A lot of people don’t remember Todd Rundgren today, and it’s really a damn shame. Because, back in his late-1970s and early-1980s heyday, Todd Rundgren was the man.
These days, when people think of Todd, what they most likely remember him for are the brilliantly constructed pop classics “I Saw The Light,” “We Gotta’ Get You A Woman,” and especially “Hello, It’s Me.” If ever there was a more perfect pop single than that, I have yet to hear it.
But beyond the great pop songs, and the multi-colored hair you see on those late night “Midnight Special” infomercials today, Todd was more known back then as something of a musical renaissance man.
Sure, he wrote great pop songs. But the slightly ahead-of-its-time musical sophistication of his early solo albums — on which he played every instrument, and oversaw every aspect of the actual recordings — also made him the most sought after producer of his time. It is only when you check Todd Rundgren’s credits as a producer back then (which include everyone from Hall and Oates and Patti Smith, to Badfinger and Grand Funk Railroad) that you start to realize just how pivotal he was in shaping the sound of the seventies.
In truth, Todd Rundgren was something like the Rick Rubin of his day.
But it doesn’t stop there. On his own records, things went much deeper. For every fluffy piece of pop like “Hello, It’s Me,” Todd explored everything from fusion-jazz to avant-experimentalism on albums like the tragically slept upon A Wizard, A True Star.
These days, when it comes to Todd’s own albums, it’s the two-disc pop classic Something/Anything? that gets the most love. But his 1974, lesser known Todd is by far the more musically adventurous record. On this largely forgotten (and probably out-of-print) album, Todd goes from the pristine pop of songs like “A Dream Goes On Forever,” to styles incorporating everything from 1970s glam metal, to Zappa-esque, fusion-laced humor, to Brian Wilson-influenced symphonic sweep and beyond. There are even tap-dancing sequences on this record (but more on that in a minute).
The thing is, Todd displays every bit the studio sophistication of much more universally lauded masterpieces like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds or Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland (both of which share many qualities with Todd, by the way). Yet, it receives nowhere near the same level of critical recognition as those albums do.
Like I said, it’s a damn shame. Because Todd was all over the map on that record in the best way. From the heavy metal cast, blue eyed soul of “The Last Ride” to the ferocious stomp of the “King Kong Reggae,” Todd is an unsung classic.
So the good news is, he has brought it back. On this concert DVD, recorded in 2010 in his hometown of Philadelphia, Todd Rundgren and his all-star band of great musicians recreate the Todd album from start to stop. What is most amazing about this DVD, is just how well they pull it all off, right down to the studio trickery that went into the making of this amazing, if historically overlooked record.
Todd’s voice is a bit deeper these days. But he still hits the high notes perfectly, particularly on “The Last Ride,” his great take on the Philly soul that was so prevalent back when this album was originally recorded. He also nails the incendiary, closing guitar solo of the original.
Even more impressive, is the way Todd’s band is able to recreate the multiple layers of the original recording in a live setting. All of the studio bells and whistles of the original 1974 Todd sessions are faithfully reproduced here — from the multi-layered symphonics of “I Think You Know,” right down to the tap-dancing of “Useless Begging” (which drummer Prairie Prince handles beautifully).
As for the other guys in the band, they include longtime Rundgren mates like Utopia bassist Kasim Sultan and former Cars keyboard player Greg Hawkes (who looks for all the world like a Rodney Bingenheimer clone here in his blond, pageboy bowlcut).
This great band also gets some great chances to flex their considerable musical muscle, and totally rock out on tracks like “Heavy Metal Kids,” and especially “Everybody’s Going To Heaven/ King Kong Reggae.”
This is a great concert DVD, from one of the most underrated (at least from a present day perspective) visionaries of the original seventies era we regard today as “classic rock.”
There is only one bonus feature here, but it’s a good one. Noted sportscaster Roy Firestone — who is apparently also a major league “Toddie” as he puts it — sits Todd himself down for an interview, in which the man opens up about a variety of subjects ranging from his love of the band Yes, to his recollections of how George Harrison dissed him on the production credits for Badfinger’s Straight Up.
You won’t want to miss this one. In stores, February 14.
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