A SECOND LOOK: Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren

A few years ago my friend and I decided to listen through all 500 of the albums that Rolling Stone had deemed “the greatest of all time.” A few months after we finished, of course, they updated the list. If we had waited we might have been spared listening to No Doubt’s Rock Steady. But I digress. Believe it or not, this post is not about Gwen Stefani.

It was during this trip through the pantheon of Rock’s Greatest Figures that I first was exposed to Todd Rundgren. His album Something/Anything? is ranked #173. A respectable number, to be sure, but it didn’t do much to stand out in my mind. Except for “Black Maria,” that is, which made me want to play in a rock band again, which, at the time, was a pretty big deal for me. You see, I had all this free time to listen to 500 albums because I had recently broken up with rock music. I was off the road and happy about it. My ears were happy about it. So was my voice. 

Anyway, fast-forward to Christmas 2013. I was getting on a plane, looking through my Spotify playlists for something to listen to, and Something/Anything? caught my eye. I downloaded it and listened, ears afresh. 

It’s a head trip of an album. Anyone could listen to it and find a song to fall in love with. But that’s the problem, too. Who in his right mind is going to dig this entire album? Who is going to want to listen to it front-to-back, sides onetwothreefour, all in one sitting? It’s a bit of a grower.

If “Black Maria” is your entry point, as it was for me, maybe you sort of slog through the yacht rock of “I Saw the Light” and “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference.” Perhaps “Wolfman Jack” gets you moving a little bit, but then you’re hit with the saccharine flute and paternal guitar picking of “Cold Morning Light.” Now you’re thinking, “Why can’t this joker make up his mind?” He isn’t making it easy for you, is he? 

Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything?But then you sit on it for a while. I’m a trusting guy. If Rolling Stone says Something/Anything? is the 173rd greatest album of all time, maybe I need to give them a little bit of credit and put in some effort. Here are some snippets of thoughts I’ve had through my Rundgrenification: 

Listen #3: Okay, that guitar solo in “Some Folks is Even Whiter Than Me” is insane. The man has chops. I’m a sucker for bongos. I’ll give it another spin. 

Listen #5: Wait. How have I missed the greatness of “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” until my fifth time around? Maybe because Todd put it in the middle of SIDE THREE even though it’s one of the greatest power pop songs of all time. Oh, Todd, you scoundrel. 

Listen #10: I could listen to the outro to “Hello It’s Me” for the rest of my life. Put that horn line in my cereal and I will eat it for breakfast. 

Listen #15: This flute part is amazing. I need to put flute on every song I release from now until the end of time. My dad needs to play acoustic guitar on my next record. 

Listen #25: That’s it. I’m naming my firstborn “Piss Aaron.” Oh, what’s that? That’s a terrible name for a boy? How about “Dumb Larry?”

Anyway, Todd is great. About a month ago I got wise to his followup album, A Wizard/A True Star. I actually like it more than I like Something/Anything?. Side One is this fantastically weird song suite in the vein of the back half of Abbey Road, but it is exponentially more surreal and hilarious than anything the Beatles ever did. Yes, including “Bungalow Bill.” 

Which brings us to the thing that endears me so much to Todd Rundgren. 

You probably don’t know me, but I’m a goofy guy. I was in the marching band; I played Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons; I’ve LARPed; I’m into superheroes and comic books; I like puns and stupid jokes. This caused problems for me, a Goofy Guy in a Serious Rock Band. My bandmates and I had many discussions about the lack of mystery I exuded from stage. I sang these serious, heavy songs, but then I made jokes about the Hokey Pokey. 

QuoteNot in a cool way, mind you. It really was stupid. They were right, to a point. But I wish I had known about Todd back when I was doing the full-time musician, frontman thing. I didn’t know it was possible for someone to be so goofy and yet such a badass. Todd owns his goofiness, displaying it in his lyrics, in the banter between tracks on his records (sometimes devoting entire tracks to that banter—see “Intro” on Something/Anything?). But then he sings like a madman, plays tastefully sick guitar riffs, and has an intuitive feel for the drums that just cannot be taught. 

Todd is a role model for nerds everywhere. Specifically, for the nerds who also happen to be nerdy about rock and roll. He reigns supreme over them.

Most people would say that title should belong to Rush. To that I say, “But have you listened to their music? It’s kind of not that good.” Maybe one day I’ll be writing another post about how I’ve come to see the error of my ways with respect to our proggy northern neighbors, but it’s not looking good. Geddy’s got nothing on Todd. 

I’m still a Todd Rundgren noob, though, to be perfectly honest. I know the two albums I’ve talked about. I plan to explore his whole catalog, but I’m going to take my time. If I’m a nerd (and I am), I want to be a nerd for Todd Rundgren records. I want to know them backward and forward. 

I feel like he would understand that.