Posts Tagged ‘Todd Rundgren’

My dad, circa 1972.

My dad, circa 1972.

As many of you know, I have a pretty extensive music collection. I recently did a rough count and when you include albums, 45s, cassette tapes, CDs, and downloads I have over half a million songs in my collection. Yeah, I know. Hard to believe but it’s true. That’s a lot.

I have the complete works of several artists, including The Beatles, R.E.M., Eels, Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Chi-Lites, Bob Dylan and many others. My collection is very eclectic, from The Osmonds to Frank Sinatra to Tchaikovsky to Hank Williams to . . . you get the idea.

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Something/Anything?For those of you who are unaware, Todd Rundgren is one of the most underrated, underappreciated, and generally unknown to the mainstream musicians of the rock era (click on his name to see his amazing self-maintained website). He began his career as the leader of Nazz (they had 3 albums entitled Nazz, Nazz Nazz and Nazz III – Todd evidently cared little about catchy album titles), and he later recorded under the name of Runt.

An accomplished musician, Rundgren can play virtually every instrument. His style really can’t be classified, but it’s been said that his early 70’s stuff was an early form of power pop that was profoundly influenced by soul music and 60s rock, especially The Beatles and The Beach Boys. His music also featured sophisticated chord progressions unlike most songwriters of his day, or today for that matter. He sometimes demonstrated an interest in other genres as well, such as hard rock, progressive rock and experimental music. In other words Rundgren is all over the charts musically.

In the mid 70s he fronted another group on the side called Utopia that was more of an anthemic, progressive rock type of band. Rundgren is well-known in the biz as a great producer as well, having produced albums for Badfinger, The New York Dolls, Grand Funk, Meat Loaf (“Bat Out of Hell” no less), Cheap Trick, The Band, and scores of others. And oh yeah, his music video for “Time Heals” was one of the first to air on MTV. Suffice to say the cat’s been on the cutting edge of rock music for quite some time.

If I haven’t snagged your attention yet, maybe this will do it – Todd also produced music for both Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the movie Dumb and Dumber. Oh yeah, so NOW he’s cool, right?

My support for Todd’s induction into the Rock Hall has been well documented. I mean, ABBA’s in there? For realz? Have mercy.

Anyway, I tell you that to get to this – Rundgren’s 1972 masterpiece, Something/Anything? is simply one of the greatest albums in history. It’s a double album, and it came with some of the coolest liner notes I can remember. Liner notes are a thing of the past in this day and age of digital downloading, but trust me when I say there was nothing better than peeling the wrapper off a double album, opening it up like a book, and reading all the informational tidbits contained therein. It’s hard to get the same vibe with those digital “interactive booklets” that come with iTune album purchases, ya know?

On Something/Anything? Rundgren played every instrument on the first three sides. The fourth side was something entirely different but I’ll get to that shortly. The album contains a wide variety of music, from the pop musings of “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light” to the rockin’ “Some Folks is Even Whiter Than Me”, “Slut”, and “Wolfman Jack.” Throw in the whimsical “Piss Aaron” and the raunchy “You Left Me Sore” and “It Takes Two to Tango” and this album’s got it all.

The real treat for me, however, was the aforementioned side four. It consists of seven songs that were done straight through, live in studio, complete with false starts, goofing between songs, laughter, and general insanity. Imagine you’re sitting in the corner for 30-minutes listening to Rundgren and the band jam away. That’s what I did on many a cool summer night in the summer of ’72 and ofttimes since. Believe me when I say that it’s a must-listen for any true rock music aficionado.

Something/Anything? was ranked #173 on Rock’s Greatest All-Time Albums by Rolling Stone magazine. In my opinion they missed the mark by about 150 spots. With its mix of beautiful pop confection, pristine production, lighthearted sense of humor, live in-studio spontaneity, and flat-out rock and roll, this album has everything you need in one beautifully crafted musical masterpiece.

Here’s the album in its entirety. Let ‘er play . . .

Something/Anything? – Todd Rundgren

Note: I was casually walking through City Center in C-Bus a few years ago when I literally ran into the man himself. My hands flew to my face as I yelled, “TODD RUNDGREN!” Immediately his hands flew to his face as he responded, “YES!” Bastard was mocking me. After a couple minutes of my blathering on about his music and what it meant to me and him realizing not only that I wasn’t a lunatic but I in fact knew what I was talking about, we had quite the in-depth conversation about the state of music in general. Nice life-moment for me I must admit.

[Originally published on April 12th, 2012.]

Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet.

Or maybe you have. Who am I to judge? Anyway…

Over the years I have been a huge fan of several bands I felt sure would hit the big-time. Some have and some haven’t. It’s a pretty hard and fast rule that when you love an unknown band and they hit it big some of the lustre immediately wears off. I remember listening to REM back in the early 80′s, and there was something cool about knowing something other music fans didn’t. Then, after the world woke up to them, things changed. I went from watching them along with a couple hundred other fans in a Springfield, Ohio gymnasium to watching them in 20,000 seat arenas. Trust me, there’s nothing more annoying than sitting beside some idiot screaming “SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE!” Sing SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE!” when all you want to hear is some of the early stuff like “Gardening at Night” or “Pretty Persuasion.” Sidenote: REM doesn’t play that song anymore and I know not why. It’s all a part of life’s rich pageant after all.

I must admit it has given me some satisfaction over the years when a former student has come up to me and said, “I remember you playing Mudhoney and Soundgarden in class w-a-y before we knew what grunge was all about” or “How in the world did you get away with playing Frank Zappa music to a bunch of 8th graders?” Hell, I have no idea. In my mind I was just expanding musical and cultural horizons the best I could, so to speak.

But back to the point of this blog. There are still several bands/artists left that, for the life of me, I cannot figure out how they’ve missed out. For the record, I won’t include the following artists because, though not necessarily mainstream, they have achieved some sort of notable success:

  • The Eels – The Eels are so big (especially in Europe) that I don’t think E is starving or anything. It was a slow grind but I think they’re near the top of the music scene in some circles now.
  • They Might Be Giants – Although not widely known, they’ve been too commercially successful to make my list. Still love ‘em, especially live.

Now let’s get to the artists that, for one reason or another, have not found the pot at the end of the rock rainbow. Rock Rainbow. Wasn’t that a psychedelic band from the late 60′s? And what exactly would be in a pot at the end of a rock rainbow? The mind reels. But again I’m off-point. Apologies all-around.

Let us begin. Thank ya kindly in advance for clicking on the links as ya go.

  • Nerf Herder – This band was at the forefront of the Punk-Pop sound that came alive in the early to mid-90′s. Picture a cross between Blink-182 and Weezer. Better yet, think Nerf Herder = Peyton Manning, Blink 182 = Eli Manning, and Weezer = Cooper Manning (Note: I’m awesome). These guys have a clean, catchy, whimsical, hook filled sound combined with some of the most intelligently offbeat lyrics in rock music. Granted, a lot of the stuff is tongue-in-cheek and downright juvenile, but I love it. Give a listen to “New Jersey Girl” and you’ll catch the vibe. For a spot of fun, put on “Sorry“, a true punk/pop gem. Just make sure the headphones are on.
  • Teenage Fanclub – These guys from Scotland have been around since the early 1990′s and have never quite caught on, and I know not why. Their sound will remind you of The Byrds, Tom Petty, The Beach Boys, Big Star, hell, even America. They combine great guitar layered tunes, tight harmonies, and smooth vocals. They’ve been solid for almost 20-years now. Give a listen to “Sparky’s Dream” and see if I’m lyin’.
  • Fury in the Slaughterhouse – Easy there, easy. Don’t let the name fool you. These guys ain’t no punk speed metal outfit. Instead, these German badasses play straight ahead rock (with a good dollop of pop) that will leave you wanting more. Formed back in ’87, the lead singer (Kai Uwe Wingerfelder) has a strong, unique voice that brings a certain panache to any song. Listen to “Milk and Honey” to get the vibe.
  • Hoodoo Gurus – What can I say? My love for the Gurus is well documented. There’s nothing fancy about these Aussies, they’re pretty much straight-up unapologetic rockers. For a treat, download “Like Wow – Wipeout“, a Hoodoo Guru classic. Even better, check out “Death Defying“, and sing along with the chorus.
  • Matthew Sweet – When Mathew Sweet released “Girlfriend” in 1990 it was hailed by critics as a masterpiece and Sweet was annointed the NEXT BIG THING. He never quite rose above that great album, at least in the critic’s minds, although I’ve stuck with him through all the ups and downs. Listen to 1993′s “The Ugly Truth” or 1995′s “We’re the Same” for some vintage Sweet. By the way, he’s ungodly good live.
  • Carbon Leaf – Carbon Leaf is a band that I first heard down in The Outer Banks, and I’ve since fell in love with their sound. At first I thought they were some Celtic based band from Scotland or Ireland (where the hell is Celtic music based anyway?) but it turns out they hail from none other than Richmond, Virginia. Who knew? Anyway, you must listen to the music to get what I mean. Give “What About Everything?” a go and let me know what you think. Note: Lead singer Barry Privett decribes their sound as “Porch Music”.
  • The Alarm – These guys are sort of a poor man’s U2 I guess, although I’d put that the other way around (blasphemy!). They emerged as an 80′s alt group and, although they can be a tad pretentious (I told you they were U2ish) they have a great sound. A lot of their stuff is political and rock anthem oriented which is fine by me. Listen to “68 Guns” and “Spirit of ’76” to get the feel. Sidenote: Saw these guys open for Mr. Bob Dylan in 1989. Unforgettable.

There are others I could put on the list, such as:

  • Steve Forbert – In my mind this cool cat should be ranked right up there Petty and Mellencamp.
  • John Hiatt – Maybe the most underappreciated rockers of our time.
  • Todd Rundgren – Pretty well-known, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why he’s not a household name. A true genius.

So there you go. I’m sure you all have some faves that you think of in the same way.

Let’s hear ‘em.

Originally published on April 1st, 2012, and before that on my old website Rock Hard Times.

Great song, amazing lyrics.