Todd Rundgren is one heck of a multi-talented performer. Active since the mid-‘60s, both as a solo artist and the leader of the rock band Utopia, he’s repeatedly leaped across genres such as pop, rock, soul, progressive, and metal. His music has garnered him a legion of loyal fans. His behind-the-scenes magic has benefited artists as diverse as Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, and XTC. In other words, choosing the best songs from his personal catalog is an almost Herculean task. Oh hell, let’s give it a try. Feel free to comment and make your own suggestions. We won’t be offended. His artistic output is impressive.
10. Chance for Us
Todd has always followed his own muse and for the last couple of decades, he’s experimented with blues, electronica, metal and even reimagined classic tunes in unexpected genres like lounge music. On his 2017 LP White Knight, he brings in a group of collaborators — including heavyweights Joe Walsh, Donald Fagen, Trent Reznor, and Daryl Hall (who shares vocals on this unforgettable track). The result harkens back to Todd’s signature sound, while still managing to sound freshly original.
9. Buffalo Grass
This straightforward rocker, featuring some fantastic guitar work by Jesse Gress, is a highlight of the 2000 release One Long Year, a collection of tunes first featured on Todd’s online music service Patronet. To this day, the song has been a staple of his live shows, and with good reason.
8. Want Of A Nail
A longtime devotee of soul, Todd has been known to cover vintage R&B numbers during his live shows throughout the years. For the 1986 disc Nearly Human, Todd brought in none other than Bobby “The Preacher” Womack for backing vocals on this song, a standout track on an album that also features a fine cover of Elvis Costello’s “Two Little Hitlers.”
7. Can We Still Be Friends?
Anyone who’s been in love then faced the end of a relationship can connect to the theme of this melancholy selection from 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow. The album followed the breakup of Todd’s longtime relationship with Bebe Buell, and it’s clear that he had heartbreak on his mind during those sessions.
6. Love in Action
Another side of the singer-songwriter’s career is the on-again, off-again band Utopia. Their sound has shifted from progressive to pop to straight-on rock then back again over the years. This excellent hard-rock flavored tune is from the group’s 1977 outing Oops! Wrong Planet which also features the ballad “Love Is the Answer” which became a hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley.
5. Love of the Common Man
Todd’s 1976 album Faithful is half tributes, half originals. One side is devoted to covers honoring his musical heroes like Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys. The flipside gathers together some excellent compositions, including this wonderful ode to love and brotherhood.
4. A Dream Goes on Forever
This ethereal, piano-driven number is one of Todd’s most beautifully produced songs, with a gorgeous melody and lovely lyrics. It’s featured on the 1974 album Todd and is somewhat atypical when compared to the rest of the tunes on this offbeat disc. Who’s complaining? It’s a memorable contribution to his catalog.
3. Open My Eyes
You can hear the influences of the British Invasion on this blistering piece of garage rock from Todd’s pre-fame group Nazz. A swirling, fast-paced, energetic piece of psychedelic rock, “Open My Eyes” will have you turning the volume up to eleven. The song has been covered by everyone from The Move to The Bangles. And with good reason!
Related: “The Top 10 Songs by The Bangles”
2. I Saw the Light
A particularly vital track from 1972’s Something/Anything? reveals Todd’s knack for crafting sincere and emotional pop tunes. Need an example of his range of talents? Well, here he performs all the vocals and plays all the instruments, even as he’s paying tribute to singer-songwriter Carole King. This one was an AM radio staple in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It sounds good now, too.
1. Hello It’s Me
Originally recorded with Nazz, this plaintive ballad, Todd’s first major hit, is also from Something/Anything? — which is one of his most consistently engaging albums. This heartfelt tune went all the way to number five on the charts in 1973. More importantly, it’s remained a favorite of fans, even for those who love his deep cuts.
– John Visconti
Photo Credit: Guitarist and singer Todd Rundgren performs on stage at the Park West in Chicago, Illinois, February 6, 1982. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
None from Todd’s best record “Liars”?
Hi Dave, that is a good album! It was tough to pick just ten songs, as Todd’s catalog is chock full of great music. Thanks for reading!
Hard to stop at 10, but I also would include “Love Is The Answer”, “Espresso”, and “Pretending To Care”.
Frank, you’re right, it was hard to stop at just ten, but your choices are excellent as well!
Couldn’t I just tell you that one song was left out?
That was one song that just missed the cut, George. An excellent power pop song, and another of my favorites.
Mated, Lost Horizon, Afterlife… so many more, not to mention his production work.
Rick, i like “Mated” a lot, too. It’s tough to do justice to Todd’s impressive achievements as an artist with just ten songs. And you’re right, that also leaves out all of his wonderful work as a producer! Thanks for checking out the story.
Change Myself will always make my top ten.
Chain Letter, Birthday Carol, Black and White, Initiation, Real Man, Shine, Healer, Determination, Fade Away, All the Children Sing, Compassion, Drive, Chant, Time Heals, Lucky Guy, Only Human, Heavy Metal Kid, Just One Victory, Fair Warning…and that’s just off the top of my head, so many more!
For “I Saw the Light,” I don’t think Todd was paying homage to Carol King. He was just writing songs using a formula. He said that he has nothing against Carol King, but when he was being heralded as the “male Carol King,” he changed his style because he didn’t want to be compared to somebody else. He wanted his own style. I was unaware that Jesse Gress played on the recording of Buffalo Grass. Todd rolled that song out to fans using PatroNet where he was giving us glimpses of his work in progress. I think the album recording is all Todd. Thanks for putting together a list to spur discussion. There are so many great songs to choose from. Daryl Hall said that he doesn’t always try to write hits, but every song he writes has the potential to be a hit. Converses. Daryl said that Todd is willing to write a song that has no chance in hell of being a hit. He admires Todd for that.
nothing from my favorite era, AWATS, Initiation & Ra
Don’t You Ever Learn?
My suggestion as well. Todd manages to write the most catchy 12-tone row ever composed!!!
I love Hawking and a more recent offering The Beginning of the End. On YouTube Check out Todd singing it live which I prefer to the version on the White Knight album.
Couldn’t I just tell you? Loud with soft lyrics.
TR is an impossible top 10. The Want of a Nail – surely. Love Is The Answer – great song. The obvious 3:- Hello Its Me, I Saw The Light, and Can We Still Be Friends. Couldn’t I Just Tell You – has many covers, and It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference. Bang The Drum All Day – that one got missed; I think it’s his biggest money-maker. 😉 TR has many great melodies, which makes delving into them an impossible top 10 – the number would be larger. Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel. Sidewalk Cafe. Breathless. Stood Up (Liars). There were the selections they played at Darryl Hall’s house. Sweet, from Liars, was in that set. I like Buffalo Grass (one more year), and Sir Reality (state), and a few songs – surprise – from one of the most underrated albums I’ve ever seen – No World Order (lite). All that said… Freak Parade is still a cult classic. Ha HA! Cheers.
Sorry… Forgot that other great melody A Dream Goes On Forever. Thanks for including it!
1. The Ikon
2. A Treatise on Cosmic Fire
3. Utopia Theme
4. I Think You Know
5. International Feel
6. Just one Victory
7. Welcome to My Revolution
8. Don’t You Ever Learn
9. Sons of 1984
Runners Up: Just Another Onionhead/Da Da Dali
John, your list is pretty complete. Like you say, there are so many songs that could be on this list. I think I have every album he has cut, and every year or so, I spend a week listening to as many songs I can, and they sound just a fresh today as ever, and it becomes addictive and hard to stop. The harmonies, even the dual leads on guitar, are pure joy to listen to. The song structures, many of them complicated in chord progression, time signatures, reminds me that he is A Star, a true legend. I consider his body of work to be in the top 3 category with The Beatles and Steely Dan.
A top 10 for an artist like Todd is really an exercise in personal taste as much as anything else. And the author has excellent taste. I would have added Bang the Drum and We’ve Gotta You a Woman, but that’s just me.
I find Todd under appreciated, but I think his marvelous ADD approach to song styles has led to his lack of sustained commercial success. He is rarely a go to artist for me, but when I come across a song is his I always wondered why I don’t listen to him more often.
Parallel Lines is Todd at his best.
Parallel Lines is terrific. I would have loved for him to play it when I saw him several months back, but he played two other songs from Nearly Human, so that’s a modest complaint.
Real Man…can’t believe its not on this list!