One Track Mind: Todd Rundgren and the Nazz, "Open My Eyes" (1968)

“Open My Eyes” goes all the way back to Todd Rundgren’s first stop in his long and storied musical career, those wonderful Brit-pop masters from Philly, the Nazz.

The Nazz, a band that lasted for less than three years in the late 1960s, might never would have been remembered for more than perhaps the first and largely forgotten version of Rundgren’s “Hello, It’s Me”, if not for “Open My Eyes.” “Hello, It’s Me” was the lone single culled from The Nazz’s eponymous debut album in 1968. “Open My Eyes” was the B-side of that single. (Todd later recycled “Hello” into a monster hit for himself in 1973).

Even though The Nazz was a four-piece band featuring capable musicians, and a keyboardist named Stewkey Antoni sang the lead vocals, the band was driven by the creative force of a just-maturing Rundgren. TR wrote the two aforementioned tunes — hell, he wrote nearly all the band’s tunes.

Already his compositions were revealing some of his legendary knack for melody and gut-socking raw emotion neatly wrapped in a three minute package. Rundgren could also add his crunching electric guitar and imaginative arrangements to the mix.

Never did he pull it all together better in the Nazz years than he did for his psychedelic rave-up “Eyes.” Admittedly based a on a riff inspired by The Who’s “Can’t Explain,” proceedings get underway with Stewkey’s organ and first generation Rhodes followed quickly by Todd’s acid fuzz guitar, amply supported by Carson VanOsten’s rolling bass and Thom Mooney’s drums and bongos.

The lyrics don’t have the depth of Rundgren’s later work, but it hardly matters when they’re hard to make out except for the “can’t see a thing ’til you open my eyes” chorus. Eh, it’s that monster hook in the tune that grabs you. And if you think that Rundgren’s gift for soft, Beatlesque melodies didn’t fully blossom until later, the brief, sweet bridge that’s plopped right in the middle of the song will prove to you that Todd has always been Todd. This interlude — featuring some gorgeous harmonies — would have been right at home on Something/Anything?.

After a decent guitar solo by the multi-talented mastermind and one last verse/chorus, the song fades out in a psychedelic haze at a very single-length two and a half minutes.

Why this song didn’t just tear up the charts in 1968 is a mystery to me; being on the A side would have helped matters, however. At a time when the British were taking American rock ‘n’ roll and doing it better than the Americans, the Nazz with their knockout tune “Open My Eyes” were nearly outplaying the chaps at their own game.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.