Todd Rundgren’s melodies on mind

Monday, April 2, 2012 11:01

Pop’s wizard, a true star, performs here Tuesday and again in

By George Varga |

Todd Rundgren will perform here two times this year, in two very different configurations. the former-boy-wonder-of-rock-turned-pioneering-pop-auteur leads his four-man band to town Tuesday for a sold-out performance at downtown’s all-ages Anthology. On July 20, he returns for an already nearly sold-out show at the all-ages Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay as a member of the 2012 edition of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band.

For this longtime fan, though, enjoying Rundgren without a ticket to either concert — and without playing any songs from his 30 or so solo albums — is easy. That’s because I can summon up a reasonable amount of his music almost any time, in my mind (and, no, I don’t have an audio memory chip implanted in my brain, at least not yet). Rather, I can recall the melodies, lyrics and arrangements to dozens of Rundgren’s songs, simply because they are so good.

The playlist in my mind starts with “Open My Eyes” and “Hello It’s Me,” both from the 1968 debut album by his first band of note, The Nazz. (“Open My Eyes” was most recently covered by The Bangles on the veteran Los Angeles group’s 2011 album, “Sweethearts of the Sun”).

Even more vivid is, well, every song from 1969’s “Nazz Nazz,” Rundgren’s classic second album with the Nazz(whether on the red vinyl version coveted by collectors, or on a nearly as antiquated CD). It included “Meridian Leeward,” one of the first (and still one of the best) rock songs about an undercover police officer, replete with hippie garb, assigned to the narcotics division).

The album “Nazz III” was a dud, but I still smile at the memory of “Loosen Up,” Rundgren’s sly satire of Archie Bell & The Drells’ “Tighten Up.”

“Runt,” released in 1970, was his first solo album and the first on which he handled all the instruments and vocals himself. It wouldn’t be long before the young Prince, who soon became a major fan of Rundgren’s band, Utopia, began taking some serious notes.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip several classic solo albums and fast forward to Utopia’s 1980 gem, “Deface the Music,” which still ranks as the best simultaneous Beatles’ homage and loving parody since The Rutles’ self-titled 1978 debut.

Then, in the windmills of my mind, I’ll recall songs from just some of the landmark albums Rundgren produced for other artists, starting with The Band’s “Stage Fright,” Jesse Winchester’s “Third Down, 110 To Go,” Badfinger’s “Straight Up,” Fanny’s “Mother’s Pride,” Hall & Oates’ “War Babies,” Steve Hillage’s “L” and XTC’s “Skylarking,” all without a sound audible anywhere except in my mind.


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