Posts Tagged ‘Roger Powell’

The Freedom of Music: Todd Rundgren on Muzak

January 16th, 2011


One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

It was almost 5PM on New Years Eve. I was in the grocery store, and they had already called for purchases to be brought to the cash, all the better for employees to finish their shift and get on with their celebrations. I was singing along to the song playing on the sound system: quietly to myself, not in a brash, annoy the rest of the shoppers kind of way – that would have to wait a few hours. The song was about halfway done before I realized it was Todd Rundgren’s Hello It’s Me.

Todd Rundgren, for those who don’t know the name, is one of those under the radar artists that people who follow music closely pride themselves on knowing. He produced Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell and Grand Funk’s We’re An American Band. He has had a number of albums, with different bands, runs his own studio and is very well known inside music circles. Hello It’s Me and the ever amusing Bang on the Drum All Dayare his best known songs. Yet Todd Rundgren has a vast and deep catalogue of music, much of it very good.

News item:

Todd Rundgren has dipped into his past to reform Utopia. The reunion will take place at a gig in New York on January 29.

The band will feature Rundgren on guitar with the 1974 line-up of Moogy Klingman (keys), Kevin Elfman (drums), Ralph Schuckett (keys) and John Siegler (bass).

This was the line-up that recorded the Utopia debut album Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. Klingman has been battling cancer for some time and is fighting what he calls his “health battle”. “I have found that the best medicine that I take to deal with illness is music,” he says in posting at his website.
“To play music and work with other musicians, is the most healing thing that I can do. So I plan to be performing at my benefit and healing the audience while the audience heals me.”

Rundgren put Utopia together as a prog-rock band after noticing the impact of acts like Genesis, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Utopia will perform at the Highline Ballroom in New York on January 29. Money raised on the night will go towards Moogy’s escalating health costs.

While it’s the “original” line-up of Utopia, it is not, I think, the classic line-up. I would give that to the smaller, longer lasting 1976 -86 unit of Rundgren, Kasim Sulton, Roger Powell and Willie Wilcox. You may remember this formation of the band from their 1980 album “Adventures in Utopia,” featuring the songs Road to Utopia and Set Me Free.

I walked into the library in high school one day, and my best friend was sitting listening to a record. I didn’t even know you could listen to records at the library, and certainly would have imagined racks full of Bach and Mozart if I did know. How, or why, my high school came to own a copy of a fairly obscure rock record, I don’t know. But he was listening to the library copy of Utopia’s 1978 album “Ra“.

“You have to listen to this,” he said. “I love this song.”

The this he was referring to was the last track on Utopia’s last foray into the “prog-rock” akin to “Genesis, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer,” (not to mention Gentle Giant). Singring and the Glass Guitar had the sub-heading “an Electrified Fairy Tale.”

Singring was the spirit of harmony, and got stolen and locked in a glass guitar. Their were four keys, that got tossed to the ends of the earth. Four brave adventurers had to travel to get the keys, each fighting an element (fire, wind, water) or fire breathing dragon to get to the keys. Each adventurer was represented by an instrument, each adventure a solo. When all four keys are rescued, the four adventurers march into town and unlock the spirit of harmony. As they do this, they replay their solos, this time together, in harmony.

It’s not exactly top 40 fodder, nor is it without an element of cheesy. But it is interesting music, more thought out an creative than most of what you hear today, whether on radio or the muzak system.

But that’s the point. Todd Rundgren isn’t your average pop musician, otherwise more people would have heard of him after a 40 year career. He’s a different breed, making music that he wants to make. And while he’s always been a hard guy to pin down, I feel reasonably sure Todd Rundgren isn’t making music so it can be played at Zehrs while your picking through the frozen food aisle.

Todd Rundgren is ours, us music aficionado types. And while he left some pop, Bang on the Drum All Day and the layered yet gorgeous Hello It’s Me in his wake, it feels like a cheat to hear it played at the grocery store.

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