In 1967 a new pop-wunderkind rolled out of Upper Darbey on the edge of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a psychedelic garage rock band that was going to be the answer to The Beatles and The Who. The band was called Nazz and their first self titled album, though hardly a commercial success, would deliver two of their best songs, "Open My Eyes" of which the flip side was "Hello It's Me". “Open My Eyes” was the song the record company pushed, but a Boston DJ named Ron Robins accidentally played the “B” side one night and “Hello It’s Me” became a number one hit at WMEX in 1968. Several weeks later it was on the playlist of Boston's other Top 40 radio station WRKO and eventually at other stations across the country.
After a trip to England in ‘68, the band was back in the studio to cut their second album whose original title was to be Fungo Bat. The project was an ambitious project, planned as a double album. When the record company initially signed the group, they dressed them up in Beatles hair cuts and Mod fashions and marketed them along side The Monkees as a hip, tennybopper band. In hind sight, the look was two or three years out of date, and the main creative force, Todd Rundgren, was not to be restrained musically. Instead of American pop songs in the mode of The Beatles, Fungo Bat was full of piano-based Rundgren material, heavily influenced by singer/songwriter Laura Nyro.
Heavily cut down, the album was eventually released as Nazz Nazz. The album flopped and Rundgren left the group soon after.In 1970 Rundgren formed a quazi-band called Runt, which consisted of Rundgren on guitars, keyboards & vocals, assited by Hunt Sales and his brother Tony on drums and bass. In case you are wondering, these were comedian Soupy Sales kids. Rundgren also was the producer. For Rundgren cultists, the self titled album, Runt, is considered Rundgren’s first solo work. Upon its release in June 1970 the critics were divided. but the fans weren’t and "We Gotta Get You a Woman" became a hit single. The record runs the gamut on musical styles from blues-styled guitar workouts ("Birthday Carol", "Broke Down and Busted") to power pop ("Devil's Bite", "Don't Tie My Hands") to Laura Nyro-styled piano pop ("We Gotta Get You a Woman", "Baby Let's Swing", "The Last Thing You Said") to rock 'n' roll ("Who's That Man") to piano ballads ("Believe in Me", "Once Burned", the middle section of "Birthday Carol"), as well as including more experimental numbers and first displaying Rundgrens sarcastic tendencies and prog-rock leanings on "I'm in the Clique", "There Are No Words".
Despite Rundgren’s never settling on one style, or maybe because of it, he became extremely successful and developed a cult following which was cemented by Something/Anything? in 1972 and featuring the top 20 U.S. hits "I Saw The Light" and an up tempo remake of the Nazz near-hit "Hello It's Me", which reached #5 in the U.S.. By this point in time (Rundgren had started experimenting with drugs) his broad mastery extended beyond multiple instruments to production, engineering and the use of computers.
By the time he did the 1974 album Todd he had been dubbed “Rock’s Renaissance Man” by Rolling Stone . Todd , performed here in its entirety for the first time live since its release, is considered by some as his best album. It showed his growing interest in the synthesizer, and its ability to expand the textures of rock music. Much of the album is intensely experimental. However, it is not without its share of pop songs. Todd also tinkers with the synth-heavy progressive sound he would take further with his later band Utopia. Rumor had it that Rundgren and his record label fought over the release of the song "Izzat Love?" as a single. The artist insisted the song was indicative of a music style he no longer wished to pursue, and Rundgren won under threat to never record again should the song be released. Another indication of Rundgrens wish to explore and include in his ‘style’ many musical elements was the inclusion of "Lord Chancellor's Nightmare" which is a cover of a Gilbert & Sullivan song from their 1882 comic-opera "Iolanthe". His biting sarcasm would also shine through on tunes like “Heavy Metal Kids”.
The filming is out standing and the performance, 37 years after it’s last performance, is top drawer. The band consists of Todd’s former band mate from Utopia, Kasim Sulton on bass. The Cars’ Greg Hawkes on keyboards, The Tubes Prairie Prince on drums, Jesse Gress (the editor of Guitar Player Magazine) on guitars, Bobby Strickland on sax, and a full choir.
In addition to the concert, which was recorded in Todd’s hometown, Philadelphia at the Keswick Theatre, Roy Firestone – the Emmy Award-winning TV personality, interviews Todd for over an hour. It’s an informative trip back through time and is not only of interest to the die-hard fan, but is entertaining and funny in places. What becomes clear as you watch the concert interview is that Rundgren, in essences, is an extremely talented musician, song writer, producer, engineer and also the “adult rock star”. Throughout his career he never succumbed to the hotel room trashing, groupie collecting cliché that many ‘70s rocker became. And, he never failed to follow his muse, wherever it led him in style and substance.
You’ll want to add this to your collection, and also you’ll want to visit his vastly entertaining website, Tr-I.Com where this multi-faceted artists contributions to state-of-the-art music are on display. As a songwriter, video pioneer, producer, recording artist, computer software developer, conceptualist and most recently inter-active artists has made a lasting impression on both the form and content of pop music. he really is A Wizard, a True Star.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved