TODD RUNDGREN-RUNT AND THE ALTERNATE RUNT.
TODD RUNDGREN-RUNT AND THE ALTERNATE RUNT.
Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer describes Todd Rundgren. His career has spanned over forty years. During that period, Todd Rundgren released three albums with Nazz, and over twenty solo albums. His debut solo album was Runt which was released in 1970. Runt marked the debut of the man many thought would be be crowned King.
Runt which has been recently rereleased by Edsel, as a double album, marked the solo debut of Todd Rundgren. Disc one features the original version of Runt. Then on disc two, there’s what’s referred to as The Alternate Runt. It features the November 1970 miss-pressing of Runt. This includes previously unavailable songs like Say No More and an uncut Baby Let’s Swing. There’s an early version of Hope I’m Around, and alternate mixes of I Believe In Me, We Gotta Get You A Woman and Devil’s Bite. The Alternate Runt shows another side to Todd Rundgren’s debut album, Runt. It was the album that launched Todd Rundgren’s solo career.
Todd Rundgren was only twenty-two when he released Runt. Already, it looked like Todd Rundgren was destined for greatness. His career had started in 1967, when he was just nineteen. That’s when he joined Woody’s Truck Stop. They were a Philly based band who seemed to model themselves on Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band. This wasn’t the direction Todd saw his career heading. So Todd and bassist Carson Van Osten left Woody’s Truck Stop in 1967, and formed Nazz.
To complete the lineup of garage rock band Nazz, drummer Thom Mooney and keyboardist and vocalist Robert “Stewkey” Antoni were drafted in. Nazz released a trio of albums between 1967 and 1971. They were a fusion of garage, proto punk and psychedelia. Their debut was released in 1968.
By April 1968, Nazz were signed to SGC Records. They were ready to record their eponymous debut alum Nazz. It featured ten tracks. Todd wrote eight tracks and cowrote Wildwood Blues. Less than a year after forming, Nazz were ready to record their debut album.
To produce Nazz, two producers were drafted in. Bill Traut was a musical veteran. His career started in the forties and since then, he’d done everything. This included production. He produced four tracks.
Michael Friedman had no experience as a producer. However, this didn’t stop him producing Open My Eyes and Hello It’s Me. The other four tracks were produced by Nazz. Again, they had no experience. It was a case of learning on the job. This worked.
When critics heard Nazz, they realised that Nazz was a significant album. It’s best described as a fusion of garage rock, psychedelia, proto-punk and even blues. Nazz would go on to influence several generation of bands. Big Star, New York Dolls, Queen, Kiss and David Bowie. This groundbreaking album was released in 1968.
Open My Eyes was chosen as the lead single from Nazz. It reached number 112 in the US Billboard 100 charts. This was a huge disappointment. However, when Nazz was released in October 1968, it reached number 118 in the US Billboard 200 charts. Considering Nazz were a new band, they must have been relatively happy with this. Then things improved.
Hello It’s Me was released as a single, reaching number sixty-six in the US Billboard 100 charts.For Todd, his decision to leave Woody’s Truck Stop was vindicated.
Not long after the release of their debut album, Nazz were back in the studio. They’d just returned from a UK tour. It was cut short after Nazz encountered problems with visas. So they headed home and got to work on their sophomore album Nazz Nazz.
Originally, Nazz Nazz was meant to be a double album. This wasn’t how it panned out. The band disagreed about whether they should release a single or double album. Some members of Nazz felt that given they were a young, almost unknown group, releasing a double album was a step too far. Double albums were more the territory of experienced and successful bands. Todd Rundgren disagreed.
Todd felt a double album allowed a band to experiment and take their music in unexpected directions. In Nazz’s case, Todd wanted to include piano-based songs, in the vain of Laura Nyro. Sadly, he was outvoted. Undeterred, Todd got to work.
For Nazz Nazz, Todd wrote the ten songs on the album. This wasn’t the only change. He took charge of the horn and strings arrangements. Nazz dispensed with a producer. They decided to produce Nazz Nazz themselves. This wasn’t a surprise. During the recording of Nazz, the band produced four tracks. The next logical step was producing an album. Their decision was vindicated in April 1969.
Released to critical acclaim in April 1969, Nazz Nazz reached number eighty in the US Billboard 200 charts. This should’ve been a cause for celebration. After all, back in 1969, groups had to sell a lot of albums to reach number eighty in the US Billboard 200 charts. Nazz had come a long way in two years. It looked as if Nazz were on the verge of making a breakthrough. That wasn’t to be.
The cracks had been showing since the recording of Nazz Nazz. The band were divided. Three members of Nazz wanted their music to move in the direction of Cream, The Beatles, The Yarbirds and The Who. Not Todd. He wanted take their music in unexpected directions. In Nazz’s case, Todd wanted to experiment and move Nazz’s music in unexpected directions. An example were the piano-based songs, in the vain of Laura Nyro. It was three against one. Nazz were a band divided. So Todd left Nazz and embarked upon a solo career.
Nazz were all but over. They never recorded another album. Their final Nazz III comprised previously unreleased tracks. Originally, Nazz Nazz was meant to be a double album. When this never happened, a number of songs were left over. However, to some extent, Todd was rewritten out of Nazz’s history.
On Only One Winner, Resolution, Its Not That Easy, Take The Hand and How Can You Call That Beautiful, Todd Rundgren’s vocal doesn’t feature. No. Robert “Stewkey” Antoni’s vocals were overdubbed. This didn’t help sales of Nazz III.
Nazz III was released in May 1971, to coincide with the release of Todd’s sophomore album Runt, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. This was the followup to Runt, which launched Todd’s solo career. However, Nazz III failed to chart. In some ways, this was an ignominious end to Nazz’s career. As Nazz’s career fizzled out, Todd’s career took off. It began with Runt.
After leaving Nazz in 1969, Todd headed to New York and worked with Albert Grossman. This was what Todd refers to as his musical education. He was determined to learn everything he could about audio engineering and production. To do this, he worked alongside Albert Grossman and also, produced a number of groups. Todd also produced his own material. This included Runt.
For Runt, Todd penned ten tracks. He put together a tight, talented band for the recording of Runt. Recording took place in New York. Some musicians played on just one track. Others played on several tracks. The rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Hunt Sales and bassist and percussionist Tony Sales. Guest artists included The Band’s drummer Levon Helm and bassist Rick Danko on Once Burned. Drummer Bobby Moses, bassist John Miller and Mark Klingman feature on I’m In The Clique. Bassist Don Ferris, drummer Mickey Brook and guitarist Don Lee Van Winkle featured on Birthday Carol, which closed Runt. It was released in 1970.
We Gotta Get You A Woman was chosen as the lead single from Runt. It reached number twenty in the US Billboard 100 charts. Then came the main event, Runt. On its release Runt divided the opinion of critics. Runt wasn’t a huge commercial success. It stalled at number 185 in the US Billboard 200 charts. For Todd this was a bitter blow. However, since then, Runt is perceived as one of Todd Rundgren’s finest albums. I’ll tell you why.
Broke Down and Busted opens Runt. Just a tenderly strummed guitar gives the arrangement a melancholy sound. Soon, Todd’s hurt-filled vocal sweeps in. It’s accompanied by the rhythm section and searing, blistering guitars. They mix blues and rock. Cooing, sweeping harmonies accompany Todd as he delivers an emotive, vocal powerhouse. Although only twenty two, Todd sounds like he’s lived and survived the lyrics. Sounding like a modern day bluesman, he and his band seamlessly fuse blues and rock. Crucial to the track’s success are the blistering, riffing guitars that drive the arrangement to its dramatic crescendo.
Believe In Me sees Todd change tack. He deliver a beautiful, heartfelt ballad on this piano lead track. This is the direction Todd envisaged taking Nazz in. There’s a nod to Laura Nyro. It’s also reminiscent of the direction Carole King’s music would head in. Accompanied by soothing, cooing harmonies, Believe In Me shows another side to Todd Rundgren.
Stabs of jaunty piano, cymbals and bass open We Gotta Get You A Woman. They set the scene for Todd’s urgent vocal. Accompanied by handclaps and harmonies, he dawns the role of singer-songwriter, and revels in it. He’s determined to mend his friend’s broken heart. They’ve tried everything. There’s no option. “We Gotta Get You A Woman.” As he delivers the lyrics, there’s similarities to Laura Nyro and Randy Newman. Just like this talented pair of songwriters, Todd paints pictures with his lyrics.
Who’s That Man bursts into life and is driven along by the rhythm section, pounding piano and scorching guitars. Todd has changed direction again. It’s an explosive slice of rock ’n’ roll. Blistering guitar riffs, Jerry Lee Lewis’ style piano, harmonies and a thunderous rhythm section are the perfect foil to Todd, as he charges through the lyrics. In doing so, he turns back the musical clock to rock ’n’ roll’s heyday.
Once Burned is a piano lead ballad featuring a wistful Todd. He’s had his heart broken, and is determined it won’t happen again. Here, he reminds me another troubled troubadour, Harry Nilsson. Both breath meaning and emotion into lyrics. With a piano and rhythm section for company, Todd lays bare his hurt and heartache. The result is a beautiful ballad tinged with melancholy.
From balladry, Devil’s Bite sees Todd turn his hand to power pop. After an understated introduction when Todd strums his guitar, Who style guitars cut loose and the rest of the rhythm section cut loose. Todd delivers a gravelly, lived-in vocal. It’s controlled power. Again, there’s a nod to The Who. As chugging guitars and pounding drums combine, percussion and harmonies accompany Todd cut loose. They unleash some virtuoso guitar licks. Duelling guitars ferociously fight for supremacy as Todd and his band deliver a barnstorming performance.
I’m In The Clique sees another change in direction. Straight away, there’s a prog rock influence. Todd’s vocal has a futuristic sound, as he delivers lyrics tinged with sarcasm and humour. This attempt at humour doesn’t quite work. The only saving grace is the arrangement, or at least parts of it. Horns rasp and help drive the arrangement along. Soon, the band kick loose. Elements of prog rock, jazz, funk, psychedelia and rock combine. This makes up for the lyrics. An eerie, howling sound sits above the arrangement, as Todd and his band showcase their skills. Just when you think the situation had been rescued, the ill advised, chanted vocal returns. As a result, I’m In The Clique is best described as a track that must have seemed a good idea at the time.
There Are No Words is a compelling track. It veers between haunting and eerie to ethereal. Washes of cooing harmonies sweep in. They have a Beach Boys’ influence. They’re unaccompanied and eventually, take on a relaxing, ambient and experimental sound.
Over five minutes, Todd and his band run through a medley of Baby Let’s Swing, The Last Thing You Said and Don’t Tie My Hands. Again, there’s a Beach Boys influence on the piano lead ballad Baby Let’s Swing. That’s down to the interplay between the lead vocal and harmonies. This continues on The Last Thing You Said. It’s as if Todd had drawn inspiration from Brian Wilson on this, joyous, hook laden track. Don’t Tie My Hands sounds has a late-period Beatles sound. This isn’t surprising, given Let It Be had just been released. Other influences include power pop and the Beach Boys, as Todd Rundgren seamlessly combines musical influences and genres.
Birthday Carol, a nine minute epic closes Runt. Wistful strings set the scene before Todd throws a curveball. After a minute, braying horns, blistering guitars and the rhythm section join forces. They combine blues and rock. With this being a longer track, Todd and his band enjoy the opportunity to take the music in different directions. This is apparent after three minutes. Suddenly it’s all change. Just Todd, his piano and harmonies combine. He’s transformed into a balladeer. Again, there’s a Beach Boys influence. Then for the last couple of minutes, Birthday Carol becomes an explosive, slice of good time, blues rock. It’s a delicious way for the musical chameleon, Todd Rundgren to close his debut album Runt.
Chameleon describes Todd Rundgren on Runt. He seamlessly moves between musical genres. There’s everything from balladry to blues, and power pop to prog rock. That’s not all. Piano ballads and pop, to rock and rock ’n’ roll melt into one on Runt. Influences include Laura Nyro, the Beach Boys, Randy Newman, The Beatles and Carole King. The result is an eclectic and intriguing album that oozes quality.
On Runt, you never know what direction the album is heading. After the blistering blues rock of Broke Down and Busted, it’s hard to believe Todd would dawn the role of balladeer. That’s what he does. Runt then becomes an album full of twists, turns and surprises. It’s a case of expect the unexpected.
Power pop, prog rock, piano ballads and rock ’n’ roll follow. Todd’s at his best on the ballads. He dawns the role of singer-songwriter and grows into the role. Augmented by harmonies and his trusty piano, some of Todd’s best performances are on ballads. Believe In Me and Once Burned feature two of Todd’s best performances. Then on the medley of Baby Let’s Swing, The Last Thing You Said and Don’t Tie My Hands, Todd showcases his versatility. The only low point is the ill-advised I’m In The Clique. It’s not all bad news. Briefly, Todd and his band cut loose, and show what they’re capable of. This was just another example of the chameleon-like Todd Rundgren.
Freed from the restrains of Nazz, Todd was able to make the music he’d been longing to make. He’d been wanting to change direction since Nazz recorded their sophomore album Nazz Nazz. That was Todd’s musical past. He no longer wanted to make garage rock, proto-punk or psychedelia. That was the past. Todd wanted to move on.That’s why he left Nazz. By embarking upon a solo career, he was able to do this. Runt which was recently rereleased by Edsel, as a double album, was the start of a new chapter in his career.
Although Runt was Todd’s debut album, he had matured as a singer and songwriter. This is apparent on Runt. It marked a coming of age from Todd Rundgren. He wrote, arranged, produced and played on Runt. It was the perfect showcase for Todd Rundgren’s talents. However, not everyone realised this.
On its release in 1970, Runt wasn’t a commercial success. It divided the opinion of critics. Somewhat belatedly, they’ve changed their minds. Now, Runt is now perceived by critics as one of Todd Rundgren’s finest solo albums. Critical acclaim and commercial success wasn’t far away for Todd.
Todd Rundgren’s third album Something/Anything? was released in 1972. It reached number twenty-nine in the US Billboard 200 charts and was certified gold. For Todd, this looked like the start of a long and successful career, where gold and platinum discs would follow every album. That wasn’t the case. Something/Anything? was Todd’s only album to be certified gold. Despite releasing over twenty albums, Todd Rundgren never reached the heights of Something/Anything? However, Todd Rundgren’s back-catalogue is littered with hidden gems and underrated albums. There’s also a number of minor classics.
This includes Runt. Eclectic and compelling Runt showcased a musical chameleon, Todd Rundgren. Seamlessly, Todd fuses musical genres and influences on Runt, his debut album which showcased one of the most talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer’s of his generation.
TODD RUNDGREN-RUNT AND THE ALTERNATE RUNT.