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"I don't want to work.
I just want to bang on the drum all day."
Todd Rundgren is a cult favourite musician, singer, multi-instrumentalist and Record Producer from Philadelphia, known for his eclectic, experimental style, incredibly prolific recording and quirky sense of humour. While he's dabbled in numerous styles and has experimented a lot with his material, he largely operates within a few rock subgenres, namely: Power Pop (coincidentally, the one he made his initial name in), Hard Rock, Progressive Rock, Psychedelic Rock and Soul. His Mix and Match Musical Genres, dabbling in True Art Is Incomprehensible, cult following and emphasis on humour has earned him occasional comparisons to Frank Zappa.
Rundgren started his career as a guitarist/vocalist in the Psychedelic Rock band Nazz , which he founded in 1967 alongside bassist Carson Van Osten, drummer Thom Mooney and keyboardist/vocalist Robert Antoni. Their first album, Nazz, showcased both his arranging and composing talents and the band's heavily derivative, Promoted Fanboy sound - they sounded like a cross between The Beatles, The Who, Cream and The Yardbirds. It spawned a minor hit single, "Hello It's Me", and didn't go much anywhere. A planned double album was shortened to a single LP, Nazz Nazz, and released a year later. Nazz Nazz showed the band somewhat abandoning its psychedelic trappings and concentrating on catchy, if derivative Power Pop. Rundgren left the band shortly after, as his newfound love of Carole King, Laura Nyro and soul music didn't jibe well with their Power Pop sound. The band disintegrated shortly thereafter, and an album of the material left over from previous sessions was released, imaginatively titled Nazz III.
Rundgren officially began his solo career in 1970, and has been going steady ever since then with his musical mashups and quirky lyrics. While Power Pop and Hard Rock have remained the basic genres he operates in, at various points he's experimented with Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock (between 1973-1976 and with his band Utopia), jazz fusion, New Wave, Soul, Techno, Electronic Music and others. Predictably, he has a very sizeable Fandom but only a few, fleeting moments of mainstream success, such as the singles "Hello It's Me" (a 1972 upbeat reworking of the Nazz song with Rundgren on all instruments), "I Saw the Light", "Can We Still Be Friends" and "Bang the Drum All Day". His massive output, both solo and with his two bands Nazz and Utopia, can be a frequent source of both Archive Panic and Seasonal Rot.
He is also known for being an early adopter and innovator in the domains of Music Videos and use of computers: his video for "Time Heals" was one of the first to be aired on MTV, he developed one of the first computer paint programs for the Apple II way back in 1981, he was an early adopter of the desktop video program Video Toaster in The Nineties and was one of the first people to distribute his work online through a subscription service in the mid-nineties.
Rundgren returned to the band format through the foundation of Utopia in 1973. In its initial incarnation, Utopia was a six-piece ensemble with Rundgren, Kevin Ellman (percussion), Mark "Moogy" Klingman (keyboards), M. Frog Labat (Jean Yves Labat, synthesizers), Ralph Schukett (keyboards), and John Siegler (bass and cello). Their output was largely formed of long, jammy Progressive Rock instrumentals that brought a mixed reception. By 1976, Rundgren revamped Utopia and reduced it to a four-piece band consisting of him, Kasim Sulton (bass, vocals), Roger Powell (keyboards, vocals) and Willie Wilcox (drums, vocals). They also switched to a catchy, mainstream pop/HardRock sound, bringing them critical and commercial success. They carried on for a while, leaning increasingly towards Pop and New Wave, before calling it a day in 1986.
He also has a flair for cutting-edge computer technology as well. He designed one of the earliest digital paint programs, Utopia Graphics System for the Apple II. He was a fan of the Amiga VideoToaster, with which he made music videos for his own songs. He had an online distribution system for his music, PatroNet, in the early 90s, long before Napster or iTunes.
Alongside his solo career and work with bands, Rundgren is also known as a Record Producer, having produced albums for such acts as New York Dolls, Badfinger, The Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler, Patti Smith, The Tubes, XTC, Bad Religion, Cheap Trick, The Psychedelic Furs, and so on. Some of the bands have claimed that working with him was difficult and he acted like a Jerkass, most famously XTC and Bad Religion. However, for many bands their most successful albums have been produced by him, as is the case with XTC (Skylarking), Grand Funk Railroad (We're an American Band) and Meat Loaf (Bat out of Hell).
- Nazz (1968)
- Nazz Nazz (1969)
- Nazz III (1970)
- Runt (1970)
- The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1971)
- Something/Anything? (1972)
- A Wizard, a True Star (1973)
- Todd (1974)
- Initiation (1975)
- Faithful (1976)
- Hermit of Mink Hollow (1978)
- Healing (1981)
- The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1983)
- A Cappella (1985)
- Nearly Human (1989)
- 2nd Wind (1991)
- No World Order (1993)
- The Individualist (1995)
- With a Twist (1997)
- Up Against It (1998)
- One Long Year (2000)
- Liars (2004)
- Arena (2008)
- Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974)
- Another Live (1975)
- Disco Jets (recorded 1976, released 2001)
- Ra (1977)
- Oops! Wrong Planet (1977)
- Adventures in Utopia (1980)
- Deface the Music (1980)
- Swing to the Right (1982)
- Utopia (1982)
- Oblivion (1984)
- P.O.V. (1985)
- Affectionate Parody: The Utopia album Deface the Music is largely a parody of The Beatles, from their early Merseybeat incarnation up to their trippy Psychedelic Rock stuff.
- All There in the Manual: His liner notes for Something/Anything?
- Break Up Song: "Hello It's Me"
- Cover Version: "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" by The Yardbrids, "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys, "Rain" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" by The Beatles, "If 6 Was 9" by Jimi Hendrix, "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)" by Bob Dylan, "Two Little Hitlers" by Elvis Costello.
- And with Utopia, a cover of "Do Ya" by The Move.
- And to keep things interesting, he's covered "Cool Jerk" in 7/8 instead of its normal 4/4...
- Epic Rocking
- For Want of a Nail: "The Want of a Nail".
- Must Have Caffeine: "Hot Espresso (All Jacked Up)" from The Individualist.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: Faithful
- New Sound Album: Almost every one of them.
- Pop Star Composer: He scored Dumb and Dumber.
- Promoted Fanboy: Musically speaking, his early Nazz output is largely a game of smashing together his favourite bands (The Who, The Beatles, Cream and The Yardbirds, mostly).
- Record Producer