Todd Rundgren Biography

22 June 1948, Upper Darby, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. One of rock’s eccentric talents, Rundgren began his career in local bar-band Woody’s Truck Stop, before forming the Nazz in 1967. This acclaimed quartet completed three albums of anglophile pop/rock before disintegrating in 1970. Rundgren sought solace as an engineer - his credits included Stage Fright by the Band - before recording Runt, a name derived from his nickname. Brothers Hunt and Tony Sales (drums and bass respectively), later of Tin Machine, joined the artist on a set deftly combining technical expertise with his love of melody. This exceptionally accomplished album spawned a US Top 20 hit in ‘We Gotta Get You A Woman’ and paved the way for the equally charming Runt: The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren. However, it was with 1972’s Something/Anything? that Rundgren truly flourished. The first three sides were entirely his own creation - as writer, singer, musician and producer - and contained some of Rundgren’s most popular songs, including ‘I Saw The Light’, ‘It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference’, ‘Couldn’t I Just Tell You’, and a re-recording of Nazz’s sole hit, ‘Hello It’s Me’, which reached the US Top 5. Although the final side was devoted to an indulgent ‘pop opera’, the set is rightly regarded as one of the landmark releases of the early 70s.

Rundgren’s next album A Wizard, A True Star (1973) offered a similarly dazzling array of styles, ranging from a suite of short song-snippets to a medley of soul ballads, including ‘I’m So Proud’ and ‘Ooh Baby Baby’. Todd (1974), a second double-set, proved equally ambitious, although its erratic content suggested that Rundgren was temporarily bereft of direction. His riposte was Utopia, a progressive rock ensemble which initially featured three musicians on keyboards/synthesizers - Mark ‘Moogy’ Klingman, M. Frog Labat and Ralph Schuckett. Although Roger Powell latterly assumed all keyboard duties, the band’s penchant for lengthy instrumental interludes and semi-mystical overtones remained intact. A popular live attraction, Utopia taxed the loyalties of Rundgren aficionados, particularly when their unrepentant self-indulgence encroached into the artist’s ‘solo’ work, notably on 1975’s pompous Initiation, which featured the a side-long experimental synthesizer track.

Rundgren’s next album Faithful (1976) did reflect a return to pop with ‘Love Of The Common Man’ and ‘The Verb To Love’, while acknowledging his inspirational roots on side one with a note-for-note remakes of several 60s classics, including ‘If 6 Was 9’ (Jimi Hendrix), ‘Good Vibrations’ (the Beach Boys) and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ (the Beatles). In 1977, Utopia released Ra and Oops! Wrong Planet, the latter of which had Rundgren taking a less prominent role. He nonetheless maintained a frenetic workload and having already established his credentials as a producer with the New York Dolls, Grand Funk Railroad and Hall And Oates, commenced work on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, which has went on to become one of the bestselling albums of all time. The artist also recorded Hermit Of Mink Hollow (1978), a superb set recalling the grasp of pop offered on Something/Anything? and deservedly lauded by critics.

Rundgren entered the 80s determined to continue his eclectic path. Utopia’s Deface The Music (1980) was a dazzling pastiche of the Beatles’ music from ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ while another ‘solo’ set, Healing (1981), flirted with ambient styles. His earlier profligacy lessened as the decade progressed but retained the capacity to surprise, most notably on the inventive vocal-only A Cappella (1985), Rundgren’s debut for Warner Brothers Records. Production work for XTC joined later recordings in proving his many talents remained as true as ever, with Nearly Human (1989) delighting fans by marking a return to the straight pop style of his early 70s work. Rundgren also worked on the score for the off-Broadway production of Joe Orton’s Up Against It, several songs from which also appeared on his 1991 album, 2nd Wind.

Starting with 1992’s No World Order, Rundgren devoted the next few years to experimenting with CD-ROM technology and interactive discs and live shows, unwilling to trade on past glories and even renaming himself TR-i (Todd Rundgren Interactive). The Individualist (1995) was another bold release which received somewhat bemused reviews from critics. Ever perverse, Rundgren went on to re-record some of his classic songs in bossa nova style for 1997’s With A Twist before concentrating his energies on developing his Internet presence. To this end he formed the Waking Dreams collective to hatch creative ideas online, and developed PatroNet, a device which allowed subscribers to access music directly from his website.

Rundgren continued touring in the late 90s and into the new millennium but little new music emerged from the reclusive genius’ studios. A number of archive releases kept his loyal fans happy, before the artist made a surprise and welcome return to straight-ahead pop music in 2004 with the politically charged Liars.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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