlisted Prairie Prince, credited here as “the part of the time bomb.” Percussion parts are handled by Mingo Lewis, a guest player on RTF’s Return of the Seventh Galaxy and a subsequent sideman to Al Di Meola (and a Tubes member circa 1977–78).

Skylarking first made waves with “Earn Enough for Us,” a jangly hybrid of “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Green Tambourine,” overlaid with Coral electric sitar. However, attention shifted to the non-album track “Dear God,” a Led Zeppelin-ish symphonic-folk tune with anti-theist lyrics. To accomadate the song’s popularity, Geffen (US) cut the vibe-laden “Mermaid Smiled” from the Skylarking tracklist and placed “Dear God” on side two, where it segues into the acoustic lament “Dying.”


1987:

Rundgren produced the autumn 1987 Island release Yoyo, the second album by Sacramento pop-rockers Bourgeois Tagg. The lead-off single, “I Don’t Mind at All,” features the smooth voice and bleak words of keyboardist Brent Bourgeois against a classical guitar arrangement backed by the Coast String Quartet. The song charted internationally and reached the US Top 40, fueled by a MTV-rotated video. Bassist Larry Tagg (brother of Eric Tagg, a vocalist for Lee Ritenour) sings on “Waiting for the Worm to Turn,” the album’s second single, accompanied by a comical cliff-diving video. Yoyo sessions took place at Utopia Sound and Studio D in Sausalito with contributions from Mingus and Coast cellist Teressa Adams (Grootna, Van Morrison).


1988:

Rundgren produced the October 1988 Chrysalis release Love Junk, the debut album by Canadian pop-rockers The Pursuit of Happiness. It features “I’m an Adult Now,” which TPoH first issued as a 1986 WEA standalone single. Chrysalis lifted the re-recorded version as a single in the US, where its video aired recurrently on MTV’s 120 Minutes. Todd and TPoH completed the album in 10 days at Utopia Sound. Love Junk reached No. 28 on the Canadian Albums Chart and spawned three further singles: “Hard to Laugh,” “She’s So Young,” and “Beautiful White.”


1989:

Lä-Ppisch – Karakuri House

John Sloman – Disappearances Can Be Deceptive

Hiroshi Takano – ある日、駅で


Nearly Human

Todd Rundgren released his twelfth album, Nearly Human, in May 18, 1989, on Warner Bros.


1990:

Jill Sobule – Things Here Are Different

The Pursuit of Happiness – One Sided Story

Hiroshi Takano – Cue


1991:

Hiroshi Takano – Awakening


2nd Wind

Todd Rundgren released his twelfth album, 2nd Wind, in January 16, 1991, on Warner Bros.


Discography:


Sources:

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