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Rundgren, Todd (22 June 1948-Present)

Computer programmer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer-songwriter and video director, Todd Harry Rundgren has worn pretty much every hat you can in the record industry.

He formed his first band, Money, while still in high school.  He then band-hopped to Woody’s Truck Stop and eventually Nazz.  The band was named for an obscure Yardbirds lyric.  They flirted with chart success with “Hello It’s Me”, a song that would later become Todd’s biggest solo hit.  He and the band were going in different directions; Todd was writing instrospective, Laura Nyro-inspired stuff, whereas the other members of Nazz were interested in riding the wave of late ’60s psychedelia; and they split up in 1969.

Rundgren formed Runt, a thinly disguised moniker for Todd-plus-two-background-musicians, which released “their” self-titled debut in 1970.  It spawned Todd’s first top-twenty hit, “We Gotta Get You A Woman”.  Released on Ampex Records, it caught Bearsville exec Albert Grossman’s fancy and he signed Todd to a long-term deal.  His first album with Bearsville was Runt’s last, the aptly titled The Ballad of Todd Rundgren.

Around this time, Badfinger was looking for someone to finish production on their Straight Up LP; George Harrison abandoned the project to organize his Concert For Bangladesh; and Todd filled the bill.  ” Baby Blue” was a hit for Badfinger, and Rundgren had his first production credit.  It was certainly not his last.  He would go on to produced Meatloaf’s mega-smash, Bat Out Of Hell.

In 1972, Todd released his first official solo album; an ambitious double album, no less; called Something/Anything? which would set a standard impossible even for himself to follow.  Three sides of the double set are truly solo efforts, written, produced and performed by Todd Rundgren.  The album yielded two hits, “I Saw the Light”; regarded as a Carole King tribute; and his remake of “Hello It’s Me” which went to #5.  The album itself would go gold and peak at #29 on the Billboard Top 200.  Rundgren was poised for super-stardom, a position he would subsequently eschew with the release of A Wizard, A True Star, a hodge-podge of Disney songs, psychedelia, soul, and vaudeville, of all things.  It alienated all but his cultic fan base, which he continues to enjoy to this day.  It also marked the beginning of his “experimental” stage.

His follow-up to Wizard, the economically titled Todd, contained a good deal of electronica, a portent of things to come with Utopia, a group effort that comprised a bassist, drummer, percussionist, and three keyboardists.  Their eponymous debut included four instrumentals, each of them over ten minutes long.  His subsequent solo release, Initiation, featured a B side that consisted of one, long experimental synth riff.  He did not eschew pop music completely, however.  In 1976, he released the aptly titled Faithful, a collection of pop covers of some of his favourite songs, including “Good Vibrations” which put him back in the top forty.  A year later, he would go back into the studio with a much-altered version of Utopia and lay down two albums, Ra and Oops! Wrong Planet.

In 1978, Todd would fly solo again with The Hermit of Mink Hollow, which bore the fruit of another top-forty hit, “Can We Still Be Friends”.  It would be two years before Rundgren or Utopia would release another album.  Todd spent 1979 starting up Utopia Video Studios, a state-of-the-art production effort that was commissioned by RCA to come up with a demo videodisc for their SelectaVision line.  He also put together one of the first music videos for his song “Time Heals”.  He resumed his recording career a year later with two more Utopia efforts, Adventures in Utopia, which yielded three hits, “Caravan”, “Road to Utopia” and “Set Me Free”, and Deface the Music, a tongue-in-cheek Beatles tribute.

In 1981, he split his time between recording Healing and computer graphics.  He designed Utopia Graphics System, one of the very first paint programs, for use with Apple II computers.  Back on the road and in the studio in 1982 with Utopia’s eponymous LP and another solo album, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect.  It yielded his last hit, “Bang On The Drum All Day”, which only peaked at #63 on Billboard Top 100, but has since become an arena-rock staple at sporting events.

In addition to this album, Todd found time for another Utopia release, Oblivion.  It climbed to #74 on the charts, but their next album, POV, embarrassed itself by showing up at #161.  In 1985, another experiment, A Cappella, featured Todd literally solo again, using only his own voice, dubbed over ad nauseum.

He broke into television in 1986, scoring four episodes of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and composing music for the retro police drama Crime Story.  He changed channels again a year later, writing the music for the motion picture Undercover.  Rundgren’s long-awaited solo album, Nearly Human, was recorded “live” in the studio in one take, without any post-production tweaking.  The same was done; before a “live” audience that was asked to be quiet, no less; with 1991’s 2nd wind.

He hit the road again with the Nearly Human-2nd Wind Band, replete with a brass section and background vocalists, including his future wife Michele Gray.  It was during this time that he became one of the first musicians to perform in Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band.  Rundgren released his next two solo albums under the moniker of TR-i, which stands for “Todd Rundgren interactive”.  No World Order was groundbreaking in that it was a series of short musical phrases with which the listener could custom-design their own song, based on mood and tempo.  Its follow-up, The Individualist, an interactive video, including a video game, was released in 1995.

A year later, Rundgren would put on his entrepreneurial hat yet again with Waking Dreams, a creative development firm.  He also started another Internet-savvy enterprise called Patronet that allows users to subscribe to his music on his own self-designed website, bypassing the record industry completely.  In the same breath, he turned around and inked a deal with a Japanese record company.

In 2000, he eventually released his Patronet stuff on a CD entitled One Long Year.  One short year later, he joined another all-star band, comprising John Entwistle, David Pack, Alan Parsons, and Ann Wilson for A Walk Down Abbey Road, a mishmash of Beatles songs and the artists’ own material.

In 2004, Rundgren joined forces with Joe Jackson and a string quartet named Ethel.  They performed a cover version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

A couple of years later, there were noises that The Cars were going to reunite, in spite of the fact that Ric Ocasek was not interested.  The New Cars were unveiled in 2006 with a lineup that consisted of original Cars Elliot Easton and Greg Hawks, ex-Tubes drummer Prairie Prince, and Utopia’s Kasim Sulton.  Rundgren subbed for Ocasek.  On 20th March 2006, their debut single was released.  Just three months later, a greatest hits package and live album entitled The New Cars:  It’s Alive was released.

Todd Rundgren recordings
Cold Morning Light (Todd Rundgren)
Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren)