Todd Rundgren

b0264449807169c5e2febaeead8417c2.1000x1000x1When you think of memorable Todd Rundgren albums, you have to start with Something /Anything (1972). It’s his most commercial work and contains his signature song, “Hello, It’s Me.” Is it his best? I would say this is his most accessible work.  There are all kinds of potential singles on the four vinyl sides.  Something/Anything is a pop songwriter’s wet dream.

Rundgren would soon feel hemmed in by pop ballads and explore other genres, with less success, but he simply redoubled his efforts and plunged ahead. He was already developing a name as a producer, so there were many fields of opportunity.

His most ambitious work of the decade?  Initiation which had maybe his best single, “Real Man,” but the album veered into very complex experimental instrumental work that took up a full album side and stretched the audio ability because the grooves were nearly narrow to accommodate all of the music. That’s a story for another time.

Something/Anything was Rundgren mainly by himself in the studio. Only one of the four sides contains a full band, the rest is essentially Rundgren playing all the instruments. He’s a talented and versatile musician on guitar and keyboards, but he’s a passable bass player and barely adequate on drums. Sorry, Todd.

Most of the songs were recorded in Los Angeles, then he moved back the East Coast. Rundgren of course produced the tracks himself. He definitely is a wizard, a boy genius in the studio, he can dream it and play it. This two-album set is pretty incredible and introduced him to a legion of fans.

At the time, I don’t think Rundgren knew what kind of performer he wants to be known for.  Progressive rocker, old-time rock and roller, musical theater song stylist, or love balladeer? He did them all well, but it sometimes confused his fans.

Side one: A Bouquet of Ear-catching Melodies – Rundgren categorized the album’s contents under four headers  This side definitely had the ear candy.

1. “I Saw the Light” 2:56  Another romantic ballad, released as a single.  Along with “Hello, It’s Me,” these songs would pretty much define him as a writer of infectious, singer-songwriter type songs of love.  A rolling groove with swelling vocals.  Nice start to the album.

2. “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” 3:50  Yet another romantic ballad, light and wrapped in a soft R&B beat.  You might thing that Todd was Paul McCartney reborn with his gift for melody.

3. “Wolfman Jack” 2:54  A rocker, sounding like it was lifted from a Motown recording session.  Old time rock and roll.

4. “Cold Morning Light” 3:55  Back to the romantic ballads.  Chalk another one as a success.  Where does he get these songs?  No wonder why teenage girls loved this album, he captures the freshness, joy and pain of love.  Great song arrangement.

We are close, we are friends
And our love never ends
But in the cold morning light I see
That you won’t be back for me
The wound you left is healing and then
It starts itching and I scratch it open again
So the pain comes out and I give in

5. “It Takes Two to Tango (This Is for the Girls)” 2:41  A repeating keyboard riff powers this song.  Sounds a bit too much like “We Gotta Get You a Woman.”

6. “Sweeter Memories” 3:36  A bluesy, soul ballad.  A bit more guitar on this song.

There’s a cloud in the sky and it’s raining on you
Still you try to keep dry but your troubles leak through
And you’ve lost all you could, feeling sad
Choose your reveries
Keep the good, leave the bad
Take a few of these, the sweeter memories

Side two: The Cerebral Side – This was really more of the same, but it ventured into his Gilbert and Sullivan notion.

1. “Intro” 1:11  Todd instructing listeners the proper way to get the most out of the album.

2. “Breathless” 3:15 An uptempo rocker, an instrumental, and a good one.  Keyboard-driven.

3. “The Night the Carousel Burnt Down” 4:29 Todd must really like musical theater, he might have been born at the wrong time.  His songs and presentation are very theatrical. His next album would take full advantage of this talent.

4. “Saving Grace” 4:12  A great melody and presentation.  An underrated song on an album of other very good songs.  If you sample the album, remember this one.  Very keyboard dominated tune, with some fine nuances and style shifts.

5. “Marlene” 3:54  A light, love ballad.  A beautiful melody and poignant vocal performance.  One of his best and the outro is especially nice. Listen to the end.  I’ve read comment that suggest the Brian Wilson influence here, and that’s apparent.  Too bad Todd never connected with the Beach Boys.  That sweetness of melody and layered harmony is a shared talent.

6. “Song of the Viking”2:35 Back to the musical theater style. A nice melody but goofy song.

I am a Viking of some note
Knut’s my name and here I float
Out on the sea in a great big boat
And I’m the one who beats the drum in time
To stroke the oars that drive our galleons on
And while we rowed we had our song

7. “I Went to the Mirror” 4:05  A piano blues song about seeing an aging person looking back at you.

Side three: The Kid Gets Heavy – This side is heavier by comparison.

1. “Black Maria” 5:20  A bluesy, rocker.  One of the heavier songs on the album.

2. “One More Day (No Word)” 3:43  Back to the piano, a syncopated beat, and a nice melody.  A song of being away and missing someone, hoping for the day you get to return home.

3. “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” 3:34  A rollicking up-temp song, with fine acoustic guitar work, and later some electric guitar solos.

But couldn’t I just tell you the way I feel?
I can’t keep it bottled up inside
And could we pretend that it’s no big deal
And there’s really nothing left to hide?

4. “Torch Song” 2:52  A soft love song, on piano.  You might think Todd has loved and lost before with so many aching songs of unspoken, lost or longing to be loved.

Somewhere in the back of my heart it?s there
And every day it finds me and reminds me
I will bear my cross
I will bear your cross too
I will pine forever
I will torch on for you
I will carry my torch for you

5. “Little Red Lights” 4:53 An out of control rocker. Reminds me of the Edgar Winter Group.  You can only play so many piano love songs before you need to let it loose.

Side four: Baby Needs a New Pair of Snakeskin Boots (A Pop Operetta) – This side features Todd with a band of shifting players.  Outside of songs, this is the weakest part of the album.

1. “Overture–My Roots”  Songs from Todd’s youth, a real garage band sound.  Todd really liked Motown and still does.

• “Money (That’s What I Want)” (Janie Bradford, Berry Gordy, Jr.)

• “Messin’ with the Kid” (Mel London)” 2:29

2. “Dust in the Wind” (Mark Klingman) 3:49  Moogy Klingman (Bette Midler) wrote this really nice song (not the Kansas song).  This could have been a nice single if it had been released as one.  Don’t skip this one.  Really nice horn work.

3. “Piss Aaron” 3:26  A story song. The weakest number on the album.

4. “Hello It’s Me” 4:42  What can you say about this song?  Try to resist it.

5. “Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me” 3:56  Todd making a statement about how we view others.  A funky rocker.

6. “You Left Me Sore” 3:13  A song about getting a social disease.  The nice melody doesn’t really help.

7. “Slut” 4:03 A rocker, a J. Geils type riff, but not very inspired.

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