The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Archive for the ‘Utopia’ Category

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Todd Rundgren, “At The BBC 1972-1982”

with one comment

Todd at BBCChristmas has come early for Todd Rundgren fans this year with the release by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint of Todd Rundgren at the BBC: 1972-1982, a handsome new 3-CD/1-DVD box set of live performances drawn from Rundgren’s first decade of rock stardom. The latest release in Esoteric’s Todd Rundgren Archive Series, At the BBC captures the transformation of the ever-evolving artist from precocious pop chameleon to prog-rock adventurer and beyond.

1972’s sprawling Something/Anything announced Rundgren as an artist with whom to be reckoned, following the more modest solo releases Runt and Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. On the heels of the U.K. single success of “I Saw the Light,” Rundgren made a trip to Britain and the BBC for Radio One’s In Concert program in July 1972. His half-hour performance kicks off this set, and it’s a fascinating document. Of its six songs, five were from Something/Anything. Three were played solo by Rundgren at the piano (the aching ballads “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and “Be Nice to Me” plus the dry blues spoof “Piss Aaron”) and three more with Rundgren accompanying himself to unique, pre-recorded backing tracks for which he supplied all instrumentation and backing vocals (the pure pop hits “I Saw the Light” and “Hello, It’s Me,” and the searing “Black Maria”). The stripped-down “Hello It’s Me” harkens back to the original Nazz ballad version of the song, with the backing vocals subtly enhancing what’s essentially a solo voice-and-piano rendition. The half-hour format also allowed for a liberal amount of banter, including Todd self-deprecatingly dismissing the beautifully vulnerable “Be Nice to Me” as a “simpering” song, or explaining the concept of meat loaf to his U.K. audience during “Piss Aaron.” No, not Meat Loaf, as in the rocker for whom Rundgren would produce the smash Bat Out of Hell, but meat loaf, the food!

While Rundgren’s 1972 appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test has not survived, At the BBC happily continues with two October 1975 songs performed for Whistle Test. Rundgren is joined by Utopia – then consisting of Roger Powell on keyboards, John Siegler on bass and Willie Wilcox on drums – for the blue-eyed soul of “Real Man” and the extended prog rock-soul jam “The Seven Rays.” On those songs, Utopia welcomed backing vocalists Luther Vandross and Anthony Hinton, and the pair also appeared with the band for an October 9, 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert broadcast by Radio One. That show, featured on the box set’s second disc, was previously released on CD by Shout! Factory in 2012, but here adds Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s pulsating West Side Story standard “Something’s Coming” which was unfortunately cut from the previous release.

The Hammerstein Odeon set closely resembled that of the concert released by Utopia as Another Live, which was recorded just a couple of months earlier with the six-piece line-up of Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox, Siegler, Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett. Both concerts saw “The Wheel,” “Heavy Metal Kids,” Roger Powell’s “Mister Triscuits” and Jeff Lynne’s “Do Ya” all performed. Hammersmith Odeon, interestingly, offers both “Do Ya” and the Rundgren original “Open My Eyes,” first recorded by The Nazz. It’s been said that Rundgren covered “Do Ya” as a response to Lynne’s pre-ELO band The Move covering his “Open My Eyes.” The Hammersmith set deftly balanced Rundgren’s rock and pop sides, and also took in songs from select solo albums, including “When the Sh*t Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard/Le Feel Internacionale” (A Wizard, A True Star), “The Last Ride” and “Sons of 1984” (Todd, also original home of “Heavy Metal Kids”) and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (Something/Anything). “Freedom Fighters” originated on the 1974 Todd Rundgren’s Utopia album and “The Wheel” on Another Live.

Hit the jump for more, including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 2, 2014 at 11:54

A Dream Goes On Forever: Vintage Todd Rundgren and Utopia Show Comes To CD

with one comment

Todd and Utopia - Electric BallroomTodd Rundgren has been rather generous of late with his archive, treating fans to a number of live concert recordings on various labels including gigs from 2010 (Todd Rundgren’s Johnson Live), 1990 (Live at the Warfield Theatre, San Francisco) and 1975 (Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Live at Hammersmith Odeon). Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings label continues its Archive Series with the release of Todd Rundgren and Utopia’s 2-CD set Live at the Electric Ballroom: Milwaukee, 23rd October 1978.

As longtime Utopia fans will know, Electric Ballroom features the “classic” Utopia line-up that wasn’t yet completed as of the 1975 Hammersmith show of Rundgren (guitar/vocals), Willie Wilcox (drums/vocals), Roger Powell (keyboards/vocals) and Kasim Sulton (bass/vocals). At Hammersmith, John Siegler was still handling bass duties. Months before Hammersmith (Utopia’s U.K. debut), the band had recorded Another Live when it was still a six-piece group with Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox, Siegler, Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett. The tight band on Electric Ballroom would more or less remain in place until disbanding in 1986; they would briefly reunite in 1992.

The concert preserved on this release was an offshoot of Rundgren’s Back to the Bars tour. In May 1978, Rundgren began a series of live shows featuring many of the musicians with whom he had worked over the years; the eventual double-album commemoration of the tour featured recordings from New York’s Bottom Line, Los Angeles’ Roxy, and Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom. Those concerts, drawing on virtually the whole of the artist’s solo career, led to another extensive U.S. tour slated to run through November of that year. Rundgren and Utopia played two nights at Milwaukee’s Electric Ballroom, a former movie house that still stands today, shuttered.

Live at the Electric Ballroom captures the first of two shows played there. It was recorded directly through the PA system’s mixing desk to be broadcast on local radio. The set skillfully balanced pop compositions with more progressive rock-oriented material, indulging both sides of Rundgren and Utopia’s talents. Most of the songs played were from Rundgren’s solo albums though a handful of songs emanated from Utopia’s Another Live and Oops! Wrong Planet including two co-writes: Rundgren and Wilcox’s “Gangrene” and Rundgren and Powell’s “Abandon City.”

The setlist stretched back to Todd’s 1973 breakthrough Something/Anything, reprising that double album’s “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” “Black Maria,” “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and the hit single “Hello, It’s Me.” From his next two albums A Wizard, A True Star and Todd, the band played the anthemic “Just One Victory” and a solo-piano “A Dream Goes On Forever,” respectively. Three songs hailed from 1975’s Initiation (“Real Man,” “The Death of Rock and Roll” and an epic, 12-minute “Eastern Intrigue/Initiation”) and two from its follow-up, the half-covers, half-originals Faithful (“Love of the Common Man” and “The Verb ‘To Love,’” both originals). Rundgren’s most recent solo album at the time, 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow, was divided into The Easy Side and The Difficult Side. From The Easy Side, it yielded a performance in Milwaukee of the stirring ballad “Can’t We Still Be Friends.” From The Difficult Side came “You Cried Wolf.”

You’ll find more details and the complete track listing after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 1, 2014 at 09:56

Posted in News, Todd Rundgren, Utopia

The Man From Utopia: Edsel Reissues Kasim Sulton’s Solo Debut

with 4 comments

Kasim SultonThis week, Todd Rundgren has released his most recent studio album, State. Edsel Records has recently given longtime Rundgren fans the chance to revisit the first solo LP from one of Todd’s longest-serving sidemen, Kasim Sulton. Edsel’s reissue of 1982’s EMI America album Kasim is available now.

Sulton, a bassist and singer, joined Todd Rundgren’s Utopia for its fifth, longest-lasting incarnation. This four-piece Utopia line-up of Rundgren, Sulton, keyboardist Roger Powell and drummer John “Willie” Wilcox, formed in 1976 and released five albums between 1977 and 1982. While in Utopia, Sulton played and sang on Meat Loaf’s 1977 Bat Out of Hell for producer Rundgren, and formed an association with Meat Loaf that lasted well into the 21st century. It was Sulton who wrote Utopia’s only Top 40 single with 1980’s “Set Me Free,” and that song’s success led the session pro and band stalwart to take its title to heart. Feeling constrained by the limitations of the band, he departed in search of solo stardom. The result was Kasim.

There’s more after the jump, including the full track listing with discography, and order links!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 11, 2013 at 12:08

Couldn’t I Just Tell You: Shout! Factory Premieres Vintage Rundgren and Utopia Concert

with 3 comments

We kicked off our week here at Second Disc HQ yesterday with a veritable smorgasbord of Utopia news, and today that feast grows even more bountiful!  The Shout! Factory label is joining the ranks of Edsel, Esoteric and Rockbeat as yet another purveyor of all things Rundgren.  Live at Hammersmith Odeon ’75 has been set for release on April 10, and the 10-track CD (also available as a digital download) captures the first U.K. concert of the band then billed as Todd Rundgren’s Utopia.  Recorded by the BBC on October 9, 1975 and widely circulated ever since, the Shout! Factory release marks the concert’s first commercial issue.  The set features the line-up of Rundgren (guitar/vocals), Willie Wilcox (drums/vocals), Roger Powell (keyboards) and John Siegler (bass).  Once Kasim Sulton replaced Siegler in 1976, the “classic” line-up was in place.  Hammersmith Odeon is also notable for the presence of Luther Vandross on backing vocals, joined by Anthony Hinton of Vandross’ early group Luther. 2012 looks to be another promising year for Rundgren-related reissues, with Esoteric Recordings soon delivering Utopia’s “lost album” Disco Jets following a wealth of classic Bearsville releases from Edsel.  Rundgren has also recently signed with the Cherry Red imprint with the intention of delivering a new studio effort.

Perusing the track list of Hammersmith Odeon, you might notice some similarities to that of Another Live, recorded just a couple of months earlier with the six-piece Utopia group of Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox, Siegler, Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett.  Both concerts saw “The Wheel,” “Heavy Metal Kids,” Roger Powell’s “Mister Triscuits” and Jeff Lynne’s “Do Ya” all performed.  Hammersmith Odeon, interestingly, offers both “Do Ya” and the Rundgren original “Open My Eyes,” first recorded by The Nazz.  It’s been said that Rundgren covered “Do Ya” as a response to Lynne’s band The Move covering his “Open My Eyes.”  The Hammersmith set also takes in songs from select Rundgren solo albums, including “When the Sh*t Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard/Le Feel Internacionale” (A Wizard, A True Star), “The Last Ride” and “Sons of 1984” (Todd, also original home of “Heavy Metal Kids”) and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (Something/Anything).  “Freedom Fighters” originated on the 1974 Todd Rundgren’s Utopia album and “The Wheel” on Another Live.

Hit the jump for more, including the track listing and pre-order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 14, 2012 at 09:57

Love in Action: Todd Rundgren Goes “Back to the Bars,” To “Mink Hollow” and Beyond

leave a comment »

Welcome back to our Rundgren Round-Up, spotlighting the final installments in Edsel’s series of the complete Bearsville Todd Rundgren and Utopia reissues!

On 1978’s Back to the Bars, Todd Rundgren was in gentle, intimate mode, feeding off audiences in New York, Los Angeles and Cleveland eager to hear his most accessible tunes on a “retrospective” tour.  For this look back at a near-decade’s worth of music making, Rundgren enlisted the classic Utopia line-up of Kasim Sulton, Willie Wilcox and Roger Powell, as well as many special guests including Moogy Klingman, Spencer Davis, John Siegler, Ralph Schuckett, Daryl Hall, John Oates and Stevie Nicks!  These two discs (originally two LPs, reissued on two CDs) reveal the dream set list for many of the fans that still flock to Rundgren’s concerts.  With no slight intended to Rundgren’s more adventurous (and ultimately quite rewarding) work, the pop classics on these two discs haven’t aged a day.

There’s nothing “Cliché” about Rundgren’s performances on Back to the Bars, as no two are alike thanks to his famously freewheeling vibe while performing live.  Utopia shines on the infectious “Love in Action” (with Powell clearly enjoying his wild synth solo) and neo-Philly soul of “Real Man”  There’s plenty of soul, too, on “Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel” as well as a jazzy, impassioned reading of “The Last Ride.”  On “The Range War,” Rundgren veers into country-and-western territory with a twangy vocal as Spencer Davis accompanies on harmonica.

You might believe you can fly when you hear the heartfelt and simple rendition of Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s tender “Never Never Land” from Broadway’s Peter Pan, which segues into the hard-rocking “Black Maria,” offbeat “Zen Archer” and “just plain foolish” medley, in the artist’s words.  Here, Rundgren and his band tackle Curtis Mayfield (“I’m So Proud”), Smokey Robinson (“Ooh Baby Baby”), Thom Bell (“La La Means I Love You”) and finally “I Saw the Light.”  Looking back in 2012, the latter song has earned its place among those other acknowledged classics.  The album concludes with an all-star jam on “Hello, It’s Me” (what else?) welcoming Rick Derringer, Hall and Oates, Stevie Nicks (!) and others to the stage.  There are no real spotlights, but it’s a fun valedictory nonetheless.   Following the song, Rundgren comments, “We don’t stop here…” and Todd’s voice trails away to the fade!  Though the album did stop there, there’s no doubt the audience would have been more than happy to spend the night (whether or not you think they should)…

There’s plenty more after the jump, including track listings with discography, and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 13, 2012 at 12:27

City In His Head: Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Reissues Continue From Edsel

with 2 comments

Todd Rundgren’s tenure at Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records label took him from his days as a singer/songwriter/self-described Runt in 1970 through his cutting-edge avant garde experiments, both solo and with his band Utopia, culminating in 1985’s A Cappella, rejected by the label and eventually released on Warner Bros. instead.  The U.K.’s Edsel label has recently completed its catalogue overhaul for Rundgren, including the entirety of his tenures at Bearsville and Warner.  The most recent batch of titles has just recently hit stores, consisting of nine albums on four CD sets: Rundgren’s The Hermit of Mink Hollow/Healing/The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect and Back to the Bars and Utopia’s Todd Rundgren’s Utopia/Another Live and Adventures in Utopia/Deface the Music/Swing to the Right.  Taken individually or a set, these albums represent some of the most restlessly creative, dynamic and just plain odd pop and rock created during the latter half of the 1970s and first half of the 1980s.

The earliest albums in this batch are Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (1974) and Another Live (1975), both recorded with the six-person “Utopia Mark II” line-up and combined as one 2-CD set.  (“Mark I” referred to a short-lived touring unit.)  Though Rundgren consented that he put his own name above the band’s for “obvious commercial reasons,” the music within its grooves was anything but commercial.  With Kevin Ellman (drums), Moogy Klingman (keyboards), Jean-Yves “M. Frog” Labat (synthesizers), Ralph Schuckett (keyboards) and John Siegler (bass/cello), Rundgren indulged his wildest sonic fantasies on Todd Rundgren’s Utopia.  With shifting tempi and a sound influenced as much by fusion jazz as by prog rock, TRU might be the place where the Mahavishnu Orchestra meets The Mothers of Invention.  Though its four individual tracks are lengthy (from 15 minutes to 30 minutes; only the four-minute “Freedom Fighters” is an exception), Rundgren explains in Paul Myers’ liner notes that there was very little jamming in the studio; these pieces were actually intricately structured, and created in the studio from individual segments.

“Freedom Fighters,” the album’s lone concession to song-oriented rock is a tough, metallic anthem, but the pop-ish backing vocals augur for Utopia’s future.  The likes of “Love is the Answer” would have to wait, though.  The album’s centerpiece is undoubtedly “The Ikon,” which took up the entirety of the original LP’s second side, clocking in at over one half-hour.  A prog mini-musical, the suite offers songs in miniature, with some catchy melodies featured over the prog workout as it builds to an intoxicating, swirling finale.  On the way, “The Ikon” is alternately childlike and futuristic, with even a bit of a country feel in one segment!  Clearly Rundgren wasn’t about to be boxed into one style, even with Utopia still more or less a “side project” to his solo career.  Another Live would show another dimension of the band.

Like TRU, Another Live featured collaborative songs written by band members in various combinations alongside Rundgren solo compositions.  Largely recorded in New York’s Central Park in August 1975, the album introduced a modified (but still not final) Utopia line-up, with Roger Powell replacing M. Frog, and Willie Wilcox replacing Kevin Ellman.  Soon, the band would transform into a tight four-piece unit, but for this concert, the six-man fusion group was augmented by trio of backing vocalists for an eclectic sequence of songs.  The first side of the original LP wouldn’t have shocked fans of the first album, with three long pieces.  “Another Life,” “The Wheel” and “The Seven Rays” weren’t exactly standard song forms, but nor were they 15-30 minute suites, either.  Rundgren anticipates a famed later song with the lyric “Sometimes you just don’t know what to feel” in the quiet, acoustic “The Wheel” while flourishes of trumpet and glockenspiel add a wholly new dimension to the Utopia sound.  This laconic track was extended with an audience sing-along.  “The Seven Rays” was on the rock/soul border, less structured than “The Wheel” with more room for instrumental improvisation.

A couple of well-chosen covers illustrate Rundgren’s restless muse.  “Something’s Coming,” the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim song from West Side Story, gets a true rock makeover, perhaps even something of which the forward-thinking Mr. Bernstein (who had dabbled in rock sounds himself in his concert piece Mass) would have approved.  Jeff Lynne is channeled on an energetic version of The Move (and later ELO)’s “Do Ya,” while Rundgren reprises the clattering “Heavy Metal Kids” and appropriately triumphant “Just One Victory.”

Hit the jump for more, including full track listings, discography and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 12, 2012 at 11:00

Release Round-Up: Week of March 6

leave a comment »

Mark Lindsay, The Complete Columbia Singles (Real Gone)

Joe calls this collection of the Paul Revere and The Raiders frontman’s solo single sides “one of (Real Gone’s) finest and most consistently enjoyable releases to date.” If that doesn’t get your catalogue muscles moving, it may be time to check your pulse!

Clannad, TimelessThe Essential Clannad (RCA/Legacy)

Alternately given both titles (the package has the latter while the sticker atop the disc has the former), this double-disc overview of one of Ireland’s favorite rock bands features a heap of Celtic tradition alongside guest vocals by Bono, Bruce Hornsby and Steve Perry.

Fats Domino, The Imperial Singles Volume 5: 1962-1964 (Ace)

The fifth and final volume from Ace of Fats’ Imperial single sides.

’til tuesday, Voices Carry: Expanded Edition (Hot Shot Records)

Boston-based ’80s rockers – best known as the first spotlight for lead singer/songwriter Aimee Mann’s talents – see their first, most successful album reissued by new Cherry Red imprint Hot Shot, with three single mixes as bonus tracks.

Rick Nelson, The Complete Epic Recordings (Real Gone)

Another victory for Real Gone: all of Rick Nelson’s late ’70s solo material for Epic Records, much of it released for the first time on CD, in the U.S. or both!

Todd Rundgren, Back to the BarsHermit of Mink Hollow/Healing/The Ever-Popular Tortured Artist Effect ; Utopia, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia/Another Live Adventures in Utopia/Deface the Music/Swing to the Right ; Roger Powell, Air Pocket / M. Frog, M. Frog (Edsel)

A whole lot of Todd Rundgren reissues.

David Sylvian, A Victim of Stars 1982-2012 (EMI)

Released last week in the U.K. and available on our shores now, this two-disc set collects the best of the Japan frontman’s solo work, with one new track.

Written by Mike Duquette

March 6, 2012 at 08:27

The Road to Utopia: M. Frog and Roger Powell of Rundgren’s Classic Band, Reissued

with one comment

Bearsville is back!  Even as Edsel Records has been tackling Todd Rundgren’s catalogue, both solo and with Utopia, the enterprising label hasn’t stopped there.  This month has brought two releases related to the Rundgren mystique but still capable of standing on their own considerable merits.  Roger Powell may be the most well-known of Utopia’s keyboard/synthesizer players, but he was actually preceded in the band by Jean Yves “M. Frog” Labat.  Both Labat and Powell recorded solo albums at Bearsville, and so the former’s M. Frog and the latter’s Air Pocket have been joined together on one disc by Edsel.

Though it comes first on the new CD, Roger Powell’s Air Pocket arrived in 1980, seven years after M. Frog’s solo album.  Like much of Utopia’s best work, Air Pocket is atmospheric, shimmering, ethereal, and futuristic.  Largely self-created by Powell, it does feature some special guests, such as John Holbrook (rhythm guitar and also the album’s engineer), Mark Styles (RMI keyboard computer), Clive Pozar (drums) and a certain Mr. Rundgren (E-bow guitar solo).

The first side of the original LP betrayed the pop influence of the changing Utopia, with fully developed songs still true to Powell’s spacey synthesizer sound; the second side emphasized more esoteric instrumental compositions.  Each and every track was written entirely by the artist, who also produced this unique effort.  Of the more accessible tracks, “Windows” is a very Utopia-like soft rock song with prominent harmonies (one could easily hear Todd having contributed) and oblique lyrics that lend an air of mystery.  “Emergency Splash-Down” boasts a harder-edged, jagged melody (“Warning light flashes/Emergency splashdown/It’s every man for himself now!”).  Rundgren makes his presence known via a subtle but recognizable guitar solo to the brief “Morning Chorus.”

Though there’s a coherence of sound among the album’s ten tracks, each song also has enough dynamics to keep the album interesting.  “March of the Dragonslayers” is a rather playful cut, though it doesn’t sound medieval at all, despite its title!  (Another title just begging to be a prog-rock song, “Dragons ‘n Griffins,” appears a couple of tracks later!)  Its B-side, a then-modern update of the surf-rock hit “Pipeline,” has been appended to this reissue.

A little of Air Pocket might go a long way for listeners less inclined to Utopia’s more far-out explorations, but the album is positively conservative compared to Jean Yves “M. Frog” Labat’s self-titled release, previously available on CD only in Japan.  Like Powell, Labat self-produced his debut effort, but Rundgren was on hand to mix the album.   (In case you’re wondering, Bearsville impresario Albert Grossman had suggested “Maestro Frog” as Labat’s moniker, but only the initial stuck!)  John Holbrook was heavily involved in M. Frog’s album, as well, but he was hardly the only member of the Bearsville family to contribute.  John Simon and Paul Butterfield make appearances, as do Garth Hudson and Rick Danko on “Welcome Home” and Rundgren on both “Suckling-Pigs Game” and “Hey Little Lady.”  In addition to his short-lived tenure as a member of Utopia, Labat also repaid the favor to Rundgren by playing EMS synthesizer on Todd’s 1973 solo album A Wizard, A True Star.

Hit the jump for much, much more including track listing with discography and an order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 29, 2012 at 10:07

So Esoteric: Todd Rundgren’s Lost “Disco Jets” and a Jim Capaldi Duo Coming Soon

leave a comment »

Longtime Todd Rundgren fans are familiar with the renaissance man’s numerous genre excursions, from pop to rock and everywhere in between: psychedelia, soul, electronica, even metal.  But comparatively fewer fans have heard Rundgren’s one and only full-blown excursion into disco.  Shortly after completing 1976’s Faithful LP, the iconoclastic producer took the members of Utopia into the studio to create the album known as Disco Jets.  Yet the album crafted by Willie Wilcox (drums), Roger Powell (keyboards/vocals), John Siegler (bass/vocals) and Rundgren has never seen release under its original name, although the tracks were included on the Japan-only Todd Rundgren: Demos and Lost Albums compilation.  Esoteric Recordings, a division of the Cherry Red Group, is changing all that with the March 26 release of Disco Jets, continuing its series of latter-day Rundgren and Utopia reissues.  But that’s not all coming from the enterprising label.  Traffic legend Jim Capaldi is celebrated with a pair of his earliest albums, 1972’s Oh How We Danced and 1974’s Whale Meat Again, both due on the same March 26 date.

Roger Powell recalled in 2010 to author Paul Myers that Utopia spent one weekend “cranking out” Disco Jets, basically for the hell of it: “It was a disco spoof, but it was a hoot to record and I remember laughing so hard I cried.”  John Siegler (who departed Utopia shortly after recording the lost album, citing fatigue) opined, “It was not one of our stellar moments.”  Myers, however, believes that the all-instrumental album is hardly worthy of dismissal and is “musically as interesting as anything Utopia ever did.”  It’s not hard to believe; it wouldn’t be the first time (nor the last) that Rundgren would spin musical gold from something intended to be tongue-in-cheek.

Hit the jump for more on Disco Jets, plus two albums from Jim Capaldi! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 10, 2012 at 09:52

Ever the Individualist: Todd Rundgren Goes Esoteric

with 4 comments

By the time 1993 rolled around, devotees of the musical wizardry of Todd Rundgren only knew to expect the unexpected.  Warner Bros. Records had rescued 1985’s A Cappella after the album had been rejected by Rundgren’s longtime home, Bearsville.    The maverick artist followed that with two efforts recorded expressly for the label, Nearly Human (1989) and 2nd Wind (1991).  These two albums showed the artist as a supreme pop craftsman with would-be classics like “The Want of a Nail” and “Parallel Lines” on the former, and “Change Myself” on the latter.  (“Parallel Lines,” like a handful of other songs on these albums, came from a 1989 stab at musical theatre, Up Against It.  Based on an unproduced Joe Orton screenplay intended for The Beatles, Rundgren’s musical was produced at Joe Papp’s Public Theater.  Writing for the New York Times, Mel Gussow called “Parallel Lines” the show’s “one good song.”)  After the Warner Bros. contract drew to a close, though, Rundgren entered another highly experimental period, and one that might have been his most cutting-edge yet.

Todd Rundgren’s rich catalogue has been revisited lately by not one, but two, major U.K. labels.  The Edsel Records/Bearsville campaign, launched just last week, will soon continue with four more volumes, according to the booklets from the first wave: Back to the Bars (EDSD 2125), Hermit of Mink Hollow/Healing/The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (EDSD 2126), Todd Rundgren’s Utopia/Another Live (EDSD 2127) and Adventures in Utopia/Deface the Music/Swing to the Right (EDSD 2129).  (Watch this space for the release date of that quartet once it’s revealed!)  Meanwhile, the Cherry Red affiliate Esoteric Recordings recently reissued three titles from the Utopia catalogue.  Redux 92: Live in Japan (ECLEC 22238) and Oblivion (ECLEC 22237) both added DVD content to the original albums, while POV (ECLEC 2255) appended previously-issued bonus tracks.

Esoteric’s next three Rundgren reissues span the period between 1993 and 2000 and find the ever popular tortured artist exploring his most radical avenues yet.  The first of the titles to be reissued by Esoteric, 1993’s No World Order, introduced “TR-i,” or “Todd Rundgren Interactive.”  The album was designed for Philips’ short-lived CD-i format, and here’s where the interactivity came in: listeners could control a number of elements of the music’s sequence, drawing on mixes prepared by Rundgren, Hal Willner, Bob Clearmountain and Jerry Harrison.  Your experience with No World Order could be altered by features like Program, Direction, Form, Tempo, Mood, Mix and Video; the music itself was roughly 990 four-bar musical segments, with each one a portion of a song and playable in multiple versions from instrumental to a cappella.  For those not equipped with CD-i, Rundgren offered his preferred mix of No World Order as a standard CD, which forms the core of Esoteric’s reissue.  A year later, he released No World Order Lite, an “accessible” version of the album with a more conventional song structure.  A Japanese-only release, NWO 1.01, included more distinct mixes.  Esoteric brings all three of these albums together, plus two tracks from a Japanese single and two more from a U.S. promotional single.  This 2-CD set, the centerpiece of Esoteric’s program, represents the most complete No World Order yet.

What’s next from Esoteric?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2011 at 14:17