Tag Archives: Todd Rundgren

Whistling in Music

Russ Stewart: London, October 2022

“Who’s the whistling Rufus?”

The miscreant in the 70s Bearsden Academy registration class refused to own up to the supervising teacher’s enquiry. 
Possibly unaware of Jimmy Shand’s greatest hit and hence confused by the question.

Inappropriate whistling should be a capital offence. 

It has its place…. 
Indicating occupancy in an unlocked public toilet cubicle. 
Encouraging your pit bull to relax it’s hold on a newborn’s throat during lambing season.
Or
As an expression of innocence as you stand, catapult in hand, next to a broken window.

It is never appropriate in a musical context.  Lennon, Ferry, Presley, Rod Stewart, Peter Gabriel, and Whistling Jack Smith…. WTF?

Why? 

Inability to write a lyric? 
Age shrunk vocal range? 
Can’t afford a sax player? (I can recommend a talented Western Australia resident who may have spare time when not dagging sheep in his hobby farm)

Picture Sir Rod in front of his bathroom mirror, engaged in some nasal hair husbandry. 
The tiling lends a supportive echo as he whistles a jaunty air. 
His rock and roll mojo has long since departed. 
He thinks : ‘got a potential hit here for my desiccated fans’. 

Thankfully none of my musical heroes have yet sunk to whistling. 

Todd Rundgren gets close.

On the otherwise excellent “Useless Begging” track he uses two coins to mimic a tap dance routine. 

Real tap dancing is cool. 

Executing a paradiddle in a puddle whilst rapping about one’s romantic attachments to “hoes”, and one’s dislike of law enforcement, would get my attention. 

The act of whistling looks ridiculous. 
Undignified puckering of the embouchure.
Budgie trills. 

Thankfully Roger Whittaker’s beard masked some of his facial contortions. 

A bearded Rolf Harris even indulged in a spot of whistling when not Waltzing Matilda (or whatever he was doing with the young maiden)  

Alas, the Bearsden Academy whistler remains at large. 

A Wizard, A True Star

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.

Before & After
Cooper & Rundgren

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..

Todd – Hello It’s Me
The Isley Bros – Hello It’s Me

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.

Todd – Can We Still Be Friends
Robert Palmer – Can We Still Be Friends

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.

New York Dolls – Jet Boy
Meatloaf – You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth
Badfinger – Day After Day

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.

Todd, Bebe & Liv
Bebe, Tyler, Liv & Todd, one big happy family

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 – Love Is The Answer

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.

Todd Rundgren with Daryl Hall

Uncovering The Beatles

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2022

Colin and I recently accepted a request from one of our American blog buddies, Dave at Sound Day, to write a piece about the Beatles.
Colin is fairly ambivalent about the fab 4, so I took on the task and focused on the topic of Beatles cover versions.


Dave’s excellent music blog, ‘Sound Day’ is worth checking out on….
https://soundday.wordpress.com/

I’ve no idea how many Beatle’s covers exist, but when you consider there are over 1,600 versions of the song ‘Yesterday’ then you’ve got to imagine there’s a fair few kicking around.

Everyone from Alvin & the Chipmunks to Wu-Tang Clan have had a go at covering a Beatles song, which is hardly surprising given how many standards they’ve written.

Growing up in the 60s I started getting into music just as the Beatles were heading towards their long and winding road. Truth be told I didn’t really appreciate their genius until I’d gone through my various Rock, Funk, and Fusion phases, but I got there eventually and learned to appreciate how talented and ground-breaking they truly were.

I have all the Beatles stuff and most of their solo stuff (sorry Ringo) but the fact that there’s a dearth of Fab Four covers in my music library is an anomaly to me.

For that reason, I decided to take a deep dive into the world of Beatles covers in the expectation that there must be a lot of overlooked gems that I’ve missed or ignored over the years.

That’s how I came to spend a tortuous afternoon recently, crunching through my personal music library as well as Apple Music & Spotify, searching for treasures…. truth be told it was a long day.

As an example, I love Aretha Franklin and the Beatles classic, ‘The Fool on The Hill’ is a favourite, so I had high expectations when I came across Aretha’s version. Similarly, I stumbled across a Santana version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps‘, potentially another winning combination, but both versions left me underwhelmed, as did the vast majority of the Beatles covers I listened to that afternoon.

As mentioned previously, there are a zillion Beatles covers out there so I’m sure there will be a few notable omissions from my listings below, for which I apologise in advance…. but like they say, ‘beauty is in the ear of the beholder’

My Top 5 Beatles Covers + 1

1) Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett – Pickett makes the song his own with his rasping vocals, a great Muscle Shoals arrangement and the introduction of a young Duane Allman who marks his recording debut with a blistering guitar solo.


2) We Can Work It Out by Stevie Wonder – When I think of this song I immediately think of Stevie’s version, with the fuzzy clavinet intro and the trademark harmonica solo. Recorded in 1970 when Stevie was on the cusp of greatness and ably backed by the ubiquitous Funk Brothers.

3) With a Little Help from My Friends by Joe Cocker – Another rare case of a Beatles cover being better than the original, a fact endorsed by McCartney himself.
Cocker took this breezy Ringo Starr version from Sgt Pepper and turned it into a soul anthem featuring another cameo from a guitar great, the legendary Jimmy Page.

And of course, this song reminds me of the fabulous ‘The Wonder Years’


4) Got to Get You into My Life by Earth Wind & Fire – Recorded for the Robert Stigwood backed Sgt Pepper project in 1978. The movie bombed and the soundtrack was a flop, but this cover, given the full EW&F treatment with their potent horn section front and centre, was head and shoulders above any other Beatle’s cover on the soundtrack.


5) In My Life by Johnny Cash – The subject matter and the fact that this was one of Cash’s last recordings makes this Rick Rubin stripped-down version even more poignant.


Honourable mentions go to
Eleanor Rigby by Aretha Franklin
Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da by The Marmalade
Dear Prudence by Siouxsie and the Banshees
Strawberry Fields Forever by Todd Rundgren
Come and Get It by Badfinger (although technically Badfinger released this track before The Beatles)

All of the above are all great versions of Beatles standards but my favourite Beatles cover isn’t available on vinyl or even as an audio download… fortunately though it was captured on film.

The song isWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps and it was performed by an all star band as a tribute to George Harrison at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
The band consists of Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Steve Ferrone, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison, George’s son, who looks on in bewilderment as Prince steals the show with a captivating performance and guitar solo that his father (and Clapton) would have been proud of.