Todd Rundgren

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Todd Rundgren
Todd Rundgren (8470849856).jpg
Rundgren performing with Ringo Starr in 2013
Background information
Birth nameTodd Harry Rundgren
Born (1948-06-22) June 22, 1948 (age 70)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • sound engineer
  • video producer
  • multimedia artist
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • bass
  • keyboards
  • drums
Years active1966–present
Associated acts

Todd Harry Rundgren (born June 22, 1948) is an American multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and record producer who has performed a diverse range of styles as a solo artist and as a member of the band Utopia. He is known for his sophisticated and often-unorthodox music, flamboyant stage outfits, and his later experiments with interactive entertainment. He also produced music videos, pioneered forms of multimedia, and was an early adopter and promoter of various computer technologies, such as using the Internet as a means of music distribution in the late 1990s. [1]

Utopia (band) Todd Rundgren band

Utopia is an American rock band formed in 1973 by Todd Rundgren. During its first three years, the group was a progressive rock band with a somewhat fluid membership known as Todd Rundgren's Utopia. Most of the members in this early incarnation also played on Rundgren's solo albums of the period up to 1975. By 1976, the group was known simply as Utopia and was a stable quartet of Todd Rundgren, Kasim Sulton, Roger Powell and John "Willie" Wilcox. This version of the group gradually abandoned prog-rock for straightforward rock and pop.

A music video is a short film that integrates a song with imagery, and is produced for promotional or artistic purposes. Modern music videos are primarily made and used as a marketing device intended to promote the sale of music recordings. There are also cases where songs are used in tie-in marketing campaigns that allow them to become more than just a song. Tie-ins and merchandising can be used for toys or for food or other products. Although the origins of the music video date back to musical short films that first appeared in the 1920s, they again came into prominence in the 1980s when the channel MTV based their format around the medium. Prior to the 1980s, these kinds of videos were described by various terms including "illustrated song", "filmed insert", "promotional (promo) film", "promotional clip", "promotional video", "song video", "song clip" or "film clip".

Multimedia is content that uses a combination of different content forms such as text, audio, images, animations, video and interactive content. Multimedia contrasts with media that use only rudimentary computer displays such as text-only or traditional forms of printed or hand-produced material.


A native of Philadelphia, Rundgren began his professional career in the mid 1960s, forming the psychedelic band Nazz in 1967. Two years later, he left Nazz to pursue a solo career and immediately scored his first US top 40 hit with "We Gotta Get You a Woman" (1970). His best-known songs include "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw the Light" from Something/Anything? (1972), which get frequent air time on classic rock radio stations, and the 1983 single "Bang the Drum All Day", which is featured in many sports arenas, commercials, and movie trailers. Although lesser known, "Couldn't I Just Tell You" (1972) was influential to many artists in the power pop genre. [2] His 1973 album A Wizard, a True Star remains an influence on later generations of "bedroom" musicians. [3]

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

Psychedelic music is a wide range of popular music styles and genres influenced by 1960s psychedelia, a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and DMT to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness. Psychedelic music may also aim to enhance the experience of using these drugs.

Nazz band

The Nazz was an American rock band formed in Philadelphia in 1967 by guitarist Todd Rundgren and bassist Carson Van Osten. Rundgren wrote virtually all of the group's original material. Drummer Thom Mooney and vocalist/keyboardist Robert "Stewkey" Antoni joined before their first concert, opening for the Doors in 1967. They are best known for their debut single "Open My Eyes" backed with "Hello It's Me".

Rundgren organized the first interactive television concert in 1978, designed the first color graphics tablet in 1980, and created the first interactive album, No World Order , in 1994. [1] Additionally, he was one of the first acts to be prominent as both an artist and producer. [3] His notable production credits include Badfinger's Straight Up (1971), Grand Funk Railroad's We're an American Band (1973), the New York Dolls' New York Dolls (1973), Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell (1977) and XTC's Skylarking (1986).

Interactive television form of media convergence

Interactive television is a form of media convergence, adding data services to traditional television technology. Throughout its history, these have included on-demand delivery of content, as well as new uses such as online shopping, banking, and so forth. Interactive TV is a concrete example of how new information technology can be integrated vertically rather than laterally.

Graphics tablet computer input device

A graphics tablet is a computer input device that enables a user to hand-draw images, animations and graphics, with a special pen-like stylus, similar to the way a person draws images with a pencil and paper. These tablets may also be used to capture data or handwritten signatures. It can also be used to trace an image from a piece of paper which is taped or otherwise secured to the tablet surface. Capturing data in this way, by tracing or entering the corners of linear poly-lines or shapes, is called digitizing.

<i>No World Order</i> 1993 studio album (interactive) by TR-i

No World Order is the fourteenth studio album by Todd Rundgren. It was released on July 6, 1993 for the Philips CD-i. making it the first interactive album in history. Its music was heavily influenced by electronica and rap.

Early life

A view of Rundgren's hometown, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, in 2007 From-upper-darby-1.jpg
A view of Rundgren's hometown, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, in 2007

Todd Harry Rundgren [4] was born in Philadelphia [5] [1] on June 22, 1948, [4] the son of Ruth (née Fleck; April 29, 1922 – April 6, 2016) and Harry W. Rundgren (1917–1996). He grew up in the bordering town of Upper Darby [6] and mostly taught himself how to play guitar. [7] As a child, Rundgren was fascinated by his parents small record collection, which consisted of show tunes and symphonic pieces, and especially by the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. [8] Later, he grew infatuated with the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Ventures, and the Yardbirds, as well as the Philadelphia soul of Gamble & Huff, the Delfonics, and the O'Jays. [9] At the age of 17, he formed his first band, called "Money", with then-best friend and roommate Randy Reed and Reed's younger brother. [9]

Gilbert and Sullivan Victorian-era theatrical partnership

Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the dramatist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) and to the works they jointly created. The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado are among the best known.

The Beatles English rock band

The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. The line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr led the band to be regarded as the foremost and most influential in history. With a sound rooted in skiffle, beat and 1950s rock and roll, the group were integral to the evolution of pop music into an art form, and to the development of the counterculture of the 1960s. They often incorporated elements of classical music, older pop forms, and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways, and in later years experimented with a number of musical styles ranging from pop ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock. As they continued to draw influences from a variety of cultural sources, their musical and lyrical sophistication grew, and they came to be seen as embodying the era's sociocultural movements.

The Rolling Stones English rock band

The Rolling Stones are an English rock band formed in London in 1962. The first stable line-up consisted of bandleader Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums), and Ian Stewart (piano). Stewart was removed from the official line-up in 1963 but continued to work with the band as a contracted musician until his death in 1985. The band's primary songwriters, Jagger and Richards, assumed leadership after Andrew Loog Oldham became the group's manager. Jones left the band less than a month before his death in 1969, having already been replaced by Mick Taylor, who remained until 1974. After Taylor left the band, Ronnie Wood took his place in 1975 and continues on guitar in tandem with Richards. Since Wyman's departure in 1993, Darryl Jones has served as touring bassist. The Stones have not had an official keyboardist since 1963, but have employed several musicians in that role, including Jack Nitzsche (1965–1971), Nicky Hopkins (1967–1982), Billy Preston (1971–1981), Ian McLagan (1978–1981), and Chuck Leavell (1982–present).


1966–1969: Nazz

After graduating from Upper Darby High School in 1966, Rundgren moved to Philadelphia and began his career in Woody's Truck Stop, a blues rock group in the style of Paul Butterfield Blues Band. [10] Rundgren stayed with the band for eight months, and in the process, they became the most popular group in Philadelphia. [11] He and bassist Carson Van Osten left before they released the eponymous first album [10] to form the rock band Nazz in 1967. By then, Rundgren had lost interest in the blues and wanted to pursue a recording career with original songs in the style of newer records by the Beatles and the Who. [7] As a member of Nazz, he learned his craft as a songwriter and vocal arranger and was determined to equal the artistry of the Beatles. [12] [nb 1]

'Upper Darby High School(UDHS) is a four-year public high school located in Upper Darby Township, Pennsylvania, United States, as part of the Upper Darby School District. UDHS is also the oldest high school in Delaware County, PA, having been established in 1895. It is in Drexel Hill, part of Upper Darby Township.

Paul Butterfield American blues singer and harmonica player

Paul Vaughn Butterfield was an American blues harmonica player, singer and band leader. After early training as a classical flautist, he developed an interest in blues harmonica. He explored the blues scene in his native Chicago, where he met Muddy Waters and other blues greats, who provided encouragement and opportunities for him to join in jam sessions. He soon began performing with fellow blues enthusiasts Nick Gravenites and Elvin Bishop.

Carson Van Osten was an American comics creator and musician.

In 1968, after recording four demo discs, Nazz was signed by Atlantic Records subsidiary Screen Gems Columbia (SGC) to produce its first album at ID Sound studio. Rundgren had no prior production experience and remembered that the producer, Bill Traut, "just whipped through the mixes in a day or two.... So I got it into my head, 'Well, he's gone now, so why don't we just mix it again, more like the way we want it?' Our engineer didn't mind if we went and just started diddling around on the board ... It was pretty much trial and error." [14] He took an experimental approach to the recordings, employing techniques such as varispeed and flanging, and despite having no formal training, scored music charts for string and horn arrangements. [15] Engineer James Lowe, who Rundgren recruited for his involvement with arranger Van Dyke Parks, believed that Rundgren had become the de facto leader of Nazz and that Rundgren was wrongfully withheld a producer's credit. [16]

Atlantic Records American record label

Atlantic Recording Corporation is an American record label founded in October 1947 by Ahmet Ertegün and Herb Abramson. Over its first 20 years of operation, Atlantic earned a reputation as one of the most important American labels, specializing in jazz, R&B, and soul by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Ruth Brown and Otis Redding. Its position was greatly improved by its distribution deal with Stax. In 1967, Atlantic became a wholly owned subsidiary of Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, now the Warner Music Group, and expanded into rock and pop music with releases by Led Zeppelin and Yes.

William R. "Bill" Traut was an American jazz musician, rock music producer, manager and record label executive. He co-founded the Dunwich and Wooden Nickel record labels, and produced The Shadows of Knight, The American Breed, the Siegel-Schwall Band, and Styx, among others.

Flanging is an audio effect produced by mixing two identical signals together, one signal delayed by a small and gradually changing period, usually smaller than 20 milliseconds. This produces a swept comb filter effect: peaks and notches are produced in the resulting frequency spectrum, related to each other in a linear harmonic series. Varying the time delay causes these to sweep up and down the frequency spectrum. A flanger is an effects unit that creates this effect.

Nazz gained minor recognition with their debut record, July 1968's "Open My Eyes" backed with "Hello It's Me", both songs penned by Rundgren. The group subsequently released three albums: Nazz (October 1968), Nazz Nazz (April 1969), and Nazz III (1971). [17] In March 1968, New York singer-songwriter Laura Nyro released her second album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession . [18] When Rundgren heard the record, he was struck by "all the major seventh chords and variations on augmented and suspended chords", and it had an immediate impact on his songwriting, especially as he began to compose more on piano. [19] He has elaborated:

I know for a fact that her influences were the more sophisticated side of R&B, like Jerry Ragovoy and Mann & Weil and Carole King. ... and she also had her own very original and very jazz-influenced way of seeing things. It was that extra layer that made her influential. A lot of those chords she got from other people. But beyond the elements of her composition, I always thought it was the way she played her own material that really sold it. ... I met her right after Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. I actually had arranged a meeting, just because I was so infatuated with her and I wanted to meet the person who had produced all this music. ... After I met her the first time, she asked me if I wanted to be her band leader. But the Nazz had just signed a record contract and I couldn't skip out on the band, even though it was incredibly tempting. [13]

The rest of the band struggled to accommodate his changing tastes. Nazz's second LP, intended to be a double album called Fungo Bat, was reduced to a single disc by Atlantic with approval from Rundgren's bandmates. He left the band in late 1969 due to their frustrations with his domineering behavior. Nazz III, consisting of leftover tracks from the Fungo Bat sessions, was later finished without Rundgren's involvement. [20]

1970–1982: Bearsville era

Production work and Runt

Rundgren's unhappiness with the production on the Nazz recordings prompted him to educate himself in audio engineering and production, and after leaving Nazz in 1969, he relocated to New York, signed with Albert Grossman, and began working as a producer for other groups as well as recording his own material, which was initially released through the Ampex Records label (a short-lived joint venture between Grossman and the Ampex company). He also apparently considered working as a computer programmer. [21] Subsequently, he became one of the first artists signed to Grossman's Bearsville Records label (distributed through Warner Bros. Records).

After signing with Bearsville, Rundgren worked almost constantly on production projects through the early 1970s. His first project for Bearsville was a Philadelphia band called The American Dream, followed by a trip to Nashville to produce Ian and Sylvia Tyson's group Great Speckled Bird, with a backing band featuring guitarist Amos Garrett, pedal steel player Buddy Cage, pianist David Briggs and bassist Norbert Putnam and drummer N. D. Smart, with whom Rundgren worked on several later projects. During this period, Rundgren also made an abortive attempt to record with Janis Joplin and her band for Joplin's next studio album, but the sessions came to nothing and the project was eventually taken over by Paul A. Rothchild; the result was Joplin's final LP Pearl , which Rothchild pieced together from the incomplete session tapes, following the singer's death from a heroin overdose.

Grossman recommended Rundgren to Robbie Robertson of The Band as the engineer for an album Robertson was producing, by singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester, who was at the time living in exile in Canada to avoid the draft. This was followed by a live album for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Having impressed Robertson with his work on the Winchester LP, Rundgren was then asked to engineer The Band's third album, Stage Fright , which was recorded in a series of sessions at the Woodstock Playhouse. One of these was attended by New York writer Patti Smith, and their chance meeting led to an enduring friendship. Smith wrote several strongly positive reviews of Rundgren's early solo work in the rock press, and in 1979 Rundgren produced the final Patti Smith Group album Wave .

His work for The Band was followed by a second album for Winchester (which was then shelved for two years) and the album Taking Care of Business by the James Cotton Blues Band, which enabled him to meet Cotton's keyboard player, Mark "Moogy" Klingman, who in turn introduced Rundgren to keyboard player Ralph Schuckett, both of whom worked extensively with Rundgren over the next few years. [22]

Although he had originally intended to concentrate on production rather than compose his own music, Todd formed the 'band' Runt in 1970. Accompanying him in Runt were teenagers Hunt Sales on drums and his brother Tony Sales on bass (the Sales brothers, sons of US comedian Soupy Sales, were in a short-lived band called Tony and the Tigers and went on to play with Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and Tin Machine). Rundgren himself wrote, produced, sang, and played guitars, keyboard, and other instruments. Whether Runt is best described as a band or simply a pseudonym for Rundgren the solo artist is unclear. For the album Runt (1970), the group appeared to be a bona fide trio, but on their second album, Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1971), Hunt Sales plays only on two tracks and is replaced by N. D. Smart on the rest of the album. Furthermore, only Rundgren is pictured on the covers of both albums, and both albums have been subsequently reissued with the same titles and cover art but bearing only "Todd Rundgren" as artist. Whether a solo front or a band, Runt had a No. 20 hit in the United States with "We Gotta Get You a Woman" in 1970, and two other Runt songs placed in the lower reaches of the Hot 100.

By this time, Rundgren had effectively moved his base to Los Angeles. As he prepared for his second solo album, he met aspiring LA band Half-Nelson, led by brothers Ron Mael and Russell Mael and guitarist Earle Mankey. After attending an elaborate, self-staged 'showcase' performance by the group at their LA rehearsal space, Rundgren agreed to produce their debut album, originally released as Half-Nelson and later retitled Sparks. The brothers later credited Rundgren for launching their careers, and in 2010, Russell Mael said that even in 2008, they were still "... really happy with the way it sounded. There's nothing there that really sounds 'of an era' because it didn't exactly sound 'of an era' at the time." [23]


By 1972, the Runt persona/band identity had been abandoned, and Rundgren's next project, the ambitious double LP Something/Anything? (1972) was credited simply to Rundgren, who wrote, played, sang, engineered, and produced everything on three of the four sides of the album. Something/Anything? featured the Top 20 U.S. hits "I Saw the Light" (#16; not to be confused with the Hank Williams song of the same name), and a remake of the Nazz near-hit "Hello It's Me", which reached No. 5 in the United States and is Rundgren's biggest hit. The former song featured Rundgren on all vocals and instruments. On his ensuing concert tour, his backing band was the Hello People, whose own album he later produced.

The Something/Anything? period marked a significant change in Rundgren's lifestyle. Up until that time he neither drank nor took any drugs:

"I was a complete teetotaller. I didn't take any kind of drugs or drink or anything. In fact, I had found the behavior of my peers, while they were high, to be somewhat questionable." [24]

However, he began to change his views after a visit to Philadelphia to see Randy Reed, his closest friend from his school days. Reed introduced Todd to cannabis, which he credited for its impact upon his songwriting in The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, his second solo album. In the lead-up to his third album, Something/Anything?, he experimented with various mind-altering substances including cannabis and a range of psychedelics including DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, and peyote – although he says he never (to his knowledge) took LSD. During the recording of Something/Anything?, he began using the stimulant Ritalin and he later said that it had a marked effect both on the style of his music and on his productivity:

"It (Ritalin) caused me to crank out songs at an incredible pace. 'I Saw the Light' took me all of 20 minutes. You can see why, too; the rhymes are just moon/June/spoon kind of stuff..." [25]

A Wizard, a True Star, Todd, and Utopia

Shortly after he had completed work on Something/Anything?, Los Angeles was struck by a strong earthquake, and Rundgren was sufficiently unnerved by this to move back to New York. His return east led to a long and fruitful working relationship with Moogy Klingman and the pair collaborated extensively over the next few years. They built a recording facility in Manhattan which they dubbed Secret Sound Studios, and a large proportion of Rundgren's solo and production work was done there, until his relocation to Woodstock, New York in the mid-1970s. Rundgren commented:

"With drugs I could suddenly abstract my thought processes in a certain way, and I wanted to see if I could put them on a record. A lot of people recognized it as the dynamics of a psychedelic trip—it was almost like painting with your head." [25]

A Wizard, a True Star (1973), which was sequenced as a continuous medley, featured a wildly eclectic range of songs set in dazzling arrangements and production, with Rundgren experimenting with the synthesizer and exploiting virtually every studio effect and technique then available. Backing musicians included renowned horn players Michael Brecker and Randy Brecker, guitarist Rick Derringer and several other musicians, who subsequently joined the original incarnation of Utopia. Although it featured predominantly original material (including the anthemic "Just One Victory", which became a concert favorite), the album set a pattern followed on subsequent solo albums, with Rundgren recording cover versions of his favorite songs – in this case, "Never Never Land", from the Broadway musical version of Peter Pan , and a medley of soul classics, including a unique version of the Capitols' "Cool Jerk" played in the 7/8 time signature. The album was also notable for its extended running time – over 55 minutes in length, compared to around 40–45 minutes for a typical pop-rock LP of the period. This reflected Rundgren's skills as a mastering engineer, since this extended running time took the album close to the practical maximum for an LP. Due to the inherent physical limitations of the vinyl LP medium, on records with running times over 45 minutes there is an unfavorable trade-off between duration and the audio quality and volume. On the album cover, packed with his handwritten notes, he advised listeners to crank up their Victrolas accordingly.

Rundgren playing in concert during his early years Todd Rungreen.jpg
Rundgren playing in concert during his early years

Rundgren's back-up band for A Wizard, a True Star evolved into the first version of Utopia, a larger prog-rock ensemble, which included multiple keyboards, synthesizers and brass and featured a character completely disguised in a silver suit, "M. Frog Labat" (Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi) on synthesizers, who also put out his own electronics/keyboards-based solo album. This incarnation premiered on Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974), which was book-ended by the 14-minute "Utopia Theme" (recorded live in concert) and the 30-minute suite "The Ikon", which occupied the whole of Side 2 of the album. Like Wizard, the album also showcased Rundgren's skills as a recording and mastering engineer, clocking in at over 30 minutes per side.

If I get that one minute of total illumination then I don't care if my whole career goes down the drain. I'd know there was an answer to everything—to existence, to death.

NME —September 1974 [26]

Todd (1974) continued in the vein of Wizard and featured similarly diverse material. Alongside originals such as "A Dream Goes on Forever" and "Heavy Metal Kids", both of which became concert staples, Rundgren also satirized his chosen profession with the song "An Elpees' Worth of Tunes" and revisited his teenage obsession with the music of Gilbert & Sullivan in a rendition of "The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song" (from Iolanthe ).

Initiation, Faithful, and Hermit of Mink Hollow

In contrast to Todd, Rundgren's work with Utopia and his next solo album took him decisively into progressive rock. Initiation (1975) addressed cosmic themes, showed a strong interest in spirituality (particularly Far Eastern religion and philosophy), and displayed the musical influence of psychedelic rock, as well as the avant-garde jazz fusion of contemporary acts such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa. Once again the original LP issue saw Rundgren pushing the medium to its physical limits, with the side-long suite "A Treatise on Cosmic Fire" clocking in at over 35 minutes.

Todd Rudgreen Crowd at Knebworth concert, London - 1976 Crowd at Knebworth House - Rolling Stones 1976.jpg
Todd Rudgreen Crowd at Knebworth concert, London - 1976

The 1976 album Faithful saw Rundgren marking his tenth year as a professional musician by return to the pop/rock genre, featuring one side of original songs and one side of covers of significant songs from 1966, including The Yardbirds' "Happening Ten Years Time Ago" (the B-side of that Yardbirds single gave Nazz its name) and a nearly identical recreation of The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations".

In the latter half of the 1970s, Rundgren moved to Woodstock, New York, where Bearsville Records established a studio under Rundgren's direction. He bought a home nearby and a property adjoining the studio was taken over as accommodation for artists who used the studio. The Woodstock complex became Rundgren's base until his eventual relocation to the Hawaiian island of Kauai in the 1990s. That move was in part prompted by a violent home invasion at Woodstock in the late 1970s, in which Rundgren and girlfriend (who was pregnant at the time) were tied up while the house was ransacked by a group of armed men. According to Rundgren's account, the men appeared to believe that he possessed a large quantity of cocaine (which he never used); although the family was unharmed, the men stole some valuable items including a custom-made Alembic bass guitar. Todd recovered it years later after Alembic staff spotted it for sale on eBay and it was returned to him, but was by then so badly damaged that it could not be restored.

Utopia, touring to support the Ra album at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia; 1977, L to R: Roger Powell, Rundgren, Kasim Sulton Todd-utopia-atlanta-77.jpg
Utopia, touring to support the Ra album at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia; 1977, L to R: Roger Powell, Rundgren, Kasim Sulton

When touring, Rundgren presented the music in a lavish stage setting that echoed the ambitious space-themed shows of acts like Parliament/Funkadelic and he adopted an outlandish space-rock image on stage, including multi-colored dyed hair.

After the prog-rock fusion homage, Ra (1977), Utopia moved toward a more concise pop-oriented style with Oops! Wrong Planet (1977), which included "Love Is the Answer", later a hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley, followed by the more successful Adventures in Utopia in 1980, which spawned the hits "Road to Utopia", "Set Me Free" and "Caravan". During that year, Utopia also acted as the backing band for the Rundgren-produced Shaun Cassidy solo album Wasp . Rundgren disbanded Utopia in the mid 1980s.

Faithful was followed by Hermit of Mink Hollow (1978); this included the hit ballad "Can We Still Be Friends" (covered a year later by Robert Palmer), which reached No. 29 in the United States (Palmer's version reached No. 52) and was accompanied by an innovative self-produced music video, and the album became the second most successful of his career (after Something/Anything?), reaching No. 36 in the United States. During 1978, Rundgren undertook an American tour playing at smaller venues including The Bottom Line in New York and The Roxy in Los Angeles; this resulted in the double live album Back to the Bars , which featured a mixture of material from his solo work and Utopia, performed with backing musicians including Utopia, Edgar Winter, Spencer Davis, Daryl Hall and John Oates and Stevie Nicks.

During 1977 and 1978, Rundgren attempted to tour with a true quadraphonic sound system, however it proved ultimately unworkable – despite successfully delivering high-quality sound in a concert setting – due to the enormous technical requirements involved. Since most concert arenas of the day were ill-equipped to host large towers of sound equipment in the rear of the halls, the speakers often had to be hung from the ceiling rigging. This installation could take up to two days to complete, meaning that it was necessary to send two separate sound systems, each with its own, complete set-up crew, out on the road, so that they could "leapfrog" and allow Rundgren to play dates on consecutive days, which would have otherwise been impossible. The system featured a then-new technology called "signal analysis", which required white and pink noise to be pumped through the speakers, in order to set the active equalizers so as to minimize feedback and distortion. The pink and white noise analysis had to be performed twice: once with the hall empty, and then again with the audience present, which many concertgoers found annoying. Additionally, Rundgren's insistence on personally overseeing the acoustic set-up of the system left him exhausted and unable to continue, and he pulled the plug on the experiment.

During the mid-to-late 1970s, Rundgren regularly played the eye-catching psychedelic Gibson SG (known variously as "Sunny" or "The Fool"), which Eric Clapton had played in Cream. After he had stopped using it ca. 1968, Clapton gave the guitar to George Harrison, who subsequently 'loaned' it to British singer Jackie Lomax. In 1972, after meeting at a recording session, Lomax sold the guitar to Rundgren for $500 with an option to buy it back, which he never took up. [27] Rundgren played it extensively during the early years of Utopia before retiring the instrument for a short time in the mid to late 1970s, which in that time he had the guitar restored having a lacquer finish applied to protect the paint and replaced the talpiece and bridge to stabilize tuning, bringing the guitar back out on tour during the 1980 Deface the Music tour and using it on and off throughout the 1980s until 1993 when he permanently retired the guitar, eventually auctioning it off in 1999; he now uses a reproduction given to him in 1988 by a Japanese fan. [28]

Healing and Tortured Artist Effect

1981 saw the album-long concept work Healing (1981). His music video for the song "Time Heals" was among the first videos aired on MTV, and a video he produced for RCA, accompanied by Gustav Holst's The Planets , was used as a demo for their videodisc players. His experience with computer graphics dates back to 1981, when he developed one of the first computer paint programs, dubbed the Utopia Graphics System; it ran on an Apple II with Apple's digitizer tablet. [29] He is also the co-developer of the computer screensaver system Flowfazer.

The new wave-tinged The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1982), included a cover of The Small Faces' hit "Tin Soldier". "Bang the Drum All Day", from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was a minor chart hit, which has become more prominent in subsequent years, having been adopted as an unofficial theme by several professional sports franchises, notably the Green Bay Packers, and becoming popular on radio, where it was often featured on Friday afternoons. "Bang..." was also used prominently in a Carnival Cruise television advertising campaign. It is now considered one of Rundgren's most popular songs. [30] Tortured Artist marked the end of Rundgren's tenure with Bearsville Records.

1980s–1990s: A Cappella, Nearly Human, and 2nd Wind

Rundgren signed with Warner Bros. Records, who issued his next album, A Cappella (1985), which was recorded using Rundgren's multi-tracked voice, accompanied by arrangements constructed entirely from programmed vocal samples. In 1986, Rundgren scored four episodes of the popular children's television show Pee-wee's Playhouse .

Nearly Human (1989) and 2nd Wind (1991) were both recorded live—the former in the studio, the latter in a theater before a live audience, who were instructed to remain silent. Each song on these albums was recorded as a complete single take with no later overdubbing. Both albums marked, in part, a return to his Philly soul roots. 2nd Wind also included several excerpts from Rundgren's musical Up Against It , which was adapted from the screenplay (originally titled "Prick Up Your Ears"), that British playwright Joe Orton had originally offered to the Beatles for their never-made follow-up to Help! . 2nd Wind was Rundgren's last release through a major label and all his subsequent recordings have been self-released.

Rundgren was an early adopter of the NewTek Video Toaster and made several videos with it. The first, for "Change Myself" from 2nd Wind, was widely distributed as a demo reel for the Toaster. Later, he set up a company to produce 3D animation using the Toaster; this company's first demo, "Theology" (a look at religious architecture through the ages featuring music by former Utopia bandmate Roger Powell) also became a widely circulated item among Toaster users. Most of Rundgren's Toaster work is available on the video compilation The Desktop Collection.

After a long absence from touring, Rundgren hit the road with Nearly Human—2nd Wind band, which included brass and a trio of slinky backup singers (one of whom, Michele Gray, Rundgren married). He also toured during this period with Ringo Starr's All-Starr band.

In 1992, a brief tour of Japan reunited the Rundgren/Powell/Sulton/Wilcox lineup, and Redux '92: Live in Japan was released on Rhino Records.

1990s–2000s: Interactive albums and PatroNet

The mid 1990s saw Rundgren recording under the pseudonym TR-i ("Todd Rundgren interactive") for two albums. The first of these, 1993's No World Order , consisted of hundreds of seconds-long snippets of music, that could be combined in various ways to suit the listener. Initially targeted for the Philips CD-i platform, No World Order featured interactive controls for tempo, mood, and other parameters, along with pre-programmed mixes by Rundgren himself, Bob Clearmountain, Don Was and Jerry Harrison. The disc was also released for PC and Macintosh and in two versions on standard audio CD, the continuous mix disc No World Order and, later, the more song-oriented No World Order Lite . The music itself was quite a departure from Rundgren's previous work, with a dance/techno feel and much rapping by Rundgren. The follow-up, The Individualist (1995), featured interactive video content, that could be viewed or in one case, played; it was a simple video game along with the music, which was more rock-oriented than No World Order.

Rundgren returned to recording under his own name for With a Twist... (1997), an album of bossa-nova covers of his older material. His Patronet work, which trickled out to subscribers over more than a year, was released in 2000 as One Long Year . In 2004, Rundgren released Liars , a concept album about "paucity of truth", that features a mixture of his older and newer sounds.

As the Internet gained mass acceptance, Rundgren, along with longtime manager Eric Gardner and Apple digital music exec Kelli Richards, started Patronet, which offered fans (patrons) access to his works-in-progress and new unreleased tracks in exchange for a subscription fee, cutting out record labels. The songs from Rundgren's first Patronet run were later released as the album One Long Year . Since then, Rundgren has severed his connections with major record labels and continues to offer new music direct to subscribers via his website, although he also continues to record and release CDs through independent labels. (However, as of November 2007, the website offers the following message: "PatroNet is undergoing a major software revision and is not accepting memberships at this time.")

Rundgren toured with All-Starr band for the second time in 1999.

In the summer of 2001, Rundgren joined artists such as Alan Parsons, the Who's John Entwistle, Heart's Ann Wilson and Ambrosia's David Pack for the tour "A Walk Down Abbey Road", in which the musicians played their own hits alongside Beatles favorites. They also did a short tour of Japan in the winter of 2001, and another the following year, which included Jack Bruce of Cream, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Christopher Cross and Eric Carmen.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks Rundgren created the score for the film A Face to a Name, directed by Douglas Sloan. The film depicted the many photographs of NY's missing, that were displayed on Bellevue Hospital's 'wall of prayers' following the attacks. The film was part of a special screening at the Woodstock Film Festival in 2002. [31]

Rundgren toured the United States and Europe in 2004 with Joe Jackson and the string quartet Ethel, appearing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien performing their collaborative cover of the Beatles song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". [32]

In late 2005, the Boston-based band The Cars were planning to re-form despite bassist Benjamin Orr's death and lack of interest on the part of former lead singer Ric Ocasek. Rumors followed that Rundgren had joined Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes in rehearsals for a possible new Cars lineup. Initial speculation pointed to The New Cars being fleshed out with Clem Burke of Blondie and Art Alexakis of Everclear. Eventually the group completed their lineup with former Rundgren bassist Kasim Sulton and studio drummer Prairie Prince of The Tubes, who had played on XTC's Rundgren-produced Skylarking and who has recorded and toured with Rundgren.[ clarification needed ][ citation needed ]

In early 2006, the new lineup played a few private shows for industry professionals, played live on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and made other media appearances before commencing a 2006 summer tour with the re-formed Blondie. Rundgren referred to the project as "an opportunity ... for me to pay my bills, play to a larger audience, work with musicians I know and like, and ideally have some fun for a year." [33] The New Cars' first single, "Not Tonight", was released on March 20, 2006. A live album/greatest hits collection, The New Cars: It's Alive , was released in June 2006. The album includes classic Cars songs (and two Rundgren hits) recorded live plus three new studio tracks ("Not Tonight", "Warm" and "More").


April 2011 saw the release of Todd Rundgren's Johnson , a collection of Robert Johnson covers, which had been recorded more than a year earlier. On another 2011 release, a further album of covers entitled (re)Production sees him performing tracks he had previously produced for other acts, including Grand Funk Railroad's "Walk Like a Man" and XTC's "Dear God".

Rundgren toured with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band for the third time from 2012-2017, the band featured Greg Rollie of Santana, Richard Page of Mr. Mister and Steve Lukather of Toto.

In May 2017, Rundgren released White Knight , which features collaborations with Trent Reznor, Robyn, Daryl Hall, Joe Walsh and Donald Fagen, among others. That same month, he was awarded honorary doctoral degrees from Berklee College of Music and DePauw University in the midst of a tour in support of the new album. In 2018, Rundgren performed vocals on an album, Go to School by The Lemon Twigs, released on August 24 on 4AD. The album is a musical and Rundgren plays the part of the adoptive father of a monkey called Shane, the main character. [34]

Personal life

In 1972, Rundgren began a relationship with model Bebe Buell. During a break in their relationship, Buell had a brief relationship with Steven Tyler, which resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. On July 1, 1977, Buell gave birth to Liv Tyler. To protect the child from Tyler's drug addiction, Buell initially claimed that Todd Rundgren was the biological father and named the child Liv Rundgren. Shortly after Liv's birth, Rundgren and Buell ended their romantic relationship, but Rundgren remained committed to Liv. At age eight, Liv learned that her biological father was Steven Tyler. [35] [36] [37] [ text–source integrity? ] According to Liv Tyler "...Todd basically decided when I was born that I needed a father so he signed my birth certificate. He knew that there was a chance that I might not be his, but…" He paid to put her through private school, and she visited him several times a year. [38] As of 2012, Tyler maintains a close relationship with Rundgren. "I'm so grateful to him, I have so much love for him. You know, when he holds me it feels like Daddy. And he's very protective and strong." [38]

Rundgren had a long-term relationship with Karen Darvin, with whom he had two sons, Rex (born 1980) and Randy (born 1985). Rex was a minor league baseball player (infielder) for nine seasons. [39]

In 1998, Rundgren married Michele Gray. Gray had been a dancer with The Tubes and had performed with Rundgren as a backup singer on the tour for his album Nearly Human which led to a number of appearances on the David Letterman Show as one of The World's Most Dangerous Backup Singers. [40] Together, they have a son, named Rebop.

Awards and honors


See also


  1. He said he was not enamored with the Beatles after Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and thought they lost their "momentum". [13]

Related Research Articles

Bebe Buell American model and singer

Beverle Lorence "Bebe" Buell is an American singer and former fashion model, and Playboy magazine's November 1974 Playmate of the Month. Buell moved to New York in 1971 after signing a modeling contract with Eileen Ford, and garnered notoriety after her publicized relationship with musician Todd Rundgren from 1972 until 1979, as well as her liaisons with several rock musicians over the following four decades. She is the mother of actress Liv Tyler, whose father is Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler. Buell was involved with Rundgren when she had a fling with Tyler and gave birth to Liv in 1977; she then resumed her relationship with Rundgren.

Bearsville Records was founded in 1970 by Albert Grossman. Artists included Todd Rundgren, Elizabeth Barraclough, Foghat, Halfnelson/Sparks, Bobby Charles, Randy VanWarmer, Paul Butterfield's Better Days, Lazarus, Jesse Winchester, and NRBQ. The label closed in 1984, two years before Grossman's death.

<i>Something/Anything?</i> 1972 studio album by Todd Rundgren

Something/Anything? is the third album by American musician Todd Rundgren, released in February 1972. It was his first double album, and was recorded in late 1971 in Los Angeles, New York City and Bearsville Studios, Woodstock. Three quarters of the album was recorded in the studio with Rundgren playing all instruments and singing all vocals, as well as being the producer. The final quarter contained a number of tracks recorded live in the studio without any overdubs, save for a short snippet of archive recordings from the 1960s.

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<i>Skylarking</i> 1986 studio album by XTC

Skylarking is the ninth studio album by the English rock band XTC, released 27 October 1986 on Virgin Records. Produced by American musician Todd Rundgren, it is a loose concept album about a nonspecific cycle, such as a day, a year, the seasons, or life. The title was chosen as a double entendre, referring to a type of bird (skylark), as well as the Royal Navy term "skylarking", which means "fooling around". It became one of XTC's best-known albums and is generally regarded as their finest work.

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Nearly Human is a 1989 album by rock musician Todd Rundgren, released by Warner Bros. Records. It was his first release in four years, although he had been active as a producer in the intervening years. Many of the album's songs deal with loss, self-doubt, jealousy, and spiritual recovery. It was also the first collaboration between Rundgren and Michele Gray, a singer and ex-model who helped organize the sessions. Gray sang background vocals, both on the record and on subsequent tours, and the pair later married.

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"I'm an Adult Now" is a song by Canadian band The Pursuit of Happiness (TPOH). It was written in 1985, and produced independently and first released in 1986 as a 12-inch single. Later that year, the band released a self-produced music video. As a result of the video viewership, all copies of the 12-inch single the band had pressed sold out. The band became an "independent success story" because of the song and video, and owing to this popularity was signed by Chrysalis Records in 1988.

Disco Jets is a tongue in cheek project organized and recorded by Todd Rundgren and Utopia shortly after recording Rundgren's Faithful LP and including most of the musicians from those sessions. It's an instrumental recording humorously parroting 1976's US bicentennial celebrations, disco music, science fiction films and the CB radio fads. It was released in 2001, 25 years after its recording, as part of the Todd Archive Series Vol. 4 - "Todd Rundgren Demos and Lost Albums" 2-CD set on Rhino Entertainment/Crown Japan. It was reissued in 2012 as a standalone CD import on Esoteric Recordings and in 2015 on Cherry Red. It was also released as a limited edition vinyl that was manufactured exclusively by Cherry Red for Record Store Day, only appearing in record shops from Saturday 16 April.



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