Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 22 June 1948, Philadelphia PA) Singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist. Inspired by the British Invasion and by earlier groups like the Ventures, he acquired a guitar and formed Woody's Truckstop; left within a year to display burgeoning talents in the Nazz, named from a Lord Buckley routine, including bassist Carson Van Osten (b 24 September 1946 NJ), singer Robert 'Stewkey' Antoni (b 17 November 1947 RI), drummer Thom Mooney (b 5 January 1948 PA). First LP Nazz '68 was produced by Michael Friedman; Rundgren was introduced to the studio by remixing it. He produced and recorded Nazz Nazz '69, left after Nazz III '70 to specialize in production. The LPs sold poorly at the time, and the third didn't chart; later, on Rhino, they were regarded as classic US pop.

Albert Grossman hired him as producer/engineer at his Bearsville studio near Woodstock, NY, the label called Ampex then, later renamed after the studio; he produced American Dream and Ian and Sylvia, engineered for the Band, Paul Butterfield, released own first solo Runt (incl. top 20 'We Gotta Get You A Woman'), all '70. The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren '71 was also finely crafted pop with harmonies aplenty; he played everything except drums as well as producing. He produced Jesse Winchester, Badfinger, Sparks (then called Halfnelson); his own stunningly varied two-disc Something/Anything? '72 included soul, heavy metal, pop, again almost all played by himself: top 30 LP USA with hit singles 'Hello It's Me' (no. 5; an old Nazz song no. 66 '69) and 'I Saw The Light' (top 20 USA, 40 UK). A Wizard/A True Star '73 slipped, revealing perennial Rundgren problem of too many songs and ideas for one album. He produced the New York Dolls, Grand Funk, Fanny '73; his own two-disc Todd '74 was accompanied by the formation of Utopia for heavier sounds and the chance to be guitar hero, with keyboardists 'Moogy' Klingman (b Mark Klingman, 7 September 1950, in or near NYC; d 15 November 2011, Manhattan), Roger Powell and Ralph Shuckett, with John Siegler on bass, John Wilcox on drums, Kevin Elliman, percussion; by '77 only Powell and Wilcox remained, with Kasim Sulton on bass. LPs Todd Rundgren's Utopia '74, Another Live '75, Ra and Oops! Wrong Planet '77 indulged HM leanings with bombastic production to boot, also used on first Meat Loaf solo LP Bat Out Of Hell '79: the marshalling of personnel from Utopia and Bruce Springsteen's band with Loaf's colossal voice and grandiose sound won platinum status world-wide.

He also produced Gong guitarist Steve Hillage, Tom Robinson, the Tubes, Patti Smith. Further Utopia LPs were Adventures In Utopia '80, Deface The Music '80 (Beatles send-up), Swing To The Right and Utopia '82 (latter with five-track 'bonus' LP), Oblivion '84, P.O.V. '85, Trivia '86. Solo LPs were Initiation '75, aptly titled but pointless Faithful '76 (with re-creations of Beatles, Yardbirds and Beach Boys hits), Hermit Of Mink Hollow '78 (the name referring to his studio habitat) was the best since '72, almost an album of classic demos, with 'Can We Still Be Friends' (covered by Robert Palmer), 'You Cried Wolf' (covered by Night, etc). Also two-disc live Back To The Bars '81, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect '83. On most solo albums he still played almost everything himself, but on A Cappella '85 he re-created sounds of instruments by feeding his voice through a synthesizer, the most adventurous use of vocals since Brian Eno/David Byrne's 'found' voices on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts '81.

He toured with an eleven-piece group to promote A Cappella; further albums were Nearly Human '89, 2nd Wind '91; he continued producing Shaun Cassidy, Psychedelic Furs, Meat Loaf collaborator Jim Steinman, Rubinoos, Cheap Trick, Jules Shear, others; video-making also restricted live performance ('Time Heals' a notable video). His work was too fragmented for superstar status, yet every LP charted until No World Order Lite '94. He is one of USA pop's enigmatic all-rounders. In June '95 he put his Individualist CD on the Internet, the first recording artist to do so; he was paid a royalty, but there was no agreement between the online services and ASCAP and BMI, the biggest problem of its kind since the rise of broadcasting. With A Twist '97 on EMI/Guardian was remakes of some his best songs in bossa nova style.