Letters of Life

Todd Rundgren

Nobody I know is familiar with this name, so please press play.

I refrained from writing a post about this overlooked musician for as long as I could.

Then a 20-year-old friend said it didn’t matter that he was from an era long goneby (the ’70s) because
even people her age would find it novel to listen to something from another time. [For the record, I’ve only just discovered the music of the 70s.]

You just do a doubletake when you hear that voice! It just resounds with emotion.
And the lyrics! They have this seductive melancholy about it, and in this instance, is enigmatic. Does he or doesn’t he? [Care for her, that is.]

This multi-instrument musician wrote, played, sang, engineered and produced everything on three of the four sides of this double album, Something Anything?, considered his best by fans.

I had never heard of Todd Rundgren or his contribution to the American pop music lexicon until, oh, a month ago. I stumbled across the score of the ballad Hello It’s Me, considered the best song in his song-writing oevre, and looked it up on Youtube. I guess I haven’t looked back since. I’m smitten.

Smitten by his hooks, the quality of his lyrics, the craftsmanship of his compositions and arrangements,
and of course, his vocals. Admittedly, I’m not into his hard rock works, though I’m sure they’re quite good.
His top hits were more middle-of-the-road, which I love also: I Saw the Light, and It Wouldn’t Make Any Difference.

Despite his sheer talent, Rundgren’s singing career didn’t last beyond the 80s, in the light of the Brit invasion and the newer sound of music that took the world by storm. (The Clash, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, the Eurythmics. . . somehow, class acts like U2 managed to stay relevant even til today.) Instead, Rundgren focussed on a successful record producing career, (even producing albums for Japanese musician Hiroshi Takano) and has been hailed as a genius by industry stalwarts and fans alike.

Interestingly, one of his albums, A Cappella (1985), was recorded using Rundgren’s multitracked voice, accompanied by arrangements constructed from programmed vocal samples. The album is one of Rundgren’s most unusual in that every sound is the product of the artist’s voice. Rundgren employed overdubbing techniques and an E-mu Emulator (an early sampler), electronically manipulating the sound of his voice in order to mimic conventional rock instruments, handclaps, and other sounds. Take a listen to the hit Something To Fall Back On. This unique approach to music making was later explored by artists such as Mike Patton and Björk. Rundgren developed his visionary ideas with forerunners of today’s music-related computer apps, interactive video, and internet music distribution long before these concepts became mainstream ideas.

So. Thank you for listening to this vintage from a more innocent time.

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