45 Years Ago: Todd Rundgren Goes Solo and Makes a Masterpiece With ‘Something / Anything?’
Todd Rundgren seemed to be on the verge of something big since the late '60s. But something always got in the way of that next step.
His band Nazz released three albums that never climbed beyond cult status. And his production work -- starting a long career that's included albums for Badfinger, Grand Funk, Meat Loaf, Patti Smith and XTC, among others -- was just now getting started after being sprinkled with behind-the-scenes engineering gigs on records by the Band and an aborted attempt to make a Janis Joplin LP.
Plus, the two solo albums he released at the top of the '70s weren't exactly huge sellers, even though the 1970 single "We Gotta Get You a Woman," credited to Runt, made it to No. 20. Then in late 1971 he began work on his third album, and the one that would make him a star: Something / Anything?
He did it by pretty much rearranging his past. He went solo -- almost entirely solo -- writing, recording and playing most of the double album by himself. And with all those tricks he picked up with all that studio time, he was able to effortlessly craft a masterpiece of technical wizardry, blue-eyed soul and some hints of the experimental path his career would take over the next few years.
Rundgren began recording Something / Anything? in Los Angeles, working in a studio by himself, layering instruments -- starting with drums -- one by one until the songs were finished. The whirlwind sessions (fueled by pot, Rundgren admitted) yielded some of his best songs, including album opener "I Saw the Light," "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" and "Couldn't I Just Tell You."
An earthquake hit L.A. after Rundgren had enough material recorded for a double album, but he returned to his home in New York and wanted to lay down more songs, these in the form of live jam sessions with musicians he didn't know. The task of assembling the players -- including guitarist Rick Derringer, Blood, Sweat and Tears co-founder Randy Brecker and some members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band -- went to keyboardist Moogy Kingman, who would later form the more prog-minded Utopia with Rundgren.
The results were pared down to Something / Anything?'s fourth side, 25 minutes of songs like "Slut," a track that included '60s-era snippets of Rundgren's early bands covering "Money (That's What I Want)" and "Messin' With the Kid" and, best of all, a power-pop update of "Hello It's Me," a song from Rundgren's Nazz days that was originally recorded as a mournful dirge. The reworked song was released as a single and hit No. 5, his only Top 10.
It's the centerpiece of Something / Anything?, along with the LP's fourth side. The album was shaped by Rundgren's unhappiness working with other people, but was partly defined by the full-band workouts that end the record. Either way, it served its purpose. Rundgren, the producer who had in a hand in crafting other artists' hit records, was now a hit-making solo artist himself.
The album made it to No. 29 on the chart after its release in February 1972. It was Rundgren's highest charting LP and his biggest seller. More important, though, it opened up a creative period that produced two more great albums over the next couple of years: 1973's A Wizard, a True Star and the following year's Todd, both way more experimental than the pop-leaning Something / Anything?, his undeniable masterpiece.
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