Bang the drum all day until Todd makes the Hall of Fame

Todd Rundgren

A wizard, a true star, but not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

By Phill Marder

“I’m sort of like a piece of flotsam floating in a sea of public acclaim. I just go under for awhile and then bob up again.”

Since the mid-60s, Todd Rundgren has been a vital part of the music industry in just about every established form and some he has constructed himself.

He may have vanished from the surface occasionally, but he’s never been far from the action and he belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on any number of levels.

In the opener of his website, Rundgren dares you to “Go ahead, ignore me.” And so far, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has called his bluff, doing just that. Not this blog, though, which makes Rundgren the new year’s initial pitch for induction.

I first encountered Rundgren in a 60’s concert. I can’t remember the exact year, but I think the concert was headlined by The Byrds preceded by The Shadows of Knight with Rundgren’s Woody’s Truck Stop the opener. If I’m not quite sure, keep in mind this was the 60s.

I didn’t know of Rundgren then, but I do remember the band made a good impression. They didn’t stick around long, though, evolving into Nazz, which scored minor hits with “Hello It’s Me” and “Open My Eyes,” both Rundgren compositions. “Hello It’s Me” eventually became a major hit in 1973 and Rundgren’s highest charting single when his solo recording of the tune reached No. 5. I prefer the Nazz version, but what do I know?

Rundgren stuck around for a second Nazz LP, which did much better chartwise than the debut, but left before the third was released, though it was dominated by material he had written. His first solo effort, “We Gotta Get You A Woman,” was an immediate smash, peaking at No. 20. But it did create some confusion, being released as Runt, a nickname Patti Smith bestowed on Rundgren. Was Runt a real group or just Rundgren? The answer came, sort of, with the second Runt album, 1971’s “Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren.” Cleared right up, huh?

There were some others involved, but basically it was Rundgren all the way. Rolling Stone, in typical fashion, called it “the best album Paul McCartney never made.” They loved it probably because it didn’t sell. If it had been a smash, it probably would have been labeled “commercial dreck.” Or maybe it was the magazine’s strong endorsement that contributed to it not selling. allmusic.com rated it five stars, its highest rating.

Rundgren stepped into the limelight on the follow-up, the next year’s “Something/Anything?” The double-record set starts with the No. 16 single “I Saw The Light,” which is followed by what should have been another hit, “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference.” Except for side four, Rundgren did everything, playing all the instruments, singing all the parts and producing and engineering as well. Rundgren’s effort earned the work five-star ratings from The Rolling Stone Album Guide and allmusic.com.

Todd Rundgren

The next issue, 1973’s “A Wizard/A True Star,” didn’t reach the heights of “Something/Anything?,” which peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart, but it did cement the Philadelphian’s reputation as “a wizard” if not “a true star.” The single disc contained 19 tracks, nine of which clock in at under two minutes each, and almost an hours worth of music. With LPs losing much of their sonic punch with extended playing time – the standard LP usually ran about 15-20 minutes per side, Rundgren pushed the vessel’s limits and the LP cover included a message to listeners urging them to crank up the volume. If one did, they heard another remarkable work, one that earned Rundgren his third consecutive five-star rating from allmusic.com.

Continuing through to the present, Rundgren has continued to release an album or two every year. The results have varied, but the quality has remained and every once in awhile another hit single pops up such as 1978’s “Can We Still Be Friends” or 1983’s “Bang The Drum All Day.” His band Utopia also produced a steady stream of best-selling long-players from 1974 through 1985, 10 efforts reaching the charts. Utopia’s 80’s singles, “Set Me Free,” “The Very Last Time” and “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” helped Rundgren maintain airwave presence.

He also has done soundtracks for TV shows and movies (“Dumb and Dumber” anyone?). In recent years, Rundgren has appeared with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band & The New Cars.

All this should suffice to get Rundgren into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but there’s so much more it will take a major literary work to do it justice.

allmusicguide.com’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote, “Todd Rundgren’s best-known songs — the Carole King pastiche “I Saw The Light,” the ballads “Hello, It’s Me” and “Can We Still Be Friends,” and the goofy novelty “Bang on the Drum All Day” (sic) — suggest that he is a talented pop craftsman, but nothing more than that. On one level, that perception is true since he is undoubtedly a gifted pop songwriter, but at his core Rundgren is a rock & roll maverick. Once he had a taste of success with his 1972 masterwork, “Something/Anything?”, Rundgren chose to abandon stardom and, with it, conventional pop music. He began a course through uncharted musical territory, becoming a pioneer not only in electronic music and prog rock, but in music video, computer software, and internet music delivery as well.”

On top of all that, there’s his resume as a producer. After working as engineer on The Band’s “Stage Fright” album, he produced his own hits as Nazz, Runt, Todd Rundgren and Utopia, most of Badfinger’s classic “Straight Up” LP, Foghat, Ian & Sylvia, Patti Smith, Paul Butterfield, Grand Funk, Meat Loaf’s mammoth “Bat Out Of Hell,” Hall & Oates, The Tubes, the New York Dolls, XTC, the Psychedelic Furs and many others. Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf’s collaborator, said, “”Todd Rundgren is a genius and I don’t use that word a lot.”

And Erlewine added, “Rundgren may have existed largely on the fringes of pop music, but he produced a body of work that ranks as one of the most intriguing in rock & roll.”

Rundgren is reported to have said, “I guess I’m like those old-fashioned artists – da Vinci and Rembrandt. You don’t get discovered until you’re dead.”

He underestimates his notoriety. Obviously a lot of fans and many in the music industry discovered him long ago. Now it’s up to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to follow suit.

(For those regular readers waiting for the inevitable, we won’t disappoint. Nazz was on the SGC label. Rundgren walked away from the group after two albums. SGC was distributed by … Atlantic Records.)

18 thoughts on “Bang the drum all day until Todd makes the Hall of Fame

  1. Thank you so much Phil and Goldmine for finally telling it like it is, Todd has been overlooked for an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame for way too long! What more could they be looking for in an inductee, Todd has done it all, written and performed amazing songs, produced some of the biggest named artists, toured relentlessly, if that ain’t “rock and roll” I don’t know what it!!

  2. Let’s start a campaign to get this rectified! Anybody out there know who to send comments to?

  3. Thank you Deb.

    Rick, according to the Hall of Fame website, “All aspects of the induction process are handled by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. It can be reached at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, Second Floor, New York, NY 10104. The Foundation does not have e-mail available.”

  4. Members of the RRHOF nominations committee can be contacted independently.Petitions are widely inneffective.I have been sending messages to FB accounts of some of the various members .Be brief,state your case ,thank them for their time and consideration.

  5. Todd has many fans that truly appreciate his music and numerous talents!!! The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is obviously saving the best for last. Wonderful article Phil.

  6. Thanks for the excellent article, Phill. You covered all the bases as best as I can tell. I’m still reeling that ABBA made it in. LMAO!
    In my honest opinion (even thought it might get his “rocks off”, so to speak), I bet Todd doesn’t even care if he gets in the RRHOF.
    I have been a huge fan and follower since the early 70’s to this day. And he definitely goes to the “beat of a different drummer”.
    I think he is happy with who he is, what he does, and the fact that he isn’t considered “mainstream”. He also works harder than most musicians that I can think of…..be it writing, touring, teaching, performing, spending time hanging with his fans, etc.
    That is one of the reasons I love his music so very much. At least you can say they don’t beat the sh*t out of it on the radio, anyway.
    And I really enjoyed your article and message and shared it with many of my fellow “Todd Squadders”, whom I knnow will enjoy reading it as well, not to mention agree with every word you said.
    Thanks again so much. I found this very refreshing and full of hope. Personally, I think his loyal fans and anyone who knows about good music would be inclinde to agree with every word you wrote and that they (we) probably care about him getting in the RRHOF more than he does.

  7. PLEASE use this post instead,i made several typos in the previous one, thanks.

    The Hall of Shame hasn’t got a clue. Any serious musicologist knows this.
    It’s all about sales,popularity, and posthumous inductions i.e. after the artist has passed away after being slighted by the genius “Hall”.
    I can be objective and if it’s an artist I don’t particularly care for @ least reason their importance etc.
    Crap like Bon Jovi (outside of selling millions of albums are very non-original,calclated,mediocre rock IMO (thank goodness they didn’t get in at the expense of a Todd Rundgren). Madonna? she warrants inclusion in the “Rock and Roll” Hall Of Fame? Sure she influenced many lip syncing,slutty no talents (like herself) but she is not rock and roll to me…
    Put her in the Hall Of _______. Not “Rock and Roll”.
    She gets in before say Al Kooper?
    A guy who’s resume reads like a who’s who of rock.
    It’s bizarre as far as I’m (and many others)are concerned.
    The bigger the inductee,the bigger the circle jerk / back slapping celebration the suits can have (I used to work for several record companies matter of fact).
    Then of course they induct someone who contributed much to the music,wait till they died in poverty and then have their “Tribute” concert = yet another big circle jerk to show how “humanitarian”, “hip” they are to ease their pathetic conscience.

    Read more: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame hasn’t recognized Todd Rundgren | Goldmine Magazine http://www.goldminemag.com/blogs/bang-the-drum-all-day-until-todd-makes-the-hall-of-fame#ixzz1CCQWbq5E

  8. Todd belongs in the Hall Of Fame as both an artist and producer. Also, he was on the ground floor with video. They finally did something right by electing Leon Russell and Dr. John, Todd should be next (as well as The Guess Who, Al Kooper, The Moody Blues etc). I am a big admirer of Todd but I want him in since he has contributed so much to music. Its time.

  9. While I will agree with Todd being in the RRHOF, I will say this:

    @Eric: Good thing you don’t write articles or letters that much; if I were a member of RRHOF, I’d drop you like a hot coal and then some. If you think that your rant does ANYTHING to bolster Todd’s inclusion into the RRHOF, you’re kidding yourself-this is a turn-off in more ways than one. I’ll just say, ‘Nice going genius’ and leave it at that.

  10. Thanks Phil, I agree with everything you said and I also will add that I believe with all my heart about Todd “NOBODY DOES IT BETTER”! Todd is the Best!!!

  11. Not only should Todd be in but so should BOSTON, E.L.O., Chicago, Def Leppard, Badfinger, Journey, Styx, The Sweet, Rush, KISS, Three Dog Night, REO Speedwagon, the Doobie Brothers, Kansas ….. I could go on all day listing deserving artists. When the Rock Hall inducted people like Madonna and the Jackson Five, they lost their credibility. Guys like Todd won’t get in because the Rock Hall only cares about popular, million album selling artists that catered to the top forty. The creative geniuses get left out. Tom Scholz of BOSTON is a perfect example. Or Jeff Lynne of E.L O.

  12. I agree with Karen ( a mutual fan and friend.) Wonderful article with all the facts true and correct! One thing that should be noted, Todd has been long considered a “Musician’s Musician” and has more fans that are talented artists and creative folks than most performers out there. This is because of his originality, his creative edge and always being a leader and innovator in many different fields throughout his career. Also being one heck of a nice guy who genuinely cares about his fans and always goes the extra mile at every show, and he has never stopped performing live since the 60’s!

    Again thank you Phil for the great article, though Todd may or may not care about the RRHOF, we the fans do want to see him represented fairly!
    .

  13. Of all the artists who have been snubbed to date, and there are many, Todd leads the list. It is inexplicable to me that he is not in. His production credits alone deserve induction. Musical excellence? check! Innovation? Check! Influence? Check! I don’t get it. Silly.

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