For casual listeners, Todd Rundgren is best known for his 70s era pop hits like the Carole King written I Saw the Light. It would be easy to dismiss the artist as a pop artist who had his moments. That would be an incorrect reflection on Rundgren, who was a rock and roll maverick who after tasting pop success chose to take a different direction, performing pioneering work in new musical territory including electronic music, videos and internet delivery of the content.
Rundgren grew up in a Philadelphia suburb, fascinated with his parents’ small collection of records that mostly consisted of show tunes and classical music. After high school he moved into Philadelphia and played in a blues band before forming Nazz, inspired to record original music by the British Invasion bands. After some minor success with Nazz, Rundgren left to work solo while also producing records. Off record, his first big success came as the engineer on The Band’s Stage Fright album in 1970.
Rundgren’s fears of never appearing as the recording artist after starting his production career were unfounded. Starting in 1970, he released a string of successful albums – first achieving underground success, then with major commercial appeal.
1972’s Something/Anything was the peak of Rundgren’s pop career, an album that has been cited as a landmark 70s release, Rundgren left that formula for more experimental work including the prog rock group Utopia. His solo work also moved away from formulaic pop and include an acapella album on which all voices were his own, and a calypso album covering his pop classics.
As the internet grew, Rundgren and others formed one of the first musician support networks. PatroNet was a vehicle for supporting artists for their new or unreleased work. Rundgrens’ work as a producer has been widespread and influential. While often they were one off records, his longer term relationships with bands include Grand Funk Railroad, The Tubes and The New York Dolls. Rundgrens production of XTCs Skylarking is considered his best production work and also the best output from the band.