Honestly, I cannot remember not loving the music of Todd Rundgren. I remember going to the swimming pool during the Summer of 1972 as an impressionable nine-year-old and hearing the hit songs from Todd’s early masterpiece, Something/Anything? Let’s rattle them off: “I Saw the Light,” “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” and the great “Hello It’s Me.” All of those songs were played by the older kids on the jukebox that provided the soundtrack of those summer days. Play those songs, along with others by Badfinger, Deep Purple, Steely Dan, America, Elton John, and so many others, and I am transported to those long, hot summer days of learning to do flips off the diving board.
Now, I did not purchase my first Todd album until I was in high school, his classic Hermit of Mink Hollow from 1978. That was a summer of hits that barely made a dent in the Top 40 here that I loved. I am talking about Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends,” “Follow You, Follow Me” by Genesis and Springsteen’s “Prove It All Night,” all found on great albums from that year. But, for some reason, not sure if it was the melancholy singer/songwriter sound Todd was mining at the time, but I became a fan of his music. Shortly thereafter, I discovered his alter-ego band, Utopia, with their classic album Adventures in Utopia from late 1979, which completely opened up a whole new world to me. Now, I was able to consume solo Todd and Utopia Todd, which rarely mixed themselves sonically.
Utopia went all over the map, but the same could be said of Rundgren’s solo career as well. But, as a follower of his music, I have found the journey that much more enriching. Who else has had as diverse of a career as Todd Rundgren, whether pursuing his muse as a solo artist, within the players’ heaven of Utopia, as the producer of some of the finest albums by a variety of artists or as a pioneer in the field of music videos. The man’s accomplishments are legendary and should be recognized by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. For the life of me, how did he NOT get inducted in 2019? The man finished in the Top 3 in the fan balloting, yet he was left off the induction list? Come on Jann Wenner and Little Steven! Suck up your egos and let this caustic, opinionated genius of a musician into the rarefied air of the rock immortals.
Before we look into his best songs, let’s just take a look at the artists Todd Rundgren has produced. This is not a complete list, but a quick look at the classic songs AND albums the man has been involved with, none of which are solo or Utopia albums. Let’s begin with Grand Funk’s We’re an American Band, the album and title song, and “The Loco-Motion;” Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell blockbuster album, which alone probably put his children through college; the New York Dolls’ landmark debut album; the Patti Smith Group’s 1979 swansong; the most eclectic album ever made by Daryl Hall & John Oates, War Babies; The Psychedelic Furs’ most successful stateside album, Forever Now; Cheap Trick’s excellent 1983 album Next Position Please; The Pursuit of Happiness’ late-Eighties debut album and XTC’s masterpiece long-player from 1987, Skylarking. And, those are just off the top of my head!
Then, you throw in all the great music he created as a teenager with Nazz, then his classic Seventies work as a solo artist, and wrap it all up with the boundary-pushing and genre-jumping of his Utopia work, and we have been given some of the richest, most diverse music from one individual in the modern era of music. Oh, sure, Billboard will tell us that most of his songs fell well short of the Top Ten. But, who cares! Hell, the Sex Pistols and the Velvet Underground were not big sellers, but they are still in the Hall based mainly on their influence. To this very day, music fans are still discovering new artists who have co-opted Rundgren’s sound into theirs. Tell me that Kanye’s Sunday Morning Service performance at Coachella back in April did not have a touch of Rundgren shining through, then I must be deaf.
So, today, I bring forth my 30 favorite songs that Todd Rundgren and/or Utopia have recorded throughout the years.
30. “Just One Victory” (A Wizard, a True Star, 1973)
29. “A Dream Goes on Forever” (Todd, 1974)
28. “Personality Crisis” ((Re)Production, 2011)
27. “Truth” (Liars, 2004)
26. “Lysistrata” – Utopia (Swing to the Right, 1982)
25. “Disco Jets” – Utopia (Disco Jets, 2016)
24. “Hideaway” (The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, 1983)
23. “Play This Game” (P.O.V., 1985)
22. “Love in Action” – Utopia (Oops! Wrong Planet, 1977)
21. “Libertine” – Utopia (Utopia, 1982)
20. “Love Is the Answer” – Utopia (Oops! Wrong Planet, 1977)
19. “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” – Utopia (Utopia, 1982)
18. “Love of the Common Man” (Faithful, 1976)
17. “Tin Foil Hat (with Donald Fagen)” (White Knight, 2017)
16. “I Just Want to Touch You” – Utopia (Deface the Music, 1980)
15. “Chance for Us (with Daryl Hall)” (White Knight, 2017)
14. “Crybaby” – Utopia (Oblivion, 1984)
13. “Real Man” (Initiation, 1975)
12. “The Very Last Time” – Utopia (Adventures in Utopia, 1979)
11. “Time Heals” (Healing, 1981)
10. “Be Nice to Me” (Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, 1971). Okay, Todd loves to downplay the early music of his career as it being from a love-lorn, Joni Mitchell-loving romantic teen, but teens don’t convey heartache and loneliness in such mature manners.
9. “Open My Eyes” – Nazz (Nazz, 1968). This Todd’s most enduring power pop song, but he is much more than a power pop artist, as this list tries to prove.
8. “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” (Something/Anything?, 1972). C’mon Todd! This stuff is brilliant!
7. “I Saw the Light” (Something/Anything?, 1972). This song has got to be what Daryl Hall and John Oates based their whole career on, or I have NO idea what I am talking about.
6. “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (Something/Anything?, 1972). This song is my explanation for never asking out certain girls while in high school. I just lacked confidence.
5. “Bang on the Drum” (The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, 1983). Shortly after getting married, my wife said this was my life’s theme song. ‘Nuff said!
4. “Set Me Free” – Utopia (Adventures in Utopia, 1979). Technically, this is bassist Kasim Sultan’s song, but it is still a terrific take on Arena Rock. Still, I will never understand why it wasn’t a bigger hit than anything by Foreigner.
3. “Hello It’s Me” (Something/Anything?, 1972). I hear so many people my age saying this is one of their favorite songs of all time. That speaks volumes of how great a song it is, when we were all eight or nine when it was a hit.
2. “We Gotta Get You a Woman” (Runt, 1970). First, this song is the reason I have always called everyone “Leroy.” Second, I love how the whole song is about finding a buddy a girlfriend, but ends on the ironic note that “we’ll get me one too.” I love the lyrical twist, because it touches upon an eternal teenage truth: we were all that seemingly altruistic and selfish at the same time. Perfection!
1. “We Gotta Get You a Woman” (The Hermit of Mink Hollow, 1978). A perfect break-up song that speaks volumes of wanting to keep that special someone in your life even after the intensity of the flame of love has been extinguished. You’ve become so comfortable with that person that you never not want them out of your life completely. Yet, you know deep down that this relationship has got to be a total break with the person for both of you to maintain your sanity. The lyrics are so simply stated, yet so profound and elegant. Absolute pop perfection, and should be utilized in a coming-of-age movie soundtrack.
Todd Rundgren is a worthy musician of all accolades that come his way. I just hope he gets his rightful place in the Hall soon.