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Todd Rundgren - Runt CD (album) cover


Todd Rundgren

Crossover Prog

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4 stars I apologize for my bias in advance. Truth is, this album holds special meaning for me because its release coincides with my own release from the home I grew up in. At the still-tender age of twenty I moved into my very own efficiency apartment located a mere three blocks from the NTSU campus in Denton, Texas. The local independent record vendor was conveniently located in a storefront on my way to and from my classes and on one of my initial visits I spotted none other than beanpole Todd gazing wanly into my face, begging me to take him home to my turntable. Being a huge fan of the man's impressive work with his previous band, Nazz, I didn't hesitate for a second to part with a portion of my paltry parental allowance and invite "Runt" to become part of my personal renaissance.

Mr. Rundgren obviously adhered to the philosophy of "if you don't like the way others are doing it, do it yourself" because, other than the rhythm sections, it's all Todd and that in itself was quite innovative for 1970. That self-reliant attitude accounts for a certain quaint "looseness" that pervades this debut but that only contributes to its charm. The first half is pretty standard-for-the-era fare but the second half has much more of a prog flavor.

Rundgren starts things off with a heavy dose of lazy electric blues, not all that different from what Nazz did so well. Yet "Broke Down and Busted" still wends its way through a somewhat unconventional chord progression for that genre and the trio of Todd & the Hunt brothers turn in a respectable impression of Cream during the spirited instrumental sections, especially during the extended fadeout. "Believe in Me" is a short-lived piano ballad that reveals his affection for traditional songwriting and "We Got to Get You a Woman" is the bright, up tempo pop ditty that climbed into the crowded Top 20 singles charts and garnered him some much-needed attention early on. "Who's That Man" is a straight-ahead rocker where he gets to unleash some fiery guitar licks and his clever sense of humor. Here he warns a former lover named Maryanne that her new beau is, among other dubious things, "a black brother, an unwed mother/a flag-waver and a rock & roll raver/a hippie killer, an offshore driller/the new messiah and a habitual liar."

On "Once Burned" Todd enlists the capable talents of Rick Danko and Levon Helm (of The Band) to provide bass and drums but it's just another brief, bluesy torch song that barely lasts two minutes. After a mysterious, strumming intro "Devil's Bite" crashes in with a timely, harder edge to get the locomotive back on the rails and serves as a fine example of Rundgren's propensity for riff-based rock. The furious multiple guitar onslaught in the middle is exhilarating and the sharply-pointed words are a warning to his personal demon to stay out of his way. "I knew some day you'd be along/swingin' your tail and singin' a dead man's song/just when things get good you want your take/but you're wrong/'cause I'm leaving this shell and I'm movin' on," he announces defiantly.

Just when you think you've got a bead on what Todd is about, along comes the quirky modern jazz/rock of "I'm in the Clique." After an eerie, ghost-like beginning the exquisite drums of jazz legend Bobby Moses joined with bassist John Miller and the electric piano of Mark Klingman drive this eclectic piece like a finely-tuned gas engine. Rundgren's lyrical assessment of the snobby New York "in-crowd," delivered in a delicious, tongue-in-cheek monotone is not to be missed. "Maybe I could give you advice/but what can I say to you?/some people get it together/and some people never do/just try and get your foot in the door/and maybe, with a little luck, you may/also be in a position/to look down your nose on somebody someday," he sings sarcastically. Both Moses and Miller take advantage of the opportunity to solo their skills during this number. Next is the appropriately titled "There Are No Words," a slice of vocal experimentation that predates those later undertaken by the likes of David Crosby. Very soothing and cool.

What follows is a lively medley of three songs that work together incredibly well. After a funny, overwrought doo-wop intro "Baby, Let's Swing" takes over and glides. It's a not-so-subtle tribute to Laura Nyro's contemporary style of composing that segues seamlessly into "The Last Thing You Said" where the beat gets stronger and showcases the diligent work Todd put into systematically stacking his own harmony vocals. By the time "Don't Tie My Hands" enters the fray the music has grown into a driving force of nature that patiently builds up to a chorale climax that still moves me to this day. It may not be prog but I don't care. Good is good. So sue me. The longest tune is the finale, "Birthday Carol." It's structured in a very progressive way, much like his fabulous "A Beautiful Song" was that appeared on the classic Nazz Nazz LP. Since he takes credit for all instrumentation other than what is specified in the liner notes, the string quartet opening shows yet another aspect of Todd's considerable abilities. The ensuing shuffle groove provided by the rhythm section of Don Ferris and Mickey Brook lays down a firm foundation for Rundgren to dazzle on the guitar, backed by his own horn section. Abruptly the track drops into a quieter, piano-based interlude that is added to eventually with acoustic guitar and brass before the whole band returns in full force. Todd's somber string quartet closes the tune with a whisper.

Todd Rundgren showed all the world with this debut that he wasn't going to be restricted to creating any particular kind of music or coerced into developing a commercial, "sellable" image as he was while spearheading Nazz. Manager Albert Grossman and his fledgling Bearsville record label believed in nurturing the immense potential that Todd possessed and the result is this wonderful array of songs and musical influences that characterize this album. Some of it is predictably dated and it's far from being the tightest record you've ever heard but the heart and soul that this newly-unfettered artist poured into the project is genuine and refreshing compared to so much of the over-produced muzak that our ears are subjected to all too often. And, as I explained earlier, it will always represent freedom to me. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#196785)
Posted Thursday, January 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Visions of Utopia

"Runt" is generally acknowledged as the start of Todd Rundgren's solo career. Prior to this time he had been a member of the short lived band Nazz, but in 1970 he decided the time was right to establish a solo career. When this album was originally released however, "Runt" was both the album title, and the name of the band to whom it was credited. Only on later re-releases has Todd's name appeared as the credited artist. The band Runt was in fact a trio, the other band members being drummer Hunt Sales and bassist Tony Sales. All the songs are composed by Todd, who also sings and plays all other instruments.

Offering a good indication in terms of diversity of content, if not in terms of style, "Runt" is a curious mix of sounds and genres. The familiar tones of Todd are however ever present right from the opening, surprisingly downbeat "Broke down and busted". The song is a blues based number with some fine lead guitar. Things take an even softer turn with the following piano ballad "Believe in me".

It is only when we get to the single taken from the album "We got to get you a woman" that the pace is lifted. The song is a sort of early version of "I saw the light", with Beach Boys nuances and a catchy hook. "Who's that man" lifts the pace further through a retro rock'n'roll style song of the type Todd would revert to often on later Utopia albums.

"Once burned" is slow ELO type ballad with slightly distorted vocals and atmospheric organ. Side one of the LP closes with "Devil's bite", a meandering piece of light pop rock.

The second side of the album is the more adventurous, with just four tracks including a 9 minute closer. "I'm in the clique", which opens the side has a more complex arrangement with bursts of brass alternating with semi-chanted vocal refrains. The instrumental break is by far the loosest recorded by Todd up until this point, offering an indication of the direction he would explore on the first Utopia album. The track segues into the even more obscure "There are no words", which surprisingly (or not!) is an instrumental! Actually it is not so much an instrumental as a passage of ambient noise.

The three part medley "Baby let's swing/ The last thing you said/ Don't tie my hands" reverts to the accessible light pop style with Todd demonstrating his ability to capture a memorable hook and melody. The closing "Birthday Carol" also reveals a willingness on the part of Todd to look beyond the conventional pop boundaries. A brief quasi-symphonic opening leads to an orthodox blues guitar section. This in turn suddenly gives way to a soft piano ballad middle section, the guitar rock returning for the final part of the track.

Whether this was technically Todd's first solo album is largely academic. He wrote and sang all the songs and played all you hear with the exception of bass and drums. While there is a certain lack of continuity in the varied styles and sounds, "Runt" offers a good indication of the many directions Rundgren would travel in on future albums.

Report this review (#198427)
Posted Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars The genesis of this album has been very well depicted by Easy Livin (as usual should I say). The music available on this album (at least during the first part) is a combo of blues rock (the opener), some syrupy ballads ("Believe In Me", "Once Burned"), some pure rock'n'roll ("Who's That Man") and basic US classic rock ("Devil's Bite"). These songs are rather "short" to make this intro very interesting.

Fortunately, the flip side of the album is much better even if the experimental and pre "Utopia" style "I'm In The Clique" is not of an easy approach. This album is quite diversified (too much maybe): the short spacey and instrumental "There Are No Words" is quite a change compared to the previous track.

But so is the whole album. Too many different musical directions as far as I'm concerned. This lead to a complete lack of unity. The melodic and almost Beatles-esque "Baby Let's Swing?" is one of the most pleasant moment from "Runt". Nice vocal arrangements (but Todd excels in this duty). But even in this mini-suite of less than six minutes, Todd proposes three different parts which are quite alien one from each other.

It is impossible to find any direction here. Just a kaleidoscope of musical styles. The closing and short epic (almost ten minutes) being another example: a jazzy, bluesy and noisy intro, some fine and very melodic vocals (again very much in the Fab Four style), and some good instrumental part to close.

I can't go higher than two stars for this work. Too loose. Better things are to come?

Report this review (#247384)
Posted Friday, October 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars Todd Rundgren's first solo album, released in 1970, is mostly a pop album, avery good pop album for it's time, with just a few slight hints of the prog and experimental side of the artist.

The pop songs are quite diverse, more so than on the albums by Rundgren's previous group, The Nazz. We Gotta Get You A Woman made it quite high in the charts at the time (It holds a special place in my memories, as it enraged my mother, a devout feminist for the lines: "Talking 'bout things about that special one. They may be stupid but they sure are fun."). But each of the pop songs are nice in their own way, although none reach the level of greatness.

The hints of prog come in I'm In The Clique, a heavy, but quirky piece that slams pretentious New Yorkers, and Birthday Carol a light piece with a bit of a classical influence, and diverse movements.

Report this review (#388529)
Posted Friday, January 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, this is a pleasant surprise. Todd Rundgren's first two albums don't come up too often, and tend to be overlooked a bit compared to his pop masterpiece "Something/Anything?" and the more experimental albums that followed that one. As such, I was mostly expecting a prototypical S/A experience here. In a way, that's what I got, but there's more here than just some pleasant pop tunes from a not yet fully developed Todd.

One thing that immediately stood out to me after my first listen was the division of the album into two distinct sides. I don't know if this was intentional (I couldn't find anything about this), but considering "Something/Anything?" has its songs divided up into four titled sides, I wouldn't be surprised if it was. The first side indeed has the proto- S/A style pop/blues/ballads I was expecting. A lot of these will remind you of songs off that double album, though the mix, arrangements and Todd's singing aren't quite as polished yet. It still sounds rather good for 1970, and I do love Todd's voice, but the growth between this album and 1972 is clear. Think of how The Beatles' early singles showcased their style well but weren't as polished yet as, say, "A Hard Day's Night", and you get the idea ? the seeds for "Something/Anything?" are there. This first side consists of generally solid tunes. The highlights here are "We Gotta Get You A Woman", a minor hit for Rundgren which sports the album's catchiest chorus, and "Who's That Man?", an energetic rock-and-roller that shows off Todd's humorous side.

Side two, however, is where the more ambitious songs lie. All of the four tracks on this side stand out for one reason or another, and I will now dryly describe them to prove the point. "I'm In The Clique" starts the side off with some ominous ghost noises that I'm guessing are coming from Mark Klingman's keyboards, and evolves into some jazzy bass and drums improvisation. In the eerie acapella "There Are No Words", there are no words, but it does feature some of Todd's best vocals on the album. After that is a medley of three songs preceded by a short doo- wop parody. These three songs return to the pop stylings of the first side, but by having them stitched together like this, they fit in well with the second side's more experimental nature. They also feature some of the hookiest melodies on the album and despite my praising of the experimental touches on this side, this medley of pop songs is my favorite track on the album.

The closing track's the multi-part "Birthday Carol", and it's easily the most proggy track here. Its arch form contains an orchestral intro and outro, and a bluesy jam sandwiching the main body, which is a very Rundgren-y ballad. The lyrics are more complicated here than on the rest of the album, though don't ask me what it's supposed to mean. It's essentially a prog track on a pop album, and ends the album on a good and memorable note.

In all, not a bad first solo album, though it's not really a solo album technically, as it was originally credited to Runt. Runt is Todd, and the brothers Hunt and Tony Sales on respectively drums and bass, but since all the writing and production is done by Rundgren, and he handles most instruments aside from drums and bass, Runt = Todd Rundgren as much as Frank Zappa = The Mothers. Apparently Todd wasn't quite comfortable yet putting out an album credited to just himself, and as he was relatively fresh (The Nazz had their debut album released two years before this one), and young at 22, you can't blame him. He still sounds a little insecure in his singing at times too, I find. Later albums show a better eye - or ear, I guess - for details (not that there's nothing like that here ? e.g., one nice touch is the way the main ballad segues back into the blues jam on "Birthday Carol"), but's still a good start, and one that prog fans should be able to appreciate given the interesting tracks on side B.

Rating: 8/10 Highlight of the album: "Baby Let's Swing"/"The Last Thing You Said"/"Don't Tie My Hands"

Report this review (#2770676)
Posted Tuesday, June 14, 2022 | Review Permalink

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