A funny thing happened to Todd Rundgren in the ’80s – his commercial solo work get progressively more experimental and inaccessible, while Utopia, formerly his outlet for his more prog-rock, spacey forays, became more and more mainstream.
In 1982, Utopia jumped the New Wave train and released a self-titled three-sided (!) album, complete with a snazzy 1982 wardrobe and an MTV video hit with “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”, which presented the Rundrgren-led quartet as cuddly insects:
MTV embraced the clip, playing it death, but the music channel was still too young to fully break a single yet (that would change very soon and very quickly), and “Feet” failed to step up the charts. No? Trying too hard? Sorry. Anyway, the single is a catchy one, almost a sea shanty, and should have charted at least higher than a wimpy #82.
Two years later, Utopia stormed MTV again with the video for “Crybaby”, and a new album, Oblivion, on a new independent label, Passport. Again, a great, post-apocalyptic video saw near-constant play and with a strong song behind it, it looked like Todd’s side project might have a big hit on its hands:
But again, mainstream chart success eluded Utopia.
Meanwhile, Todd continued his solo work, but in more experimental areas, with the exception of a then-minor chart hit in 1983 (The Best Year for Music Ever!) called “Bang the Drum All Day”. While “Bang” peaked at #63, you’ve probably heard it at least once this week, most likely Friday at 5 p.m. Rundgren continued to experiment with synths, drum machines and sampling, to the point that in 1985, he released A Capella, a strange little album featuring absolutely no instruments, save Todd’s electronically enhanced voice. Every sound – drums, keys, bass – was actually made from Rundgren’s vocals. Again, MTV responded by playing the single, “Something To Fall Back On”, a neat little ode to being a back-up boyfriend. Look quickly at the beginning for a glimpse of some vintage Martha Quinn!
Once more, despite MTV support and an early use of computer graphics, the video wasn’t enough to interest radio in the single and Todd missed a hit again. Don’t cry for Todd Rundgren, though…not only did he have huge hits such as “Hello, It’s Me” in the early ’70s, he moved into production, helming XTC’s Skylarking and the Psychedelic Furs’ Forever Now. He also produced Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell LP, so he can never work and spend a gajillion dollars a day for the next 50 years if he wants.
“Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” peaked at #82 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1983.
“Crybaby” and “Something To Fall Back On” did not chart.
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