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Todd Rundgren: Reissues

The Runt’s unique transition from pop to prog.

Some time in the very early 70s, Todd Rundgren, hitherto a teetotaller, started drinking and doing drugs. Fortunately, he was a high-functioning user and his work at this time effectively reflected the bizarre and fuzzy things happening in his head as a result of his newfound substance ingestion. They also reflected his need to break out of the confines of the pop mould, in which he had brilliantly proven himself as both a performer and producer.

Todd’s belated expansion into more proggy territory was unconventional. He made more extensive and stranger use of synths, and was determined to be as autonomous as possible, even constructing his own 16-track studio while simultaneously high on Peyote.

1972’s Something/Anything? (810) is his last pop hurrah, blue-eyed, affectionate pastiches of Motown (Couldn’t I Tell You) delivered with the gloss of a Steely Dan but also the subtle facetiousness of a Zappa, and with dazzling accomplishment. For A Wizard, A True Star (910), Rundgren expanded into more electric, song cycle territory – odd changes and time signatures, an abrupt, fast-cut cinematic sensibility (its nearest relation is probably Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle), again delivered with a munchkin frenzy, pop virtuosity at its most un-solemn.

With Todd (710), speedy musical delivery and satire are once again to the fore, the latter especially on An Elpees’ Worth Of Toons but there are also hints of the more earnest, exploratory elements that would characterise his more spiritualist period with Utopia. These albums represent his best times, his fun times.

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.