A Wizard Among Us
Ah, Todd Rundgren. Where, oh where, oh where to begin? Let alone when. After 40 years in the business of music, place and time begin folding back in on each other, blurring the distinctions of a remarkably distinctive career.
Say, for instance, we start with the song "I Saw the Light." A praising pastiche in the manner and glory of Carole King, it was the leading track on the 1972 LP Something/Anything? (one of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time) and, as intended, it became a hit. Yet the song also got play in the movie Kingpin, the pilot of That '70s Show, and, most recently, an episode of Six Feet Under.
Say we flash-forward a bit to 1978, and the strangely named album Hermit of Mink Hollow. Earlier this TV season, the title itself became the butt of an inside joke on 30 Rock. Earlier this decade, its single "Can We Still Be Friends?" got tracked on Nip/Tuck, and in 1994 that same song became a pivotal part of Dumb and Dumber. We won't even mention the fogies for whom the song was a smash in the first place.
Then, rewinding a bit, there's 1973's A Wizard, A True Star. Praised to high heavens in Creem by none other than Patti Smith (she'd already plugged his second Runt in Rolling Stone), it featured a cover off of Broadway's Peter Pan ("Never Never Land"). It also included a slam at a saint named Lennon ("Rock & Roll Pussy") and a song so forward it was nicked for inclusion in Daft Punk's film Electroma ("International Feel"). It also marked the beginning of prog-rock.
But we won't hold prog-rock against Todd, neither the man nor the same-named LP that followed and gave the genre a further spurt. He just happened to forecast the inevitable. And if that band of galactic wackos he led called Utopia turned the progression into a lollipop, at least he knew how to keep it sweet.
We will, however, hold him to some of his productions: Badfinger's Straight Up (with George Harrison), Hall and Oates' War Babies, Grand Funk Railroad's We're an American Band, Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell, the New York Dolls' debut, Patti Smith's Wave, the Psychedelic Furs' Forever Now, Cheap Trick's Next Position Please, and XTC's Skylarking — any one of which would be cause for wild wonder, and taken as a whole, they're reason to doubt any one man could do so much for music.
But much has the man done, and much does he continue to do. Rundgren's latest LP, Liars (his 18th!), finds the space-age, blue-eyed soul boy back where he belongs, in the midst of power pop's pantheon. With a vocal tag on Hot Chip's newly released "Shake a Fist" added to his legend, it's a cinch he's gonna stay there. Go see, hear, and believe for yourself.
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