Song of the Day, February 19: It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference by Todd Rundgren

ToddDifferenceToday’s song is a lovely bloom from Todd Rundgren’s “Bouquet of Ear-Catching Melodies”. That’s the title he gave side one of his masterpiece, Something/Anything?, and it’s a perfect description of the six tracks. All resonate with his love of classic 60s pop, each filtered through the Todd lens. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference is an aching love-is-gone track. Richly layered but emotionally pure, it rests on the title observation, which concludes with “if you really loved me.” Sad, determined, and gorgeous, it’s Todd at his finest.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

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Song of the Day, October 28: Be Nice to Me by Runt

RuntBalladBeNiceAfter leaving Nazz, Todd Rundgren eased into his solo career. His first album, Runt, featured a small band of the same name. For his next outing, he kept the name but jettisoned the band, giving himself credit in the title, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. Hinting at the one-man show approach that dominated his impressive 70s output, it’s a nice song cycle, emphasizing his softer pop side.

The standout track is the fragile Be Nice to Me. A straightforward song of love on the rocks, it’s a quietly passionate piano-and-voice track. Rundgren delivers the vocal in his higher register, paying homage to the girl groups who dominated the Brill Building hits he admired. The slow tempo wrings the most out of the approach, making it all his own.

Enjoy this lovely, sad song today.

Song of the Day, July 27: Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel by Todd Rundgren

ToddWizardKnowFeelToday’s song is Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel by Todd Rundgren. After the huge success of his masterpiece, Something/Anything?, Todd set to work on another ambitious project. Always restless and experimental, he largely abandoned traditional song structures and assembled a seamless flow of snippets, songs, and experiments into two full-side medleys. With the apt — and somewhat tongue-in-cheek — title A Wizard/A True Star, the disc received critical acclaim and cemented his status with fans but baffled the public at large.

Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel opens side two (the True Star set). It’s a fitting title for the disc; it also stands as a highlight of Todd’s long, creative career. Passionate and pondering, it contemplates the challenges of modern life, from the international to the mundane. Todd turns in one of his best vocals, lending the potentially ponderous lyrics a human sincerity.

Enjoy this great track today.

Song of the Day, May 4: One More Day (No Word) by Todd Rundgren

ToddOneMoreDayToday’s song is Todd Rundgren’s One More Day (No Word) from his masterpiece Something/Anything? It’s a lovely ballad of frustration and patience. The narrator describes a series of events, noting that he never receives contact or clarification and cannot take action of his own.  Rundgren invests the song with a fragile tension, turning in a poignant vocal that conveys the mood perfectly.

All alone, all my friends are gone
Ears of stone, eyes gone blind
Too little to do and too much time
One more day, no word

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Album of the Week, November 16: Skylarking by XTC

XTCSkylarkingXTC formed in the early 1970s in Swindon, England. Andy Partridge (vocals, guitars), Colin Moulding (vocals, bass) and Terry Chambers (drums) started with influences from the Glam movement, performing as Star Park and the Helium Kidz. By 1976, keyboard player Barry Andrews came aboard. The band began incorporating sounds from the New York punk movement and settled on the name XTC. After two well-received albums of edgy punk-pop, Andrews left the band (going on to form Shriekback), replaced by Dave Gregory who also played guitar. The group’s sound gradually became more melodic, with the punk edges giving way to more polished pop gems with just a bit of bite. Partridge, who had always suffered from stage fright, had a breakdown during their 1982 tour. As a result, the band gave up touring and Chambers left, not interested in being part of a studio-only unit. Two more albums and a number of side projects later, the studio trio of Partridge/Moulding/Gregory was critically acclaimed but not achieving great chart success, especially in the US. Given a list of producers by their label, they picked Todd Rundgren, a name they recognized from his work with their early idols the New York Dolls.

Title Skylarking
Act XTC
Label Virgin/Geffen Release Date October 27, 1986
Producer Todd Rundgren
U.S. Chart  70 U.K. Chart  90
Tracks
  1. Summer’s Cauldron
  2. Grass
  3. The Meeting Place
  4. That’s Really Super, Supergirl
  5. Ballet For A Rainy Day
  6. 1000 Umbrellas
  7. Season Cycle
  8. Earn Enough For Us
  9. Big Day
  10. Another Satellite
  11. Mermaid Smiled
  12. The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul
  13. Dear God
  14. Dying
  15. Sacrificial Bonfire

The album is notorious for the difficult recording sessions. Tensions — especially between Rundgren and Partridge — made the creation of the album painful for everyone. Despite this difficulty, the final result is a polished, cohesive masterpiece, critically lauded with some commercial success, and eventually praised by all the participants. Partridge noted years later:

[Rundgren] did do great things musically. The arrangements were brilliant and I don’t know how he came up with them… The bloke is ludicrously smart when it comes to certain things.

Drawing its name from Shelley’s poem To A Skylark and its day-in-the-life concept from the band’s decade-long evolution and some shared enthusiasm with Rundgren for the Beach Boys and the Kinks, the song cycle is a wonderful, brilliantly sequenced flow of music. Things kick off with Summer’s Cauldron, Partridge’s celebration of nature’s joys. It’s a wonderful start, opening the disc with enthusiasm and brightness. Moulding’s Grass segues in nicely, a bit of nostalgic wordplay about amorous pursuits. His The Meeting Place follows, a perfect snapshot of early romance, with all the emotions lovingly sketched in song. This trio of lovely vignettes sets the stage, showing band at their musical peak, challenged to turn out their finest work.

That’s Really Super, Supergirl is a bitter love-gone-wrong track by Partridge, showing off his trademark wry analyses. He sings of the frustrations of dating a woman who has a split identity and the power to see through walls, somehow making the extraordinary super-heroic romance resonate with everyday frustrations. It’s one of the band’s best songs, buoyed by music that soars like the title character as the frustrated suitor is left on the ground.

The next two tracks form a Partridge-penned mini-suite, looking at rainy weather through two divergent lenses. Ballet For A Rainy Day is a celebration of nature and joy, a nice fit for the pastoral themes that run through much of the disc. Its uplift is pulled down by 1000 Umbrellas, a series of watery metaphors for coping with the end of a relationship. Each song is wonderful; as a pair, they are a moment of musical inspiration.

Season Cycle is a solid centerpiece for the album, an ode to the forces of nature and the cycles that run our lives. Seriously joyful and smilingly somber, it captures the spirit of the disc and moves the listener to the heavier themes of the second half. Earn Enough For Us is reminiscent of the earlier Love On A Farmboy’s Wages, but a bit grittier. A determined plea to make ends meet in Thatcher’s England, it manages to wring enough hope from the despair to shine with real humanity. Big Day is a similarly two-fold track, Moulding’s pensive look at marriage as a celebration and a serious undertaking. This is another smart pairing in the wonderful sequence of songs.

Another Satellite is one of Partridge’s best songs, inspired by a reluctant flirtation that eventually ended his marriage. It’s a haunting song with powerful, echoing keyboards and a fragile, distant vocal. The lunar imagery fits the natural tone of the album at an appropriate remove, allowing the dark tune to fit into the cycle nicely.

Mermaid Smiled is a fine but lightweight track that was quickly removed from the U.S. release to make way for a later single. The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul is a charming, jazzy experiment, a pleasant enough song that doesn’t quite fit on an otherwise tightly constructed album. The two tracks don’t detract from Skylarking, but they’re close to filler.

Dear God, on the other hand, is a powerful afterthought. Recorded after the album and released as a single, it was successful enough to be added to the U.S. version of the album in place of Mermaid Smiled. A bitter broadside at a hypothetical all-powerful force who allows too much suffering, it features one of Partridge’s most powerful vocals as he presents his outrage. Another stunning moment of brilliance, it belongs to the album and adds just the right moment before the final pair.

Moulding’s Dying and Sacrificial Bonfire wrap things up. The first is a quiet look at a couple near the end of their days. It implies a long, probably happy time together, but the spectre of mortality brings a bitter edge to the narrator’s nostalgia. Bonfire takes all the darkness that weaves through the life cycles of the album and purges them, offering a striking anthem of hope and rejuvenation. It’s a fitting end for a stunning set.

FURTHER LISTENING: XTC’s gradual evolution from edge punkish pop to lush pastoral rock is a fascinating journey with many wonderful songs. The seven prior to Skylarking all have a slightly transitional feel as the very talented band members stretch themselves into new musical shapes. The best of these is the edgy, New Wavish Drums and Wires, a fairly cohesive set with some of their best songs. The two that follow the masterpiece are very consistent, well-executed sets, with Nonsuch being more cohesive and Oranges and Lemons offering more delightful high points. After a long, label-battling hiatus, they released two more discs before slowly dissolving as each member of the trio pursued his own interests. Fossil Fuel is a great two-disc set from 1992 that shows off  most of their best songs.

Song of the Day, October 15: All the Children Sing by Todd Rundgren

ToddChildrenToday’s song is the opening track of Todd Rundgren’s 1978 mini-masterpiece, The Hermit of Mink Hollow. A cohesive set of twelve songs, unlike the frequently sprawling and experimental discs that feature throughout his career, it’s a delightful collection of pop gems. Much of the album is dark or meditative, reflecting his recent breakup. On the surface, the opener is a different thing, a celebration of music. It has a dark undertone, however, with vignettes describing isolation and dark characters. Each receives inspiration as a bell in their heads rings. Music, then, is a universal language that ties us together, light days and dark. It’s a complex lyrical concept delivered in a fun pop setting, a dichotomy that’s perfectly Todd.

All the children sing
All the birds are chirping harmony
The scent of love is in the air
Sunset on the sea
The angel of the Lord
Just declared we aren’t worth a thing
The galaxy is null and void
All the children sing

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, April 25: Libertine by Utopia

UtopiaLibertineToday’s song is Libertine by Utopia. Todd Rundgren formed the band as an outlet for his more epic, progressive ambitions. After two albums, they regrouped around a core foursome — Rundgren, Roger Powell, Willie Wilcox, and Kasim Sulton. Over the course of five years and as many albums, they became a more cohesive, collaborative foursome, relying less directly on Rundgren’s direction; the band’s sound also moved from progressive rock to arena pop to power pop with new wave undertones. Sulton left briefly but returned halfway through the recording of Utopia, the band’s full reinvention as a democratic power pop unit.

The album kicks off with one of the band’s finest moments, the bad girl lament Libertine. Co-written by the band and Doug Howard, Sulton’s short-term replacement, it features a great vocal by Sulton. The band are in fine form, cohesive and sharp, providing a lovely, potent framework for Sulton’s narration. Lyrically, it’s a classic “don’t touch” song, with the protagonist disregarding his best instincts and getting burned.

When she walked in the room
You could faint from the strong perfume
And she said her name was Libertine
In my ear, a voice said don’t be a fool stay clear,
Better stay away from Libertine

Enjoy this fun song today.

Song of the Day, November 5: Couldn’t I Just Tell You by Todd Rundgren

ToddTellToday’s song is Couldn’t I Just Tell You? by Todd Rundgren. It appears on his masterpiece, the stunning double album Something/Anything? Most of the album is performed by Todd as a one-man band; side four, which includes this track, is his rock operetta featuring a wide variety of studio guests. Both approaches work well, but this power pop anthem is well served by the great band backing up Todd’s vocals.

It’s a song of romantic impatience and yearning. Tired of playing games and emotions left unexpressed, the singer lays his heart bare and demands reciprocation. The lyrics are strong and direct, the band is tight, and Todd is very fine vocal form. The total package is one of the highlights of an impressive album and one of the finest let’s-just-be-honest songs ever crafted.

I don’t come whining with my heart on my sleeve
I’m not a coward if that’s what you believe
And I’m not afraid but not ashamed if it’s true
I got to talk with you
And then I’ll make it clear

Couldn’t I just tell you the way I feel
I can’t keep it bottled up inside
And could we pretend that it’s no big deal
And there’s really nothing left to hide

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, June 18: Tiny Demons by Todd Rundgren

ToddTinyDToday’s song is Tiny Demons by Todd Rundgren. The multifaceted singer, musician, and writer focused his ninth album, Healing, on themes of spirituality and the human condition. It’s a generally quieter and more reflective set than his previous work, with a three-piece Healing suite forming the entire second side of the original disc. The original album was issued with a bonus 45, the single Time Heals backed by Tiny Demons. Somehow it’s perfect Todd that the finest track is the B-side of the bonus disc.

It’s a quietly creepy song about the burdens we make for ourselves and the negative power we can wield over our own lives. Rundgren uses his studio magic to build a chilling vocal and musical environment, with sinister sounds oozing around his tense, resigned vocal.

One of them plays a piccolo in my ear
Another one makes me smell things that aren’t there
And they know where to hide
And they know everything that’s inside
Of my head
Tiny demons, inside me

Enjoy this dark meditation today.

Song of the Day, April 11: Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me by Todd Rundgren

ToddWhiterToday’s song is Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me by Todd Rundgren. It appeared originally on the fourth side of his masterpiece, Something/Anything? The album was mostly a one-man band, but this track is one he recorded live in the studio with a full band, creating a wonderful energy that suits the lyrics.

Musically and lyrically it summons up Ball of Confusion era Temptations. At once funky and solid rock, it’s a perfect fit for the “who is Todd NOW?” style of the album. He takes a stern look at the state of the world — greed, power, discrimination — and finds it wanting. From there the song becomes a testament to personal independence and self-determination, all with a stellar groove.

Some people never can be satisfied
less they push somebody else around
But I can’t give no aid or take no side
I just watch them drag each other down because

Some folks is even whiter than me
Some folks is even blacker than me
I got myself caught in the middle somewhere
And that’s just where I want to be

I’m talking bout the outside
Talking bout the inside too

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

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