Todd Rundgren reached a crossroads on November 10, 1973 when his ballad "Hello It's Me" rose to number 5 on the Billboard singles chart. One way pointed to superstardom. The other to the shadowy land of cult status.
But for Todd, it wasn't a matter of choosing. While Something/Anything, the double album that spawned "Hello It's Me," was catching on a year after its release, for its creator, it was already a speck in the rearview mirror. He had followed his muses into new experimental territory, releasing the ambitious A Wizard, A True Star, an eclectic tour-de-force on which the 25-year old wunderkind wrote, arranged, engineered, produced and played every instrument. Though Something/Anything was chock full of potential hits, Todd refused to backtrack. "No fucking way am I releasing anything else off that album," he told his label.
He did however concede to perform "Hello It's Me" on Wolfman Jack's TV show, The Midnight Special, a move that sealed his commercial fate. Viewers who were seeing him for the first time must've been shocked. Sporting blue-orange hair, eyes painted with glitter teardrops, dark lipstick, and a skimpy top made of iridescent feathers, Todd looked like a cross between a drag queen and the NBC peacock.
This incident typifies the erratic career choices (some might call it sabotage) that Todd would make over the next three decades and thirty albums, choices that would test even the allegiance of his most faithful followers. Looks, bands, labels, philosophies, styles--if it was a skin that could be shed, Todd would shed it.
The constant in this fascinating evolution has been his masterful songwriting. No matter if he was writing beautiful love songs like "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference," 30-minute prog-rock suites like "The Ikon," ferocious rockers like "Trapped," or silly pop ditties such as "Bang The Drum All Day," he couldn't hide his enormous gift for tuneful melodies (Todd once wrote in the foreword to a songbook collection of his, "These are songs that would've been hits if I hadn't subverted them") and lyrics that addressed the human condition with an open mind and heart.
Aside from his prowess as a composer, Todd is feted as one of pop's most original producers, with a resume that includes Badfinger, New York Dolls, Grand Funk Railroad, Cheap Trick, The Tubes, XTC, Jill Sobule, and his biggest success, Meat Loaf (Todd says that the Bat Out Of Hell album helped finance many of his audio and video projects through the '80s and '90s).
He has also been a pioneer for enhanced CDs and online delivery. His 1995 album The Individualist was one of the first CDs to be offered over the internet, where subscribers could download the music before it was released in stores. Todd was doing the file sharing thing years before anyone had ever heard of Napster.
Todd lives and works in the balmy climes of Hawaii. In 2004, he released
Liars, his nineteenth album (not counting live and greatest hits
collections), both in the form of a traditional CD and downloads to subscribers
of his website (www.tr-i.com). This
spring, he's on a world tour, sharing the bill with fellow pop maverick