Paul Fitzpatrick: London, July 2022
I first came across Todd Rundgren in the early 70s via his blue-eyed-soul classic, ‘I Saw The Light‘.
I heard it late one night as a 14 year old, whilst I was listening to Radio Luxembourg and pretending to be asleep, it was one of those songs that grabbed my attention from the get-go but unfortunately faded into obscurity with no airplay or support from the BBC cartel of the time.
I later learned that Rundgren wrote the song in 20 minutes, always intending it to be a hit single and played every instrument on the track.
Cut forward a couple of years and Rundgren’s name would come to my attention again.
Listening to the new Isley Brothers album Live It Up I was taken by one of the tracks, ‘Hello It’s Me’.
Record sleeves were our Google in these days and as I combed through the credits to find out a bit more about the song, I spotted that the composer was a certain Todd Rundgren.
In fact it was the first song the 20 year old Rundgren ever wrote, for his psychedelic garage-band – The Nazz.
Interestingly, in 1968 ‘The Nazz’ was also being used by a bunch of musicians based in Phoenix, Arizona, with a charismatic lead singer called Vince Furnier.
Once the group realised they couldn’t use the same name as Rundgren’s band, they changed theirs to…. Alice Cooper.
Rundgren would go on to re-record ‘Hello It’s Me’ in 1972 for his album Something/Anything? prior to the Isley Brothers soulful version, although Todd’s version has plenty of soul too..
I came across another classic Rundgren track in 79 – ‘Can We still Be Friends‘.
Again, the first version I heard of the song wasn’t the original but a cover by Robert Palmer, featured on his Secrets album.
It was another great song, and deeply personal, written about his ex-partner Bebe Buell (more on Bebe below) and it was at this point I realised that this guy was worth investing in.
As I dug deeper into Rundgren’s back catalogue, I started to realise how prolific he was and what an eventful career he’d had to date.
I knew by now that he was a talented songwriter and musician but I had no idea about his wizardry in the recording studio or his reputation as an innovator.
As it turned out by 1978 this native of Philadelphia had already organised the first television interactive concert, produced the first Sparks album, the first New York Dolls album, (including ‘Jet Boy’), and drum roll please…. produced Meat Loaf’s magnum opus – Bat Out of Hell, as well as playing guitar on most the tracks.
That’s not to mention production credits on albums featuring Badfinger, The Band, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, The Tubes, Hall & Oates, Grand Funk Railroad and many more.
Even the guys personal life was colourful – in the 70s he was in a long-term relationship with former Playboy Playmate and renowned super-groupie/muse, Bebe Buell who was credited for inspiring the character Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson in Cameron Crowe’s brilliant – Almost Famous.
Bebe Buell is also Liv Tyler’s Mother, and for several years, Rundgren assumed he was her father.
Unbeknown to Rundgren, Buell had an affair with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, giving birth to Liv who Rundgren believed was his daughter.
Liv was initially given the name Rundgren, for obvious reasons, and because Bebe wanted to keep Steven Tyler out of the picture due to his addictions.
Liv would eventually learn who her biological father was when she was 11 and despite Rundgren and Buell’s break up, she has reportedly maintained a great relationship with Rundgren.
A prolific musician despite his multiple production duties, since his 1970 debut album – Runt, Todd has recorded and released 36 studio albums and 10 live albums of his own or with his band Utopia.
Utopia was initially set up as a prog-rock concept however another track a lot of people will be familiar with is ‘Love Is The Answer’ written by Rundgren for Utopia’s 4th album and made into a Yacht Rock classic by England Dan & John Ford Coley.
In a testament to his song-writing skills, Rundgren is still appreciated by todays generation which is why songs like ‘I Saw The Light‘ and ‘Hello It’s Me’ are featured in current movies like Liquorice Pizza and TV shows like Ozark and And Just Like That.
Currently touring with close buddy and fellow Philadelphian Daryl Hall, Todd Rundgren, a wizard and a true star, is still going strong at 74.