I am a big fan of Todd Rundgren. To me, Rundgren is a rock and roll renaissance man. He got his start at the end of the 1960s as the leading visionary of a Philly blue-eyed soul/power pop band, Nazz. Even within this young, inexperienced band, Rundgren was writing songs, producing the band, singing and playing lead guitar and even engineering the album. All of this experience allowed Rundgren to get engineering jobs, even working on albums by esteemed artists such as The Band. Additionally, Todd was getting jobs to produce other artists. Over the years, Rundgren has produced diverse artists such as Daryl Hall & John Oates, Grand Funk, the New York Dolls, The Psychedelic Furs, XTC and Meat Loaf, to name just a few.
Yet, Rundgren was also songwriter and band leader. After Nazz’ third album fizzled, Todd embarked on a solo career, that got off to a pretty fast beginning. By the time he released his third album, Something/Anything? in 1972, Todd Rundgren was on the fast track to superstardom. That’s when Rundgren began to vacillate between an experimental artist and a commercial star. This jumping back and forth led him to start a group that would consist of members who were songwriters and virtuosos on their instruments. That band, named Utopia, started as a progressive rock band. But, eventually, all of the members of that band started to move toward a power pop band after beginning as a prog band. As the 1980s began, Utopia became the best outlet for Todd’s musical vision.
While Todd’s solo career stayed within the blue-eyed soul bandwidth at the time, Utopia became something of a musical playground. In 1980, Utopia released their biggest-selling album called Adventures in Utopia. But, since this is Todd Rundgren we are talking about following up success with a left-hand turn. In this case Utopia followed up that album with a Beatles pastiche, Deface the Music. That album is full of songs that could have been found on any Beatles album. Then, in 1982, Utopia, sensing a huge political change that was sweeping over the country, released the brilliant album title Swing to the Right, which was the band’s liberal warning to the general population about turning its back on the progressive programs of the New Deal and the Great Society. Ironically, this album’s topic continue to ring true to the day.
As Utopia started down the power pop path, Todd began to release me blue-eyed soul music to the masses. By the end of the 80s, Utopia broke up, leaving Rundgren to follow his creative muse, which went in many different directions. He was one of the first people to envision an MTV-type TV channel years before MTV ever joined the world of cable television. Additionally, Rundgren worked on computer music, much like an updated version of Kraftwerk or Can. Finally, he pushed the production lessons he learned over the years by creating an album that was totally done a cappella with his own voice. The result was interesting, but it was not commercial in the least bit. After taking it easy in the 90s, Rundgren has released several albums in the 21st century. The sounds have run the gamut from his blue-eyed soul sound, power pop and arena rock to prog rock, EDM, blues and pop music with various guest vocalists (this is his upcoming album, White Knights, which is due to be released next month).
So, today, here are my Top 15 Favorite Todd Rundgren songs, be it solo, with Nazz or as an equal part of Utopia.
15. “One World” – Utopia (1982, Swing to the Right). Well, Rundgren talks about a concept that will never be seen in a world of conservatism.
14. “Crybaby” – Utopia (1984, Oblivion). Todd proves that he still knows how to do great power pop.
13. “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” – Utopia (1982, Utopia). On this double album, Utopia proved that they were the masters of nearly every musical genre. This song proves Todd is still in touch with love of the Beatles.
12. “Love Is the Answer” – Utopia (1977, Oops! Wrong Planet). Rundgren hoped this was the song that would break Utopia into the Top 10. The song did have Top 10 power, but not for Utopia. It was a version by England Dan & John Ford Coley.
11. “I Just Want to Touch You” – Utopia (1980, Deface the Music). Here is the flip-side of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, topping all the power poppers who began making noises on the scene.
10. “That Could Have Been Me (featuring Robyn)” – Todd Rundgren (2017, White Knight). Yes, this song has just been released, but it’s a beauty. If the rest of the album is half as good as this song, Todd may have another hit album.
9. “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” – Todd Rundgren (1972, Something/Anything?). The first of three classic songs from Rundgren’s masterpiece LP. This is a terrific slice of Philadelphia blue-eyed soul.
8. “I Saw the Light” – Todd Rundgren (1972, Something/Anything?). Something/Anything? is a classic album, one of the greatest ever released, and Todd shows his power pop muscles on this song.
7. “The Very Last Time” – Utopia (1980, Adventures in Utopia). What a great arena rock song! This band is so underrated.
6. “Bang the Drum All Day” – Todd Rundgren (1983, The Ever-Popular Tortured Artist Effect). Thanks to this song, Todd Rundgren can be heard in nearly every stadium and arena in the US, if not the world. It’s one heck of a celebration song.
5. “Open My Eyes” – Nazz (1968, Nazz). The first hit that Rundgren ever wrote, he continues to play this song on tour. When I saw him in 2009, Todd and band played the whole album Arena live that night but opened the show with this song.
4. “Set Me Free” – Utopia (1980, Adventures in Utopia). This just might be Rundgren’s finest vocals ever recorded. And he set them over a great arena rock song. For whatever reason, neither solo Todd nor Utopia ever went in this musical direction again. Go figure!
3. “Hello It’s Me” – Todd Rundgren (1972, Something/Anything?). Yes, this is the first Rundgren song I remember ever hearing. It is a beautiful version of this song that was originally released on Nazz’ first album. It may very well be his most popular song he has ever recorded.
2. “Can We Still Be Friends” – Todd Rundgren (1978, Hermit of Mink Hollow). Back when I first heard this song, I honestly thought it was going to be HUGE. But, in 1978, blue-eyed soul wasn’t what people wanted to hear. At the time, they only wanted boom and bombast.
1. “We Gotta Get You a Woman” – Todd Rundgren (1970, Runt). This is a beautiful slice of power pop with a touch of soul that only a Philadelphia artist like Rundgren, or Hall & Oates, could make. I love the way the singer sings about finding his friend LeRoy a woman, and then turning the lyrics in the last verse at the very end of the song by saying after getting Leroy, “we gotta get me one too.” Perfection!
As a Todd Rundgren fan, I could have thrown in 15 to 20 more songs. But, in an effort to show some self-control, I kept my list to 15 strong songs. Let me know what favorite songs of yours that I left off my list.