Todd Rundgren: An All-Starr To XTC, A Wizard In Every Way
Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images – Todd Rundgren
Todd Rundgren, circa 1977 in Los Angeles.
Todd Rundgren, in addition to being a tech wizard, is a true rock star. As Pollstar went to press, he received this third nomination to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for a career spanning more than 50 years as a musician and in-demand record producer.
Like many kids who grew up in the 1960s, Rundgren was attracted to music at least in part because of The Beatles. And he has a career-spanning connection with the band and, especially, drummer Ringo Starr with whom he’s toured in several incarnations of the All-Starr Band. And certainly he follows in the steps of the Fab Four with his experimentation in the studio on his own and others records, dating to his debut album with Nazz in 1968.
In addition to his earliest albums with Nazz and later Utopia, his prodigious solo recordings include landmark albums such as 1970’s Runt (which included his breakout single, “We Gotta Get You A Woman”), Something/Anything (“Hello, It’s Me,” “I Saw The Light”), A Wizard, A True Star; Hermit of Mink Hollow (“Can We Still Be Friends”), The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (“Bang The Drum All Day”) Nearly Human, and No World Order.
He’s released 24 albums over the course of his career, and plans to release another, Space Force, later this year. Nazz, his first band, released three albums and Utopia, nine. Currently, he’s preparing to break ground again with his 25-city “Clearly Human” virtual tour where he’ll be based in Chicago but creating unique livestreamed concerts focused on each city.
But it’s in the recording studio where Rundgren seems most at home. In addition to self-producing, he’s had a hand in creating some of the greatest albums of the rock era for others.
One of his earliest efforts is the completion of Badfinger’s 1971 power-pop masterpiece, Straight Up, which contained seminal hits like “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue” and was released on The Beatles’ Apple Records. Rundgren was brought in to finish the record after George Harrison became unavailable while putting together the historic Concert For Bangladesh.
He went on to produce the New York Dolls’ eponymous debut album in 1973, returning to the board in 2009 for the band’s final album, Cuz I Sez So. The Dolls join Rundgren this year as Hall of Fame nominees.
Perhaps his most notable producer credit goes to Rundgren’s work on Meat Loaf’s monster album Bat Out Of Hell (1977), which followed the successes of two Grand Funk Railroad records (We’re An American Band and Shinin’ On) and fellow Philadelphians Hall & Oates’ breakout War Babies. He produced many more important records with artists including The Tubes, The Psychedelic Furs, Cheap Trick, XTC and Bad Religion, to name just a few.
In more recent years, his Beatles connection only deepened through his friendship with Ringo Starr.
“We put together a little extemporaneous band for the Jerry Lewis telethon back in the late ‘70s, and that was when I first played with Ringo, first met him actually,” Rundgren says. “We were doing that and we had a lot of fun together. And that’s why he asked me to join up with the band.”
Rundgren didn’t initially take up the offer because “I was preoccupied with Utopia, probably, so I wound up in the third iteration of the band and we went out for a summer.”
Starr would “shake up the band” every year, but Rundgren would return for what he calls “the fourth iteration” and then took an extended break from the All-Starr Band. But in 2011, he rejoined and “that particular lineup stayed together for five years or so and I toured with them for five years. By the end of that, it was enough for me and especially for Ringo,” he says.
“That said, this was a great experience. A great bunch of guys got to go to places in the world that they definitely would not have gotten to otherwise. But when I left the band, you know, they continued. I think at this point it is something that he doesn’t necessarily do every year anymore. Yeah, he kind of semi-retires and then when that bothers him enough, he’ll go back out.”