Monday, July 1, 2013

#688: Todd R.

I remember first hearing Todd Rundgren in the Summer of 1972, when Tacoma's KTAC started playing Todd's "I Saw the Light." Light & bouncy, fresh & summery with lots of great overdubbed-Todd vocals, I loved it immediately, & grabbed the 45 the next time my folks took me to K-Mart. I had no idea who the heck this Todd guy was, but I noted his name for the future....
The next time I heard him was in the Fall of '73 when "Hello, It's Me" got played to death in Boise. Somewhere along the way I heard "We've Gotta Get You a Woman," which became me & my Cousin Jim's themesong for the Summer of '74. I also heard the dreamy, Beach Boys-ish "A Dream Goes On Forever" once or twice, but radio didn't seem to play it much. I heard the great "Real Man" exactly twice when adventurous automated local FM station KBBK played it. I couldn't understand why these great light pop songs hadn't made Todd a star yet.
In the Summer of '78 I finally did my homework & bought a second-hand copy of Todd's SOMETHING/ANYTHING? It was a sprawling 2-record set with a LOT going on, from the two earlier hits "Light" & "Hello" to should-have-been hits like the great reflective "Dust in the Wind" (not the Kansas hit of the same time), to silly fake-operas like the hilarious "Song of the Viking," a fake "rock opera" that took up all of Side 4, silly producer's-tricks like the game-show-style "Intro," & wild frat-boy party-closers like "Slut."
The REAL killer was hidden away among the 25 tracks -- the brash power-pop of "Couldn't I Just Tell You?" But it took me years to hear it....
My pick was the gorgeous "Saving Grace," a song Todd called -- with his usual modesty -- "a song for our generation." And he was right....
After this, I decided to see what else I'd missed. TODD was another 2-record set with what seemed like a LOT of filler. But buried amid the overkill was the gorgeous "Dream Goes On Forever," plus a real opera piece borrowed from Gilbert and Sullivan, the hilarious "Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song."
A WIZARD/A TRUE STAR was another crammed-full affair with more than 60 minutes of music filling its grooves. There was more there than anyone could focus on clearly, including "Just One Victory," an anthem it might not have taken me years to hear, except for the 4 or 5 different musical themes winding their way through it. It was nice, but really cluttered. So was the rest of the album.
INITIATION was home to the great sparkling lead-off "Real Man," but it took a big plunge almost immediately with the silly "Born to Synthesize." I made it through the rest of the first side once or twice, but the real overkill was on Side 2, with the synthesized half-hour "Treatise on Cosmic Fire," which I don't think I ever got all the way through. It sounded too close to Todd's side-project Utopia & their overly-busy cluttered prog. I've still never been able to get through a whole side of Utopia's "proggier" stuff.
After these disappointments, I let Todd go for awhile. But in 1980 when I was working at the record store, we started playing Todd & Utopia's ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA, & I got sucked right back in again. The album seemed to me a good-enough compromise between Todd's sparkling pop & Utopia's prog. The killer was the bitter & dramatic "The Very Last Time" over on Side 2, but "You Make Me Crazy" was irritating enough to be a big hit, & some of the mellower stuff like "Set Me Free" & "Second Nature" would have fit right in on radio. "The Road to Utopia" & "Caravan" added the prog without losing the pop hooks.
Despite how good I thought the album was, I lost track of Todd after that. Never heard his & Utopia's Beatles parody DEFACE THE MUSIC or anything else that followed. Never heard "Bang the Drum All Day" or "Hideaway" or "Couldn't I Just Tell You?" until I picked up Todd's ANTHOLOGY best-of a decade later, wondering what else I'd missed. Other than those 3, I didn't find much.
Still have ANTHOLOGY & Rhino's single-disc VERY BEST OF (which is just a bit too thin), & Todd is still cranking out albums every year or so these days, along with activities like touring with The Cars. & I still don't get why Todd didn't get rich with his own music, rather than through producing Meat Loaf & Grand Funk & Badfinger & Patti Smith & XTC & Sparks & etc.
My pick of his work is still "Saving Grace." As soon as I heard it, I knew he was speaking directly to me, about what motivates people's lives, & the ways people's lives work out, & about whether or not there's ever a pay-off, & how you might feel when that day comes. And it still speaks to me....


R S Crabb said...

Todd Rundgren can be frustrating, I like the two Runt albums that he did but a lot of his solo stuff is scattershot including Wizard A True Star or Something/Anything. Faithful, copies Good Vibrations note for note and I actually like but the rest of the album will try your patience.

Same with Utopia although Deface the Music is the best Beatles tribute album ever. Try Oops Wrong Planet or the S/T Utopia which is a decent power pop album.

timothy harrington said...

Since you were discussing Something/Anything, Ween has a song called "Freedom of 76", which lifts its guitar riff in its chorus from "Piss Aaron". I have to believe its intentional since the song pays homage to Philly icons