Here’s the order of my Todd Rundgren purchases: Back to the Bars, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, Arena, Something/Anything? Weird, I know. There are some artists I’ve ignored over the years and Rundgren is one of them. (For some reason, David Bowie is on that list too.) In fact, I only bought Something/Anything? more recently after reading Bebe Buell’s memoir Rebel Heart.
I had sort of forgotten what a huge figure Todd Rundgren was (and still is) in the rock world. Buell (note: I saw Bebe Buell play a show at the University of Maine way back in the early 1980s. Bebe Buell and the B-Sides was the opening act, followed by Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops, both of whom were in support of the legendary Bill Chinnock) reminded me that maybe I needed to start filling in the holes in my Rundgren collection.
So yes, I’ve owned Back to the Bars — it actually released in December of 1978 — longer than any of the other albums. The thing is, it feels new. That’s because I bought it from a cutout bin and man, that sucker is warped like you wouldn’t believe. I was never able to play the whole thing. The warp is so bad that it launched the cartridge right off the record’s surface. It was possible to listen to some of the songs if you skipped the first two tracks from each side. Years later, I bought a linear-tracking turntable that could play nearly anything — except this album.
Things changed when I acquired a nice VPI turntable for my “holy-crap-i’m-turning-40” present to myself. The ‘table has a record clamp that pulls the vinyl right down to the platter’s surface.
What struck me about this recording was the power and flexibility of Todd Rundgren’s voice. If you consider the sequence of “The Verb ‘To Love’” into “Love In Action,” you’ll first hear Rundgren at his most soulful, followed by the full-on roar of “Love In Action.” I noticed this contrast much later, though the arena rock of “Love In Action” resonated on first listen many years ago.
I guess I must have made it through that first side. Oh, my poor turntable.
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