The wizard who didn’t want to be a star

By Sergio Ariza

Something/Anything? is a colossal work by one of the great talents the 70s gave us, the singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Todd Rundgren. It’s a double album where Rundgren plays all the instruments, and sings all vocals (except on the final side), besides producing the entire record. It is the fundamental record of an unjustly forgotten name, that now is being reissued together with the record that followed, A Wizard, A True Star, where he rebelled against the obtained fame and the stigma that those not so open minded hung on him, calling him a kind of masculine Carole King.

The record comes in four parts, A Bouquet of Ear-Catching Melodies, The Cerebral Side, The Kid Gets Heavy, and Baby Needs a New Pair of Snakeskin Boots (A Pop Operetta). The first opens with Rundgren in his best singer/songwriter mode with I Saw the Light, a song which (this one, yes) could have appeared on Carole King’s Tapestry, It Wouldn’t Haven’t Made Any Difference, and the last 3 songs on the first side owe a lot to the sound of ‘Laurel Canyon’, although Wolfman Jack shows that there is more here than a simple singer/songwriter here, with her joyful energetic sample of the best of Motown.

The 2nd part, as Rundgren himself points out on the singular Intro, is a sample of the possibilities in the studio and his tricks as a producer where you can find songs like The Night The Carousel Burnt Down, in Randy Newman style, or Marlene, reminiscent of his first (and outstanding) two albums, Runt, 1970, and Runt The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, released a  year later. It is in this part where you can see the genius of the studio that would turn him into one of the most sought after producers of the next 2 decades, leaving his mark on work by people such as Badfinger, Meatloaf, Grand Funk Railroad, New York Dolls, Patti Smith and XTC.   

The 3rd part contains the most rock sounds, and allows Rundgren to also shine in his role as guitarist, bringing out one of his secret weapons, the mythic Gibson SG ‘The Fool’ which belonged to Eric Clapton while with Cream, that got into his hands while he was working as an engineer on Stage Fright by The Band, although his favourite studio guitar would come to be a Fender Mustang in the years to come. This part opens with the blues rock Black Maria, in which he’s on fire on the 6-string, sounding closer to Santana. It also contains the best song of his career, the seminal Couldn’t I Just Tell You, one of the songs on which power pop was founded, and where you notice his time producing the remarkable Straight Up with Badfinger. He also takes time to make a lovely homage to Jimi Hendrix with Little Red Lights, where he imitates his sounds and effects, like those explosions at the start, one of the biggest hard rock songs of his career.

Finally, the 4th part is the only one with other musicians besides Rundgren. It opens with a ‘medley’ of old recordings (with poor quality sound), only to be taken to the studio for a live recording session with musicians as good as Michael and Randy Brecker, Barry Rogers, and the very own Rick ‘Rock N Roll Hoochie Koo’ Derringer in charge of the guitar work on Dust in The Wind, a heartfelt ballad with wonderful horns. There are also other important songs of his career like Hello It’s Me, a re-recording of a song by Rundgren with his first group The Nazz, a version that reached #5 in the charts, and the magnificent rock closer Slut. A song that puts an end to a fundamental record by this musical wizard who rejected being a star to follow his creative freedom.