Take Five: 5 Todd Rundgren Production Credits You Should Know
Todd Rundgren is one of music’s renaissance men. He’s a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with more than 20 studio albums to his name; that doesn’t even count the three albums he made with Nazz in the 1960s and nearly a dozen albums with Utopia. And from early in his adventurous career, Rundgren has moved beyond the confines of his role as recording artist: he developed an early version of Mac Paint software, launched a video production studio before music videos were commonplace, and started a direct-to-fans online model in the 1990s.
Along with all of that, Rundgren has flourished as a producer, lending his studio expertise to the creative works of other artists. His production of XTC, Meat Loaf, The Tubes and Badfinger rank among his most well-known studio credits, but there are many others that have benefited from his distinctive approach. Here are notable tracks from five of his production credits.
“Is it a Star” from War Babies by Hall and Oates (1974)
Daryl Hall and John Oates began their musical partnership around 1970; the duo truly took off with 1980’s Voices LP, kicking off a five-album streak of platinum-selling releases. From six years earlier, War Babies is a departure from the soul-flavored material of earlier (and later) Hall & Oates releases. The record was produced by Todd Rundgren and featured members of his band Utopia. The exemplary “Is it a Star” captures that soul vibe, blending it with a “prog” edge. And while War Babies wasn’t a hit, among those who know it, the album ranks among their favorite Hall & Oates release.
“Dancing Barefoot” from Wave by The Patti Smith Group (1979)
Poet-singer-songwriter Patti Smith was a longtime friend of Rundgren’s by the time of Wave, her fourth album. With a more commercially-oriented character than its predecessors, Wave didn’t find great favor among Smith’s fan base. But viewed from the perspective of the general listening public, it represented her most accessible offering to date. A highlight of the record is this track, featuring lyrics that equate love and addiction.
“Love My Way” from Forever Now by The Psychedelic Furs (1982)
The Psychedelic Furs came on the music scene in 1977, combing a punk/goth sensibility with a haunting and vaguely sinister musical style. Richard Butler’s distinctive vocals reminded some of David Bowie, and the band found mainstream success when a re-recorded version of their 1981 song “Pretty in Pink” was used in the film of the same name. But with production by Rundgren, the group’s third LP, 1982’s Forever Now was the beginning of the band’s journey out of the underground. Featuring backing vocals from Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman of the Turtles, “Love My Way” is a standout track on an outstanding record.
“Heaven’s Falling” from Next Position Please by Cheap Trick (1983)
Todd Rundgren’s musical history is deeply entwined with the finest rock band out of Rockford, Illinois; members of his early band Nazz would play in Sick Man of Europe and Fuse, both of which featured future Cheap Trick members. Todd produced the band’s seventh album, and even contributed a song of his own. “Heaven’s Falling” features an arrangement that suggests it would have made a good song for the powerpop-era Utopia to record; Cheap Trick’s version soars as well, thanks in no small part to Robin Zander’s arresting vocal work.
“She’s So Young” from Love Junk by The Pursuit of Happiness (1988)
Though they never achieved large-scale commercial recognition, this Toronto-based band led by Moe Berg produced some of the most finely-crafted music of the late ‘80s. This track hints at the character of the ‘90s alternative rock to come, and features scintillating backing vocals by the band’s female singer, Leslie Stanwyck. Despite its sharp hooks, indelible melody and crystalline production by Rundgren, “She’s So Young” didn’t chart in the U.S. It did, however, soar to the #4 spot on the Canadian singles chart.
NOTE: if you want to know MORE about Todd’s production work, this book by Paul Myers is an invaluable resource, and a great read besides.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. After a stint as Editor-in-chief for a national music magazine, Bill launched Musoscribe in 2009, and has published new content every business day since then (and every single day since 2018). The 4500-plus interviews, essays, and reviews on Musoscribe reflect Bill's keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz, and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill's work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He regularly hosts lecture/discussions on artists and albums of historical importance (including monthly events Music to Your Ears and Music Movie Mondays), and is a frequent guest on music-focused radio programs and podcasts. In Spring 2023 he taught a history of Rock 'n' Roll at UNC Asheville's College for Seniors. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues -- more than 30 to date -- and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's final album. His first book, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018, and in paperback in 2019. His second book, Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave, was published in 2021 by HoZac Books. His third book, What's the Big Idea: Great Concept Albums will be published in 2024. Read even more about him here.