When I was really young and first getting into music, Todd Rundgren was one of the first artists who I discovered. His AM staple “Hello It’s Me” was at least a daily occurance on my mother’s kitchen radio and in the days of “freeform” 70s FM his weirder “deep cut” album tracks saw a lot of action there. I recall seeing him on one of the very first episodes of The Midnight Special that I was allowed to stay up and watch, and he seemed weird, smart and very talented to me. In his press he came off like a wunderkind—he played all of the instruments himself!—and he was always pictured with hot models. When I finally convinced my parents to buy me a cheap stereo for Christmas, Todd Rundgren’s albums were among the first records I bought. Both Something/Anything and Todd were long double albums that sold for the same price as a single LP, so for an elementary school kid they also seemed like a better value than most things. But my Todd fandom wasn’t especially intense—not a patch on my love for David Bowie or the Sweet at that age—and once new wave and postpunk came around, my interest waned. The last Todd Rundgren album that I bought was Liz Lemon’s favorite Todd record Hermit of Mink Hollow.
The only album that I didn’t have back then was A Wizard, A True Star. I can remember reading a scathingly negative review of that album when it came out and Todd, being a two-record set seemed the better option given my piggy bank. Recently I noticed that Analog Spark had released audiophile SACDs of Wizard and the earlier Something/Anything, and needing “something new to listen to” I requested review copies. I mentioned the new Todd releases to an archly rock snob friend of mine whose taste in music I respect and he told me that A Wizard, A True Star was his #1 favorite album of all time. Really? I looked forward to hearing it even more.
Several of Todd Rundgren’s classic 70s albums were known to sound a bit tinny due to the narrower vinyl grooves resulting from trying to cram so much music on each side. It was something you were even warned about via a “Technical Note” included on the inner sleeve of 1975’s Initiation:
“Due to the amount of music on this disc (over one hour), two points must be emphasized. Firstly, if your needle is worn or damaged, it will ruin the disc immediately. Secondly, if the sound does seem not loud enough on your system, try re-recording the music onto tape. By the way, thanks for buying the album.”
The new Analog Spark SACD of Something/Anything (mastered like Wizard by Kevin Gray from the original master tapes) does in fact sound much better than I recall the original LP sounding… but HOLY SHIT… A Wizard, A True Star? HOW did I miss out on this amazing album all these years??? I was floored by it. The work of a crazed young lysergic Mozart, A Wizard, A True Star floated effortlessly into my list of favorite albums as I listened to it for the very first time. Admittedly I was totally loaded. So drunk I was almost hallucinating, even, but these kinetically kaleidoscopic alcoholic bedspins put me in a pretty receptive state for the mind-expanding (and mind-blowing) sonic charms of A Wizard, A True Star which I blasted at an ear-splitting volume on my middle-aged man’s stereo. Seriously, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard—not just recently, but ever—and started me off on a whole new Todd Rundgren kick which I am still in the midst of. If you are “looking for something new to listen to,” like I was, look no further.
But hey, don’t take my word for it, here’s what none other than the great Patti Smith wrote of A Wizard, A True Star in the pages of CREEM magazine:
“Side one is double dose. It takes the bull by the brain. Another point to be examined. He’s always been eclectic. Why didn’t he care? The evidence is here. Something very magical is happening. The man is magi chef. His influences are homogenizing. Like a coat of many colors. May be someone else’s paintbox but the coat is all his.”
“Each album he vomits like a diary. Each page closer to the stars. Process is the point. A kaleidoscoping view. Blasphemy even the gods smile on. Rock and roll for the skull. A very noble concept. Past present and tomorrow in one glance. Understanding through musical sensation. Todd Rundgren is preparing us for a generation of frenzied children who will dream in animation. “
I was nodding my head as I read that despite having absolutely no idea of what she intended to convey with all of those words, even if I do wholeheartedly agree with her. Had I read Patti’s CREEM review back then, I’d have no doubt rushed out and grabbed this album stat.
But you don’t have to trust me or Patti Smith, just listen to A Wizard, A True Star for yourself and turn it up LOUD:
“Hello, It’s Me” on ‘The Midnight Special’
“Black Maria” on ‘The Midnight Special’
The “Can We Still Be Friends” promo from 1978.
This amazing short film shot on 16mm by a UCLA film student in 1972 features Todd Rundgren and Wolfman Jack. More information about it on YouTube.