Sunday, April 04, 2010

Get That Little Runt

The ever popular crazy guy effect

This started with part of a Meat Loaf song and a Def Lep Behind The Album doc. Last week I was thinking about how much I liked the song "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad", one of the funniest power ballads ever. Hearing the Loaf sweetly croon "I want you, I need you but I'm never ever gonna love you" to an imaginary girl is killer, I'm cryin' icicles instead of tears! There's a part of the song that goes "I'll never be able yada yada yada" that has a layered vocal and slightly sways. That part is a trademark sound of the Runt, Todd Rundgren. Obsessing on that part, I remembered something Joe Elliot of Def Lep said of Jim Steinman's attempt to produce the band, "Jim Steinman didn't produce Bat Out Of Hell, he wrote it. Todd Rundgren produced it."

When I first started listening to music closely, my neighbor (also named Mike) played a key role because he was already deep into it. At the time, he had this hero worship for his older brother. His older brother was a huge fan of Todd Rundgren. So as a result, Mike was always trying to get me into Todd Rundgren, giving me copies of Rundgren and Utopia tapes even when I didn't want them. I did give them a try but didn't enjoy them, Rundgren was too artsy for my taste back then. So I've heard a lot of his back catalog yet I can barely tell you anything about it.

Since that point, Rundgren has slowly creeped into my life. Mainly as a producer, the first song I got hooked on with his fingerprints was Cheap Trick's "I Can't Take It". Again, my neighbor Mike made me a copy of this record he had to have just because Rundgren produced it. I can definitely hear the Rundgren influence on this album, and since I was already a fan of the Trick it wasn't a stretch for me to like this. My same friend who hated Loverboy because his brother told him they suck, borrowed my Keep It Up tape for over a month because their ballad "It's Never Easy" sounded Rundgren-esque. The Runt kept popping up in my life here or there, as it surprised me when I read his producer credit for XTC when they delivered their atheistic epic "Dear God".

After that, Rundgren fell off my radar until last year. His music that had been covered, used in tv shows and movies a bit in the past decade. When I put together an AOR compilation cd for my car, I included Utopia's "Crybaby" and played that track to death. Then, I heard his ballad "Can We Still Be Friends" on some movie soundtrack and became hooked on it. The delicate, tenative sound of the song was engrossing. Then Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs featured not just one, but two Rundgren covers "Hello It's Me" and "Couldn't I Just Tell You". They were highlights on the duo's covers album. His music would pop up when I saw reruns of That 70's show, again "Hello It's Me" memorably used on a shot of Eric and Donna lying back on his car looking skyward. And lastly, during my final months at work a co-worker repeatedly put on a playlist that guessed it...."Hello It's Me".

All this exposure has led me to re-evaluate the Runt. Those swaying choruses, lush keyboards, plaintive first person ramblings developed meaning for me. Last week I downloaded The Very Best Of Todd Rundgren for my IPOD and couldn't be happier. In fact, one of my favorite songs right now is his version of "Couldn't I Just Tell You" thanks to Sweet/Hoffs memorable cover. So, nearly 30 years after my first Rundgren record I'm finally getting what it is he did. As my wife would be happy to tell you, I'm a little slow.

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