Todd Rundgren – At the BBC: 1972-1982 (2014)

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At the BBC: 1972-1982 captures Todd Rundgren during a particularly fizzy moment, as he moves from classic pop structures to prog and then into psychedelia and back again — but before he dove headlong into solo experiments with electronics that continue unabated to this day.

The four-disc (3CD/1DVD), mostly new set includes all of Rundgren’s surviving BBC broadcasts, beginning with a Radio One performance dating back to 1972, in the wake of the career-making Something/Anything? album. So, yes, irony-free readings of “I Saw The Light” and “Hello It’s Me,” before they became pop albatrosses around Rundgren’s neck — though he does, in the manner of the day, occasionally play along with a pre-recorded backing track. A lengthy take on “Piss Aaron” at the piano is worth the price of admission.

From there, we dive head long into Todd Rundgren’s 1970s-era work in Utopia. His oft-bootlegged 1975 stop at London’s Hammersmith Odeon as part of the first UK tour of Utopia was largely familiar, even before Shout! Factory’s official release in 2012, so that makes this new Estoric box’s inclusion of a tasty previously unreleased track called “Something’s Coming” all the more welcome. (It’s also cool listening for a young Luther Vandross among the backing vocalists.)

Audio of a 1977 Oxford Polytechnic performance following the release of Ra — also a bootleg favorite, but officially unheard until now — finds Rundgren with the longest-tenured edition of Utopia, now featuring the brilliant Kasim Sulton. There seems to be no top to Todd Rundgren’s imagination during this period, making At the BBC: 1972-1982 an uncommon thrill.

The expansive 70-minute DVD, meanwhile, includes three separate visits to the Old Grey Whistle Test series, highlighted by a complete solo performance from 1982 that includes a terrific version of “Can We Still be Friends,” along with two songs (“Song of the Viking” and “Lysistrata”) that originally went unaired. A film of Utopia at 1977’s Bearsville Picnic finds them performing “Singring and the Glass Guitar” from Ra, in perhaps the only film from that eye-poppingly elaborate tour. Let’s just say there’s a giant pyramid, and an ice guitar, involved at the end. (Elsewhere, there’s Luther in a 1975 performance, too!)

Each of the discs is lovingly packaged in individual cardboard sleeves, coupled with an attractive 16-page booklet featuring track-by-track details, cool photos and a new essay by Esoteric’s Mark Powell. All that’s missing, really, is a 1972 performance by Todd Rundgren on the Old Grey Whistle Test but, alas, Powell reports that the show was erased after broadcast — along with scores of other early-1970s editions of the program.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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