THERE'S THIS great clip of Todd Rundgren performing "Couldn't I Just Tell You" on national TV from 1978. It's one of the only YouTube videos I've ever favorited.
It's a truly horrid performance.
On this deep cut from his breakthrough solo album Something/Anything?, Rundgren's voice is shot throughout. The instrumental mix is completely obfuscated by a grating Wurlitzer organ. But the quality of the performance is irrelevant; Rundgren vindictively introduces the song as being a part of "the latest musical trend, power pop." The irony of the statement is that Something/Anything? was released six years prior—and, consequently, six years before anyone in the mainstream really considered the existence of power pop. It's a clip that's completely emblematic of Rundgren's role as an underrated pop innovator.
Rundgren is still perhaps best known for that album—specifically the mega hit it spawned, "Hello It's Me"—and it's not something he's thrilled about. "There are always those fans that come up and ask about 'Hello It's Me,' and I kind of wonder if they've been in a coma for 43 years," says Rundgren.
His frustration makes sense. Something/Anything? has moments of prophetic brilliance (such as "Couldn't I Just Tell You," which is the best Cheap Trick song Cheap Trick never wrote), rounded out by catchy but innocuous material that belongs comfortably in the early '70s singer/songwriter milieu. Its follow-up, however—1973's A Wizard, a True Star—is one of the most staggeringly predictive pop records of all time. It sounds like MGMT on peyote, and absolutely nothing like anything that was popular in 1973.
Rundgren's currently on tour promoting two new records: the batshit, electro-classical showpiece Runddans, a collaboration with Serena-Maneesh's Emil Nikolaisen and producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm; and Global, a more song-oriented though still decidedly modern-sounding album. The simultaneous release is basically a coincidence.
"Runddans started around three years ago until it became basically a hobby," says Rundgren. "In the meantime, my label asked if I wanted to do another solo record, and when a label is giving you an advance to make an album, that's not really something you pass up."
Like any true artist, Rundgren chafes at categorizations. "I never considered myself a rock musician, I've always just considered myself a musician," he says. While there's an inescapable air of cynicism in that statement, it's also indicative of an underlying artistic rectitude. For example, Rundgren's foray into extremely dense electronic music isn't affected or dilettantish or an example of trend-jumping. It's just Rundgren trying his hand at something new again, probably at the expense of diminished commercial success. In the long run, is that ever really a bad thing?