Once he wraps up the current leg of Ringo Starr’s sold-out All-Starr Band tour, Todd Rundgren will embark on a series of solo dates billed as “An Unpredictable Evening.” But in fairness, isn’t every solo concert with Rundgren an unpredictable evening? A typical (?) night with Todd could draw upon impeccable AM pop, heavy metal, prog rock, electronica, Gilbert and Sullivan and even bossa nova – and still not present every side of the musical iconoclast. As Rundgren has amassed a back catalogue now totaling 24 studio albums and numerous live releases and anthologies, it’s no surprise that there’s considerable interest in the varied music he’s crafted over the years.
In 2011, Demon Music Group’s Edsel label began reissuing Rundgren’s Bearsville catalogue, both solo and with Utopia, and continued onto his Warner Bros. years. Those titles were largely delivered in multi-album sets combining two or three LPs in one package. This year, Edsel has been revisiting the early Rundgren catalogue as standalone CDs in its deluxe casebound book format (previously utilized for reissues by Everything But the Girl, Bananarama, Belinda Carlisle and others), with discs enclosed within a lavish hardbound book. The second batch in this series includes 1975’s Initiation, 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow, and a special 2-CD version of Rundgren’s 1970 solo debut Runt as paired with the first-ever standalone CD presentation of the complete sequence of The Alternate Runt. Taken together, they dramatically illustrate the arc of a career as songwriter, producer and artist.
Following his defection from the Philadelphia rock group Nazz, Rundgren spread his wings as a solo artist in May 1970 at the age of 23. While in a pop/blue-eyed soul vein, Runt introduced Rundgren the eclectically-inclined artist on its 10 tracks. He was joined by musicians including Tony and Hunt Sales, and on one track, future Utopia member Moogy Klingman. Buoyed by the impossibly catchy – and often-misunderstood – hit single “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” Runt featured Rundgren as piano-playing singer-songwriter (the yearning ballad “Believe in Me,” garage rocker (the driving “Who’s That Man”) and studio auteur (the haunting, wordless exercise in stacked harmony vocals, appropriately titled “There are No Words”). Runt found room for the brassy, nine-minute rock opus “Birthday Carol,” and welcomed Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band for “Once Burned,” another pretty ballad distinguished by Rundgren’s mannered vocal, on which he sounds a bit like Alan Wilson of Canned Heat!
After the jump: more on Runt, plus Initiation and Hermit of Mink Hollow!
Edsel’s previous reissue of Runt (on which the album was paired with its follow-up, Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren) premiered on CD the alternate tracks from the later November 1970 mispressing of the album. This longer, 12-track Alternate Runt had just four identical tracks to the standard version. It offered alternative mixes of three tracks and added the exclusive songs “Say No More,” “Baby Let’s Swing (Complete Version)” and “Hope I’m Around,” the latter of which was later included in different form on The Ballad. Though “Devil’s Bite” gains an even more searing, extended guitar solo on this alternate pressing, the album as a whole takes on a more reflective, even mellow feel with the inclusion of “Hope I’m Around” and the complete “Baby Let’s Swing,” which was excerpted in a medley on the standard Runt. The delicious, poignant “Swing” is one of the best of Rundgren’s Laura Nyro-inspired songs. The grafting of “There Are No Words” as an introduction to the bluesy “Broke Down and Busted” as the album’s opener also adds an ethereal touch. This is the first time The Alternate Runt has been released from start to finish on CD; it alone makes this edition essential to any Rundgren collection. As a bonus, Edsel adds a previously released 1972 live version of “Broke Down and Busted” to the Alternate Runt disc.
Initiation (1975) followed the avant-garde Todd (released in Edsel’s last wave) with an even more sprawling affair – the longest-ever single LP, at 68 minutes’ length. On this experimental set, Rundgren embraced the synthesizer-driven progressive rock sound of his band Utopia, creating an album with two distinctive sides. The first was a grab-bag in the style of A Wizard, A True Star or Todd, with a diverse array of songs, some quite lengthy, in a rock idiom. Side One led off with the Philly soul-influenced “Real Man” featuring Utopia alumni Kevin Ellman, John Siegler, Ralph Schuckett and Moogy Klingman, and took in the jazzy title track with sax solo by David Sanborn. The nearly a cappella “Born to Synthesize” was an apt title, with Rundgren running his voice through a Moog and other synthesizers. The soulful “Fair Warning” boasted guests Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer and Dan Hartman, and Derringer also appeared on “The Death of Rock and Roll” with its scorching guitar and lyrical attack on the establishment: “Just the other day, I got a call from a friend/”I heard what you been playin’ and I think it’s a sin/Why can’t you make a living like the rest of the boys/Instead of filling your head with all that synthesized noise?” Those close-minded friends wouldn’t have appreciated Side Two, which broke all of the rules with the unorthodox 36-minute “A Treatise on Cosmic Fire.” The treatise welcomed future Utopia keyboardist Roger Powell into the fold (credited with “creative assistance,”) and found Rundgren taking his skill at the synthesizer a giant step forward.
Edsel’s series picks up two albums later with 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow. Rundgren had followed Initiation with Faithful, a brave concept album featuring note-for-note recreations of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and The Yardbirds on Side One and a strong set of catchy pop-rock originals on the flipside. For Hermit, he also crafted a collection with two disparate sides, this time “The Easy Side” – which continued the more accessible style of Faithful’s second side – and “The Difficult Side.” And did I mention that he also played every instrument and sung every note on the LP? “The Easy Side” introduced one of Rundgren’s greatest and most wistful songs, “Can We Still Be Friends?” as well as a coulda-been-a-hit, “Hurting For You.” He was in quirky but bouncy mode for “All the Children Sing,” gleefully silly on “Onomatopoeia,” heartfelt on the shimmering “Too Far Gone” with its bossa-esque verses, and anthemic on “Determination.”
Rundgren labelled the flipside of the LP “The Difficult Side,” but it wasn’t “difficult” in the sense of Initiation or even the masterworks A Wizard, A True Star or Todd. Instead, the label referred in large part to its lyrical content. The artist made one of his rare ventures into social commentary (see Utopia’s Swing to the Right for another example of this) with the chilling “Bag Lady” and “Bread.” But even these edgy themes were couched in passionate, accessible melodies, with Rundgren citing Laura Nyro as influencing the piano-centric “Bag Lady.” Another cut off the “Difficult Side,” “Lucky Guy,” is one of the most sincere items in the singer’s catalogue. It’s no wonder that Hermit of Mink Hollow remains one of Rundgren’s most beloved albums.
These new casebound editions, coordinated by Edsel’s Val Jennings and featuring Peter Rynston’s fine, crisp remasterings from the previous round of reissues, all boast exemplary liner notes from Paul Myers adapted from his definitive Rundgren study A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio. Full lyrics are also present for each album, and all of the packages retain original artwork elements as presented on the LPs including Bearsville labels. As Edsel’s past remasters of these three titles are still readily available, it’s fair to ask: other than completists, for whom are these intended? Those acquiring the Rundgren catalogue for the first time might rather turn to these standalone editions than the combined releases; so might the purists in Rundgren’s audience. If you already own the last Edsel editions, the classy, attractive and sturdy packaging is the main attraction for Initiation and Hermit; the presence of The Alternate Runt on its own CD makes that title an important addition to the catalogue. As there’s no bonus audio on the other two titles, it’s simply a matter of taste and preference. In any format, however, these three albums represent an endlessly fascinating period for one of pop music’s most creative, prolific and restless visionaries. The final track of Hermit of Mink Hollow is entitled “Fade Way.” Rundgren sings, “You and I will stay and see them all fade away…” Indeed, this is music that happily won’t fade away.
You can order the three Todd Rundgren reissues at the links below!
CD 1: Runt (Ampex/Bearsville LP 10105, May 1970)
- Broke Down and Busted
- Believe in Me
- We Gotta Get You a Woman
- Who’s That Man?
- Once Burned
- Devil’s Bite
- I’m In The Clique
- There Are No Words
- Baby Let’s Swing /The Last Thing You Said /Don’t Tie My Hands
- Birthday Carol
CD 2: The Alternate Runt (issued November 1970)
- Broke Down and Busted [Intro: There Are No Words]
- Believe in Me [alternate mix]
- We Gotta Get You a Woman [alternate mix]
- Who’s That Man?
- Once Burned
- Hope I’m Around [exclusive track – early version]
- Devil’s Bite [alternate mix with extended guitar solo]
- I’m in the Clique
- There Are No Words
- Baby Let’s Swing [exclusive track – full length song]
- Say No More [exclusive track]
- Birthday Carol [alternate version with some alterations]
- Broke Down and Busted (Bonus Track) (Live at Carnegie Hall, June 8, 1972 – previously issued on Somewhere/Anywhere, Victor Japan, 1988)
- Real Man
- Born to Synthesize
- The Death of Rock and Roll
- Eastern Intrigue
- Fair Warning
- A Treatise on Cosmic Fire
Todd Rundgren, Hermit of Mink Hollow (Bearsville BR 6981, 1978 – reissued Edsel EDSA 5003, 2014) (Amazon U.S. TBD / Amazon U.K.)
- All the Children Sing
- Can We Still Be Friends
- Hurting for You
- Too Far Gone
- Bag Lady
- You Cried Wolf
- Lucky Guy
- Out of Control
- Fade Away