Friday, December 14, 2018

Todd Rundgren-Why He Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame | Lefsetz Letter

Todd Rundgren

“Open My Eyes”

The Rolling Stones taught us the opening track on an album must be a killer, it must take you on a roller coaster ride, it must leave the station and never relent. “Open My Eyes” fits the bill.

“Hello It’s Me”

Am I the only person who prefers this non-Todd vocal original, much quieter and more meaningful? It wasn’t a national hit back then, it’s just that Nazz was on SGC Records and didn’t have a chance.

“She’s Goin’ Down”

Unknown except for acolytes, this five minute track is a tear, with a drum break to boot!

“Yankee Lady”
Jesse Winchester

Todd was the engineer. Jesse was a draft dodger moved to Canada who had impact with his initial LP and gradually lost traction to the point where most people have no idea who he is anymore. But if you play this…

Yankee lady so good to me
Yankee lady just a memory

Pull this up on Spotify, you’ll be stunned how immediate it sounds, like it was yanked from the countryside nearly fifty years later with no sign of wear. If more acoustic music sounded this clear and human, the sound could come back

“The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show”
The Band

Todd engineered “Stage Fright.”

My favorite Band album is the second, self-titled LP. The sound of the first doesn’t work for me, as great as the tracks are. “Stage Fright” is less dark than what came before, but it’s much more clear. I told my mother to send the second to me at college, she sent the third, I know it by heart.

“We Gotta Get You A Woman”
Runt/Todd Rundgren

Multiple iterations, on the world’s lamest label, Todd’s initial solo LP had no chance. But somehow this cut emerged and was a hit in certain markets, but not in others.

Written for Paul Fishkin, the lyrics remain true. My friend John texted them to me just the other day, he’s looking.

Meanwhile, this was the first inkling that Todd could write commercial pop hits seemingly without effort. If only today’s pop acts studied his catalog, they’d know melody and changes (and production!) are the key to hits.

“A Long Time, A Long Way To Go”
Todd Rundgren

“The Ballad of Todd Rundgren” is a hidden gem, it’s my favorite LP of Todd’s. Into the dumper immediately, it was nearly unavailable, I bought a cut-out version, and fell instantly in love. This is my favorite song on the LP, intimate and then overblown, a cross between teen and adult “A Long Time, A Long Way To Go” is a gem, in the same league as Split Enz’s “Message To My Girl.” If you’re a hopeless romantic, this is your track.

“Long Flowing Robe”
Todd Rundgren

The opening track from “Ballad,” it too hews to the Stones doctrine, it leaves the gate like a racehorse. And the nuances are so exquisite, that drum hit, the background vocals…

Friday night, nothing much to do but hang around

College in the seventies.

“The Range War”
Todd Rundgren

Romeo & Juliet via the Hatfields and McCoys, Todd took the country genre and mixed it with pop and rock, and opined on life better than the recognized hit writers.

And “Pittsburgh”… Platitudes don’t resonate as much as specifics.


The second best song on “Straight Up,” the message resonates, as does the production, done by Todd.

“Baby Blue

More well-known than “Perfection,” also produced by Todd.

Todd Rundgren

The double album masterpiece from ’72 that contains the hit version of “Hello It’s Me” and so much more.

It opens with the Stones policy “I Saw The Light.” But even better is “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference,” the sound is magical, but so are the words. And the trifecta is completed by “Wolfman Jack,” with the Wolfman himself included, if you don’t get up and move when you listen to “Wolfman Jack” you have no legs.

“Black Maria”… The third side opener, what a burner.

Unlike the first three sides, the fourth is done with a band, it’s not Todd only, and “Dust In The Wind” triumphs with the additional singers and players, it’s a veritable “Mad Dogs & Englishmen.”

Then there’s the humorous “Piss Aaron” and the ode to venereal disease “You Left Me Sore” and I could argue that Todd belongs in the R&RHOF based solely on “Something/Anything.”

“Just One Victory”
Todd Rundgren

A kitchen sink production that begins with angelic voices and then goes to Mars, this is an unheralded masterpiece. I could go on about “Hungry For Love” and “Zen Archer” and the Motown medley, but “A Wizard/A True Star” was too adventurous for most. Rundgren played the Neil Young card, who famously gave his audience “Time Fades Away” after “Harvest,” only the hard core stayed on.

“Personality Crisis”
New York Dolls

Overhyped, they’d be completely forgotten if it were not for Todd’s production on their debut LP.

And them came…

“We’re An American Band”
Grand Funk

One of the most hated bands on the planet, I’ll admit to liking “Closer To Home (I’m Your Captain),” but if you owned a Grand Funk LP, it was evidence you had no taste until…

FM was killing AM. But automobiles had not caught up, AM ruled in cars, 8-tracks were just beginning their infiltration and therefore, “We’re An American Band” was a hit of the type seen no longer. Everybody knew it! And it’s a classic. Great lyrics, but without Todd Rundgren’s production it would be an also-ran at best.

“The Loco-Motion”
Grand Funk

Another hit, albeit a cover. I bought the original Little Eva single, this is a bit sacrilegious, but it was great to hear it again.

“A Dream Goes On Forever”
Todd Rundgren

From the double LP in a single LP jacket as a result of the paper crisis of ’74, this is nearly as good as “A Long Time, A Long Way To Go.”

One of my personal favorites on “Todd” is “Heavy Metal Kids,” which you might immediately skip over, but who can’t smile at the lyrics:

Go on and poison all the water, use up all the air
Blow your stupid heads off, see if I could care

“Real Man”
Todd Rundgren

Todd could do anything, pop, metal and now he went prog, with synths, and with one of his best vocals, put “Real Man” over the top! He’s angelic and then throaty and the key line in the chorus sneaks up on you…”there’s a real man.”

“It’s All Too Much”
Steve Hillage

From his second LP, “L.” I bought this, a trancey take that has you nodding your head in alignment whether you’re stoned or not. Also check out the opener, a cover of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” all produced by Todd.

“Love Is The Answer”

Suddenly Todd had a band and was a prog rocker, he’d left the pop sound which made his solo name for experimentation, yet at the end of this third Utopia LP is a gem that England Dan & John Ford Coley took to the Top Ten.

And when you feel afraid, love one another
When you’ve lost your way, love one another
When you’re all alone, love one another
When you’re far from home, love one another
When you’re down and out, love one another
All your hope’s run out, love one another
When you need a friend, love one another
When you’re near the end, love
We got to love, we got to love one another

A message as relevant and more important than it was back in ’77.

“Bat Out Of Hell”

The fifth best-selling album of all time. With the inimitable Phil Rizzuto included in “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” Steve Popovich died chasing Sony for royalties and proper credit on this album, maybe Todd was smart to cash out his interest.

“Can We Still Be Friends”
Todd Rundgren

Just when we were convinced he’d left his pop-rock roots behind, Todd dropped “The Hermit of Mink Hollow,” proving he could do it whenever he wanted to.

“Love My Way”
The Psychedelic Furs

Their most famous track, produced by Todd.

“Dear God”

Andy Partridge had nothing good to say about Todd, that’s actually an understatement, as a result Todd aired his feelings and now Andy has come around, but once again, Todd produced one of the most remembered albums by an act with a long career.

Of course I left stuff out!

I know Todd produced the Tubes and Cheap Trick, as well as Hall & Oates and Bad Religion, but I’m focusing on his most successful, artistically and sometimes commercially, work.

And, of course, Todd is still recording and taking chances. He did an EDM tour, he refuses to play his hits, he’s got more talent in his pinky than most members of the Hall of Fame, yet…

He is ignored.

At least he was finally nominated.

But time is passing him by. There are younger voters, and it’s turned into recognition of influence and hits and if your work is singular yet artistically triumphant that does not seem to matter.

Wankers, I tell you.

But for those who know, they believe…

Todd is God.


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