Since the dawn of the CD era, Todd Rundgren's classic Bearsville LPs have appeared and re-appeared with regularity - yet they had never appeared in the physical format for which they're most ideally suited: high-resolution audio. Thanks to Analog Spark, that's all changed. The label has just released hybrid stereo SACDs of the singer-songwriter-producer's third and fourth Bearsville LPs - the career-defining Something/Anything (1973) and its daring successor, A Wizard, A True Star (1974). While Rundgren likely fashioned the latter title with tongue planted firmly in cheek, he lived up to those descriptions with a steadfast embrace of the unexpected that hasn't abated all these decades later. Analog Spark's new reissues (playable on all CD players) restore the luster to these sonic masterworks.
Though Something/Anything was Rundgren's third proper album, it was the first to herald his singular, wholly original voice. His first two solo efforts, Runt and Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, primarily positioned him as a top-notch purveyor of sweet soul (he was from Philadelphia, after all) and piano-driven, Laura Nyro-influenced pop. Something/Anything, on the other hand, was, and is, unlike any other album in the rock canon. The multi-hyphenate artist recorded three of the album's four sides himself, playing all instruments and singing all vocal parts. The fourth side was a mock autobiographical operetta, aided by a rock ensemble. Rundgren, the producer as studio auteur, had arrived.
Something/Anything would have been an instant classic if only for its two enduring hit singles, the Carole King-inspired "I Saw the Light" and the ebullient remake of the Nazz track "Hello, It's Me," which replaced its dirge-like tempo with a fresh, more upbeat sound. But those popular tunes are just the tip of the iceberg. The impossibly lush ballad "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" (has resignation ever sounded so beautiful?) rests comfortably alongside the proto-metal anthem "Black Maria," while "Marlene," "Cold Morning Light," "Couldn't I Just Tell You" and "It Takes Two to Tango" all show off Rundgren's effortless mastery of pop songcraft. Comic relief is also in abundance, with "I Went to the Mirror," "Piss Aaron" and theatrical, Gilbert and Sullivan-style "Song of the Viking." All of these styles would be revisited, and deconstructed, on Rundgren's subsequent releases - but never would they feel as effortlessly vital and remarkably inventive as on Something/Anything. By 1975, it had earned Rundgren a gold record - and a legion of loyal fans.
Rundgren's follow-up to the Top 30-placing Something/Anything was, naturally, eagerly anticipated. Like clockwork, it arrived one year later. But nobody could have predicted the modestly-titled A Wizard, A True Star. Rundgren responded to his commercial breakthrough by rebuffing it and shunning the typical "sound-alike follow-up album" route. Though it was a lengthy single LP (56 minutes), it was more expansive than its predecessor. Use of the psychedelic drug DMT had reportedly led Rundgren to attempt to bring to records the "musical chaos" he heard in his head, and the resulting album more than succeeded. For the LP, he was joined by musicians including The Brecker Brothers, Mark "Moogy" Klingman, Ralph Schuckett, John Siegler, David Sanborn and Rick Derringer.
A Wizard is a psychedelic aural stew of electronica, metal, jazz, pop, soul and showtunes, and though many of those genres had been heard on Something/Anything, they were deployed in very different style. An exercise in pure stream-of-consciousness from a mind moving in many different sonic directions, the only interruption came from having to turn the LP over. It's a true album in every sense of the word, designed to be played in one sitting and with far less extractable material than Something/Anything. Rundgren tipped his hat to some of his musical heroes while pushing his own art forward. So "Never, Never Land" from the stage musical Peter Pan is joined by a soul medley of Thom Bell, Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield oldies and a frenzied reworking of The Capitols' "Cool Jerk." The ghost of Al Jolson is channeled on the irreverent "Just Another Onionhead," and coexists with the clattering, noisy hard rock of "You Need Your Head" and "Rock and Roll Pussy." But if A Wizard is short on ballads - with "I Don't Want to Tie You Down" a notable exception - there are moments of ravishing pop beauty via the bona fide Rundgren classics "Just One Victory" and "Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel." If the audience didn't know what to feel, either, Todd seemingly didn't care. In "Onionhead," he opined, "You want the obvious/You'll get the obvious" before launching into anything but. The album remains in a mind-blowing class of its own.
Previously buried musical details come to the fore on Analog Spark's SACDs as vividly remastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio and authored by Gus Skinas at the Super Audio Center. The packaging of both albums lives up to the high standards of the audio. Both titles are housed in Stoughton tip-on gatefold jackets replicating the original releases, including the original lyric inserts. Something/Anything is a 2-CD set, with the entire album program on the SACD layer of the first disc (owing to SACD's greater capacity). The second, CD-only disc has the second half of the album. A Wizard, A True Star has the entire album on CD and SACD on its one disc.
Something/Anything and A Wizard, A True Star are albums that grow only richer with each successive listen. Hearing them in Analog Spark's sonically superior presentations on hybrid SACD will prove a treat for both longtime fans and Rundgren newbies alike. Both titles can be ordered at the links below!