Utopia Biography

Formed in 1974 by Todd Rundgren (22 June 1948, Upper Darby, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; guitar/vocals), this progressive rock band was initially known as Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and comprised Mark ‘Moogy’ Klingman (b. 7 September 1950, New York City, New York, USA; keyboards), M. Frog Labat (b. Jean-Yves Labat, France; synthesiser), John Siegler (b. 3 April 1951, New York City, New York, USA; bass/cello), Kevin Ellman (b. 18 May 1952, New York City, New York, USA; percussion), and Ralph Schuckett (b. 2 March 1948, Los Angeles, California, USA; keyboards, ex-Clear Light). Their alluring debut Todd Rundgren’s Utopia mainly comprised lengthy and complex pieces that had been heavily influenced by the output of Yes. By the release of the somewhat grandiose Another Live, Labat and Ellman had been replaced by Roger Powell (b. 14 March 1949, Front Royal, Virginia, USA) and John ‘Willie’ Wilcox (b. 21 September 1951, Trenton, New Jersey, USA).

Klingman and Schuckett subsequently left as the band slimmed to a four-piece, with new bass player Kasim Sulton (b. 8 December 1957, Brooklyn, New York, USA) joining Rundgren, Powell and Wilcox prior to the recording of the disjointed, Egyptian-themed RA (1977). Probably the band’s most extravagant release, the spectacular stage show alone cost in the region of $2 million to produce, and included a 20-foot golden sphinx (nicknamed ‘Maurice’ by the band) as a centrepiece. Possibly as a reaction to the onset of punk, Oops! Wrong Planet, with its tales of urban strife and hostility was released later that year and comprised more accessible, and shorter new wave pop tracks. The similarly punchy Adventures In Utopia (1980) followed, and aided by the heavy rotation of the album’s singles (including ‘Set Me Free’) on the fledgling MTV, became Utopia’s most successful album, reaching number 32 on the US album chart. The widely acclaimed Deface The Music, comprised bitingly accurate yet affectionate Beatles pastiches, with a number of the songs appearing on the soundtrack to the movie Roadie.

Utopia continued to release albums during the early and mid-80s, but these veered further away from their progressive rock roots and, with their following becoming increasingly alienated, their gradual commercial decline began. Their last studio release of original material, POV (1985), reached a mere 161 in the US charts and the band dissolved shortly afterwards. They re-formed in the early 90s to perform a number of concerts in Japan (spawning a live album) but disbanded at the tour’s conclusion.

Although later works were at best patchy, Utopia remain a perennially underrated band as the release of their finer material on two recent compilations blatantly illustrates.

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

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