Todd Rundgren

Bearsville Records, 1970


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Although we've featured numerous reviews of Todd Rundgren here on "The Daily Vault," I'm still embarrassed to admit that I don't know as much about the man's music as I'd like to. It's one thing to take an album and judge it on its own values, as I've been doing here with Rundgren's work almost from day one of the site. But it's another thing to go back to the beginning and follow the natural progression of the music and the musician.

With that in mind, into the Pierce Memorial Archives (rooms by the hour) I went, and out I came with my battered copy of 1970's Runt, Rundgren's first solo effort. (It may surprise some of the Todd-heads out there that I didn't review this one on CD, meaning some of my criticisms of the sound might, in fact, be a bit harsh. Judge this one on your own experiences.) While this album shows a lot of the self-deprecating and biting humor Rundgren had, as well as some of the musical genius he possessed, this is still a picture of the artist in development - not bad, but occasionally rough on the edges.

Often utilizing the rhythm section of brothers Tony (bass) and Hunt (drums) Sales - who would later become half of David Bowie's side project Tin Machine, Rundgren takes a little time to really get to the magical stuff. "Broke Down And Busted" isn't a bad effort, but I thought he buried his guitar work too far in the mix, especially at the end, with all the layered guitars kind of butting heads. "Believe In Me" is the first inkling that a special artist was in the works, showing off a more tender side of the rocker.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Then, you get to the first bonafide Rundgren classic (and one of the first Rundgren songs I was ever seriously exposed to), "We Got To Get You A Woman". (At last, the story of my high school experience - oops, I've said too much.) Going from a funky shuffle in the verses to a pop chorus is an interesting twist, and is one that works very well. The Todd-heads in the audience will also gladly point out the way that Rundgren throws in the surprise ending, with the revelation our hero makes when searching for a woman for his buddy: "And when we're through with you, / We'll get me one too." Ka-pow.

The humor Rundgren possesses can also be a sarcastic, but truthful, slap, as heard on "I'm In The Clique," a tale about trying to make it in the music business. True, this might be seen as some harsh words from someone so young, but having cut his teeth with The Nazz, Rundgren undoubtedly knew what he was talking about. Be this as it may, you can't help but laugh at lyrics like: "Get your greasy hands off the guitar, / Get your slimey [sic] seat off the drums."

Runt contains a few more moments of brilliance, such as the all-out rocker "Who's That Man?" and "Birthday Carol," whose opening sounds like it could have been lifted from David Letterman's band. (The only negative about "Birthday Carol" is that I thought the song was stretched out a little too long - nothing major, though.)

It's not to say that other songs like "Once Burned" (featuring Rick Danko and Levon Helm from The Band) and the trio of "Baby, Let's Swing / The Last Thing You Said / Don't Tie My Hands" is bad, it's just that the magic that you hear on other tracks isn't as strong on these. Still, the tunes are enjoyable.

One thing you have to realize going into Runt is that Rundgren, while still a very competent songwriter and musician, was developing as a solo artist. While the bulk of the material on this album is very enjoyable, it doesn't come close to representing his best work - though it's not terribly far off the mark. Frankly, there's no way I can say that without offending someone - though I will be quick to say that the Rundgren fans, while adamant about their hero's music, are also very polite when correcting the reviewer.

Runt is an interesting portrait of the artist as a young man, and is still very much worth picking up, though I'd argue against making this your first selection to pick up. If you do, just don't expect the serious fireworks; instead, consider this to be the opening blasts of the show.

Rating: B

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Bearsville Records, and is used for informational purposes only.