Make It a Double: Todd Rundgren, SOMETHING/ANYTHING?

Friday, April 28, 2017
Make It a Double: Todd Rundgren, SOMETHING/ANYTHING?

For some artists, the more fertile the imagination, the bigger the canvas required to contain the full range of that imagination. Such was the case with Todd Rundgren in 1972. Three-quarters of his double album SOMETHING/ANYTHING? contained nothing but Rundgren himself—on guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and a multitude of voices, a solo masterpiece from the one-time leader of Nazz that was in all regards solo.

Not that such an approach was completely novel—Paul McCartney had played one-man-band on his solo debut in 1970; Emmitt Rhodes had also done the same that year; jazz pianist Keith Jarrett’s 1968 folk album RESTORATION RUIN featured him on all instruments, as well.

None of them, however—not even McCartney—had so seamlessly molded his individual parts into cohesive, radio-ready records as had Rundgren. “I Saw the Light”—all three Brill-Building-worthy minutes of it—seemed tailor-made for radio playlists, and found itself ensconced in the Billboard Top 20. The Motown pastiche “Wolfman Jack” was a stone-cold dashboard thumper, complete with horn section and drum breakdown, and it shares a vinyl side with weepers like “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and “Sweeter Memories,” giving the first indication of Rundgren’s versatility, since the songs sound like the work of three different bands.

Things get a little strange on Side Two, from the distorted voice-of-Satan vocal intro to “Saving Grace,” to the strange first-person sub-Broadway musical piece “Song of the Viking” and the odd “I Went to the Mirror,” in which Rundgren literally looks in the mirror and reports what he sees. Side Three backs away from overt oddness, replacing it with hard rock (“Black Maria”), power pop (the tremendous “Couldn’t I Just Tell You?”) and a torch song called, well, “Torch Song.”

Rundgren brings in a loose confederation of bandmates for Side Four and comes up with his biggest hit (a brilliant “cover” of his own song “Hello, It’s Me,” originally recorded with Nazz) and a full plate of pop goodness, like the lowbrow story-song “Piss Aaron,” the album-closing rave-up “Slut” and the benediction “Dust in the Wind” (not the Kansas hit). The anything-goes vibe was probably markedly different from the other sessions for the album, but the results fit in nicely with the accessible quality of most of the record’s earlier material.

SOMETHING/ANYTHING? is rightfully viewed as a classic, a work of pop brilliance by one of the genre’s great prodigies, operating at the height of his powers.