Todd Rundgren is one of rock’s great auteurs. Along with artists like Emmit Rhodes, Paul McCartney, and Prince, Rundgren has the ability to put together entire albums on his own. He writes the songs, plays nearly all the instruments, and produces his albums. The 1970 album Runt is often thought to be Rundgren’s first solo album because later reissues identify it as a Rundgren album, but the fact is that at the time of the original Ampex release, Runt was a band consisting of Rundgren along with Hunt Sales on bass and Tony Sales on drums. Still, Rundgren wrote all the songs, produced the album, and played all the instruments aside from bass and drums (and, I suspect, the strings and horns).
The album distinctly shows the three sides of Rundgren’s genius. There are guitar rave-ups (Rundgren has always been underrated as a guitar player) like the opening “Broke Down and Busted,” “Who’s That Man,” and “Devil’s Bite.” Then there are the ineffably sad, beautiful ballads for which Rundgren has become a favorite of many. These include “Believe In Me,” and “Once Burned.” Finally there are the flat out pop masterworks like “We Gotta Get You A Woman,” which reached #20 on the U.S. charts, and the medley “Baby Let’s Swing/The Last Thing You Said/Don’t Tie My Hands.” The opening song of the medley is a wonderful tribute to songwriter Laura Nyro. What makes it particular special is that Rundgren places it musically within the jaunty shuffle that was a hallmark of Nyro’s work. A mis-pressed vinyl release from later in 1970 offered a full-length version of “Baby Let’s Swing,” and the beautiful ballad “Hope I’m Around,” which eventually ended up on Rundgren’s next album, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. There were only 5,000 copies of these mis-presses, but we can be thankful for the bountiful Internet.
Todd Rundgren recorded three albums with the Philadelphia band Nazz before leaving in 1969. The indelible original version of “Hello It’s Me,” which appeared on the first Nazz album, was a Top 50 hit in Canada. After leaving Nazz, he formed Runt. Whether Runt is a true solo album or a band effort remains a bit of a mystery. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren was even more of a solo effort, and by 1972, Rundgren was playing everything on three of the four sides of his masterpiece Something/Anything.
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