THE STUDIO WIZARDRY OF TODD RUNDGREN.
The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren.
Label: Ace Records.
The first time critics and music fans heard the name Todd Rundgren was when psychedelic rockers Nazz released their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album in 1968. This was just a year after the group was founded in Philly in 1967 by bassist Carson Van Osten and prodigiously talented guitarist Todd Rundgren. He was also the group’s principal songwriter and led Nazz between 1967 and 1968. During that period, the group achieved a lot.
Nazz’s first major concert was opening for The Doors in 1967. This was just the start of the rise and rise of the Philly-based quartet.
By 1968, the psychedelic rockers had signed to SGC. It was a joint venture between Screen Gems the television devision of Columbia Pictures and RCA Victor. The label was founded in 1966, and was only in existence until 1971.
Nazz’s eponymous debut album was produced by Bill Traut and released in October 1968. It reached 118 in the US Billboard 200, and featured Hello It’s Me which gave the group a hit in America and Canada. Just a year after the group was formed their music was already starting to find a wider audience.
In late 1968, work began on the group’s sophomore album Nazz Nazz. This time, the members of Nazz took charge of production. For Todd Rundgren this was the start of a long and illustrious production career. However, his production debut wasn’t smooth sailing.
Originally, Todd Rundgren wanted the album to be a double album to allow the group to experiment and include more experimental, piano-based songs. However, Robert “Stewkey” Antoni and Thom Mooney disagreed and favoured songs that were more like the group’s original sound. This sound had been influenced by The Beatles, The Who, The Yarbirds and Cream. With the group divided, the record label had the casting vote. They also favoured the original sound and Nazz Nazz became a single album.
When Nazz Nazz was released in April 1969 it reached number eighty in the US Billboard 200. The single Not Wrong Long gave the group a minor hit in Canada. This and a successful album should’ve been something to celebrate. However, by then Todd Rundgren was disillusioned and quit the group shortly after the album’s released.
Having lost its leader, Nazz split-up later in 1969. This wasn’t the end of the Nazz story though.
The Bearsville Era Begins.
Meanwhile, Todd Rundgren went through a period where he thought his days as a performing artist were in the past. That wasn’t the case. He decided to contact Albert Grossman as he had come up with the idea of recording a solo album. This resulted in him signing to the Ampex label and recording what would eventually become the band Runt’s eponymous debut album.
Joining Todd Rundgren in Runt was drummer Hunt Sales and bassist Tony Fox Sales. However, it was Todd Rundgren who wrote all the songs on the album, played keyboards, guitar and sang the lead vocals. He also took charge of production on what he decided was going to be a low budget album. His reason for this was he didn’t want his friend and musical entrepreneur and manager Albert Grossman to lose much, if any money. Eventually after sessions at studios in Los Angeles, New York and Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Studios the album was finished. The release was scheduled for autumn 1970.
In September 1970 Runt was released. It was an album that included elements of art rock, power pop and psychedelia. The album was released to critical acclaim reaching 185 in the US Billboard 200. Meanwhile, the lead single We Gotta Get You A Woman reached number twenty on the US Billboard 100 and across the border in Canada. Todd Rundgren’s new group was a success story. However, new chapters were about to unfold in his story.
Todd Rundgren became the in-house producer at Bearsville Studios which he called home until 1984. This was the next chapter in a musical journey that began at ID Sound Studio, in Hollywood. After that, he built Secret Sound Studio in New York, and Utopia Studio in the Catskill Mountains, before moving to Sausalito. These studios were where he produced the twenty-two tracks on The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren. It’s the latest instalment in Ace Records Producer Series.
Runt. The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren.
While Todd Rundgren was establishing himself as a producer he decided to embark upon a solo career. His debut album was Runt. He wrote, arranged and produced the album where he played guitar, keyboards and added vocals. The prodigiously talented twenty-three year old released Runt. The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren in June 1971.
The album was released to plaudits and praise on the Ampex label. Despite the quality of the piano-led ballads on the album it failed to chart. This was disappointing for Todd Rundgren. However, The singles Be Nice To Me was a minor hit in America and Canada. The followup A Long Time, A Long Way To Go also reached the lower reaches of the American charts. However, it was a start and helped launch Todd Rundgren’s solo career. Meanwhile, Nazz was about to reenter his life.
With Todd Rundgren enjoying a degree of commercial success as a solo artist, Ampex came up with a plan to release some of Nazz’s unreleased material. When the group had recorded their sophomore album they had recorded enough for a double album. This meant there was enough unreleased material for a third album. The only problem was accessing the material.
In 1970, SGC Records contacted drummer Thomas Mooney who had possession of the master tapes. He was persuaded by the label to let them hear the unreleased material. What he didn’t know was that the label was thinking about releasing the songs as Nazz’s third album. The reason was Todd Rundgren was now a successful solo artist and producer.
Having heard the unreleased material Nazz’s original vocalist Robert “Stewkey” Antoni overdubbed his vocals on five songs. In doing so, he replaced Todd Rundgren’s vocal on the original tracks. This turned out to be a controversial decision.
Nazz III was released in May 1971 to capitalise on the success of Todd Rundgren’s career with Runt. A month later he released his debut solo album and enjoyed two minor hit singles. Despite the success Todd Rundgren was enjoying Nazz III failed to chart. SGC Records’ plan had backfired.
Despite the disappointing performance of Nazz III, Todd Rundgren was about to enjoy the most successful period of his career. Between 1972 and 1991 the eleven solo albums he released entered the US Billboard 200. During this period Todd Rundgren also enjoyed a successful career as a producer.
Between 1968 and 1990, the period that The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren covers he worked with some of the biggest names in music. This includes New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, XTC, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Grand Funk Railroad, Badfinger, Janis Joplin, The Tubes, Rick Derringer, The Psychedelic Furs and Utopia. These artists are a tantalising taste of the music on The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren.
Fittingly, the compilation opens with Open My Eyes which was released as Nazz’s debut single which was released by SGC Records in 1968. Later that year, it featured on the group’s eponymous debut album. It was produced by Bill Traut who took a hands-off approach to production. Instead, Todd Rundgren did much of the production himself. This turned out to be his introduction to the world of production where he enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim.
Proto-punk pioneers the New York Dolls released their eponymous debut album on Mercury in 1973. One of the highlights of this cult classic which has influenced several generations of musicians is Jet Boy.
Todd Rundgren engineered, mixed and produced Cheap Trick’s Next Position album. It was released by the American rockers on Epic in 1983 and reached sixty-one on the US Billboard 200 charts. Heaven’s Falling was part of what was an album of tough sounding but melodic guitar rock which had been influenced by sixties bands from both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1986, XTC released their ninth studio album Skylarking. It’s a concept album about an unspecified cycle. When the album was released by Virgin this combination of pop, rock and psychedelia was hailed as one of the group’s finest. Despite this, it stalled at number ninety in the UK. One of the highlights is Dear God which is XTC at their best.
You’re Much Too Soon is a track from Daryl Hall and John Oates’ 1974 album War Babies. It saw the duo move away from their trademark blue eyed soul sound to a harder rockier sound where keyboards play a leading role. The album failed to match the success of 1973s Abandoned Luncheonette and stalled at eighty-nine in the US Billboard 200. However, nowadays the album is regarded as a hidden gem in Daryl Hall and John Oates’ discography.
In 1973, Albert Grossman managed to negotiate a $50,000 fee for Todd Rundgren to produce hard rockers’ Grand Funk Railroad’s seventh studio album. It was released in July 1973 and featured the Don Brewer composition We’re An American Band which opened the album and topped the US Billboard 100. It’s one of the highlights of an album that reached number two in the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum.
When Badfinger hit problems when recording their fourth album Straight Up in London, Todd Rundgren was drafted in to rescue the recording. He succeeded in doing so and the album was released by Apple in 1971 and reached thirty-one in the US Billboard 200. One of the tracks on an album that moved from a rock oriented sound towards power pop was the hit single Baby Blue. It’s a welcome addition to The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren.
Although Janis Joplin’s career was cut tragically short when she died aged just twenty-seven, she’s widely regarded as one of the finest female vocalists of her generation. One Night Stand was released in 1993 on the three CD set Janis. It’s a hidden gem from the legendary vocalist.
Rick Derringer coproduced Something Warm with Todd Rundgren for his 1979 album Guitars and Woman. It was released on the Blue Sky label but failed to chart. The song was part of the album that got away for the American guitarist, vocalist, producer and songwriter whose career has lasted over fifty years.
English new wave band The Psychedelic Furs released their third studio album on CBS in 1982. It featured Goodbye which epitomises everything that’s good about the group.
Closing The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren is Love Is The Answer by Utopia. It’s taken from the American rockers’ third studio album Oops! Wrong Planet. It was released by Bearsville Records in 1977 and is a hook-laden and melodic slice of pop rock. This is the perfect way to close the compilation.
The twenty-two tracks on The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren are a tantalising taste of what was the most successful and productive period of the former Nazz and Runt frontman’s career. There’s tracks from some of the biggest names in music, and they rub shoulders with some of the laser know names. They all share one thing in common, the quality of Todd Rundgren’s productions. He was at the peak of his powers and regarded as one of the top producers. That’s apparent by listening to The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren which is a reminder of one of the greatest producers of his generation and a worthy addition to Ace Records’ Producer Series.
The Studio Wizardry Of Todd Rundgren.