Tag Archives: Utopia

T.G.I.F. – Ten For Todd Rundgren

Might get the chance to see Todd Rundgren again this weekend; he usually breezes through town every eighteen months or so with a different show every time. Being in a secondary market, we don’t always get the premium themed shows. Last time through he bookended a run-through of his Liars album with some classic hits, but bigger cities got a walk-thru of A Wizard A True Star.

This time I was excited to see him because he’s playing the Healing and Todd albums in their entirety…but then found out that our show is called Todd Rundgren’s Greatest Hits. That’s not exactly chopped liver, mind you, but I was looking forward to being part of a cheering throng singing the chorus of “Sons of 1984” and trying to keep up with “Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song” (never could, never will). But he’ll dazzle regardless; no doubt alternating ballads and rockers (as I did below).

Regardless, Rundgren is a true rock icon. He turned sixty-three last week and shows no signs of slowing down, let alone stopping. Always a great song interpreter, his upcoming album re:Production will feature covers of songs he produced for other bands. Considering that list includes Meatloaf, The New York Dolls, XTC, Grand Funk, Rick Derringer, The Tubes and The Psychedelic Furs, this could be a lot of fun.

Yet another reason The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is a sham – one of the most prolific artists, producers and innovators of the last four decades has yet to get an invite.

But he’s in mine, so this week’s TGIF offers Ten For Todd Rundgren

(01) – I Saw The Light

(02) – The Very Last Time

(03) – Can We Still Be Friends?

(04) – Initiation

(05) – Hello It’s Me

(06) – Black Maria

(07) – We Gotta Get You A Woman

(08) – Sons of 1984

(09) – A Dream Goes On Forever

(10) – Utopia Theme

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Do Ya (Feel Lucky, Punk)?

The Powerpop Criminals are at it again…

This time it’s a thematic album composed of rock and powerpop bands covering the classic Move song, “Do Ya“. One of the all-time classics, it’s been a favorite cover tune for a lot of bands with its off-kilter verbal cadence and its anthemic sing-along chorus. Hell, if you only know the words “do ya do ya want my love?” you’re already halfway there.

Video: “Do Ya” (The Move, studio version)

Although the song was first done by The Move, it was one of its spin-off bands that made it more famous – The Electric Light Orchestra, or as they are better known, ELO. I love The Move and Roy Wood, but Jeff Lynne made a much superior version with ELO.

Video: “Do Ya” (ELO, live version from Midnight Special)

Powerpop bands gravitate to this song like moths to a flame – chunky fat power chords, opportune for great background harmonies, and a stomping beat that has serviced every rock band since the invention of the third chord.

So click here!

Included in this compilation are versions by Jason Falkner, Matthew Sweet, Ace Frehley, Yo La Tengo and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, the latter from the initial three-keyboard version of the band. (By the way, those first two albums – Utopia and Another Live – kick serious ass!)

And lest you think this is the first time someone came up with this idea, may I introduce you to the amazing Anna Borg, whose TallBoy Records issued an extended play clear vinyl single in 2002 with four bands covering the classic: Parallax Project, Kenny Howes and the Yeah, Linus of Hollywood and Einstein’s Sister. You can buy that here along with many other great releases (I highly recommend that Sugarplastic series of singles!)

So…do ya feel lucky, punk?

Do Ya?

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #5

You have to have brass balls to release a double album in an era when the record industry is imploding upon itself. But psych-garage popsters The Grip Weeds decided to go all in with Strange Change Machine, and from the critical and popular response, it’s clear that they made the right decision.

Blessed with multiple singers and songwriters, the Grip Weeds have enjoyed a long career at the forefront of the modern pop movement. The sound from brothers Kurt and Rick Reil (on drums and guitar) with bassist Kristen Pinell and guitarist Michael Kelly is exponential thanks to all of the band members being multi-instrumentalists, but I must single out Kurt’s powerhouse drumming – he should be mentioned alongside Clem Burke and other greats. Many bands are just individuals orbiting each other; The Grip Weeds are truly a four-headed organism.

Based upon the title alone it should come as no surprise that several of the tracks on Strange Change Machine will teleport you to groovier times. “Coming and Going” and “Twister” are Sgt. Pepper-ish while “Don’t You Believe It” and “Truth Is Hard To Take” deserve to be pumping full blast out of jukeboxes and radios. “Close To The Sun” (my favorite) features harmonies that lift you up within the song, while “Be Here Now” is delicate and mesmerizingly melodic.

Although this is not a derivative effort, an artist whose name did pop into my head was Todd Rundgren, mostly for the overall feel and the complexity of the arrangements (“Speed Of Life” and the title track could be slid into a Utopia mix with good results). Ironically the album includes a straight-ahead cover of “Hello It’s Me”, which although well performed seemed an odd choice for mid-album placement. It broke the mood for me; perhaps it would have been better as a hidden bonus track?

Video: “Speed Of Life

I was fortunate enough to see them play two months ago at Pat DiNizio’s annual Halloween Bash; their set was heavily laced with the new cuts. I am pleased to report that these songs are just as dynamic in a live setting, reinforcing my decision that this is one of the best albums of the year and probably their most consistent effort. At twenty-four tracks long it’s not perfect, but the hits vastly outweigh the misses. And for great music contained on one album, the ranking should answer your question.

The album is deep, and repeated listenings only bring out more nuances. This is also one of the best engineered and produced albums I have heard in a long time – the clarity and presence is in audio Technicolor on everything from a car stereo to a full system. I recommend setting aside 80 minutes with a good pair of headphones for maximum bliss…and then repeat as necessary.

Listen to clips on Amazon

The Grip Weeds on MySpace

Outstanding in their field.

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Meet The Beatles, Sorta

Time once again to pay homage to Angelo over at Power Pop Criminals, whose mixtapes (will someone please come up for a less cumbersome word for mix disc?) are always first-rate works of art. And that includes the art, by the way – original work always created with affection, humor and great skill.

Over the past couple of years I’ve tipped you to many of his powerpop anthologies, Beatle album tributes and collections of tribute songs. This weekend I’m recommending you check out two of his more eclectic tributes, starting with Meet The Beatlesque. We’ve all heard bands and songs that make you think of The Fab Four; pretty much any pop band around has some Beatle DNA in their bloodstream.

So where many bands cover Beatle songs outright, here we are talking about bands who are channeling their influence or building off their foundation. Angelo describes the selections as those “who have had a Beatlesque moment, whether consciously or not. Beatlesque means bearing a definite resemblance, often to a specific Beatle song. To be truly Beatlesque,a record must wear that influence openly.”

So who does that? Hmm…how about The Raspberries, Utopia, The Rutles, Marshall Crenshaw, The Smithereens, ELO, 20-20 and The Flamin’ Groovies? That’s only a small sampling…from Disc One! Disc Two features Badfinger, Klaatu, Matthew Sweet, Cheap Trick, Emitt Rhodes, The Gurus, The Jamfifty tracks of fab between the two discs!

So click here to visit PPC and download this great collection. Enjoy!

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Blast From The Past: The New Cars

It’s Memorial Day Weekend here in the United States, but since I have to account for our society’s short-term memory (and McNugget lifestyle), today I’m only dropping back five years!

Let’s turn the Wayback Machine to my 2005 review…

Is nothing sacred? Those were the first three words out of my mouth when I heard that Todd Rundgren and two-thirds of his current band were hooking up with the lesser half of The Cars to exhume the Boston band’s legacy and (ahem) take it for a spin. But with Ben Orr resting in peace and Ric Ocasek – the face of The Cars – unwilling to sign on, how could one possibly take a new version of The Cars seriously?

A famous musician covering others is nothing new. Utopia’s Deface the Music was a brilliant take on The Beatles, but it was an album of originals, not covers. And when Todd has done the cover route, most notably on Faithful, the results have been stellar…but always under his own name. Ringo takes a few…er, ringers on the road every summer, but he doesn’t call it The Beatles. Elliot Easton, on the other hand, had no problem whoring out (*) as a member of Credence Clearwater Revisited.  (And let’s face it, without John Fogerty, what is there to revisit?) Considering the collective history of this quintet of players, they could have called themselves NazzCar or Autopia and at least had a sense of humor about it, but…no.

And the record? Mostly (cough) faithful and energetic live renditions of the Cars catalogue, the faster tunes more acceptably juiced up. Todd channels Ocasek’s vocal mannerisms for “Best Friend’s Girl” and “Shake It Up” but Sulton’s take on “Drive” is a disappointment. One new track, “Not Tonight”, is probably the poppiest thing Rundgren has written in years but is ruined by ridiculous lyrics. Does this longtime pop craftsman really think a Blackberry is good subject matter? As for the other two new tracks, they’re so forgettable that I have thankfully forgotten them already.

The set here, like the live shows, is padded with Todd songs, so the catalogue is obviously thin. Anytime a “band” has more apparel than material, you have to take them for what they are – a money grab, famous guys leaning on a legacy and going for it (read: merchandising) as an over-qualified cover band.

Cars? They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

(* ironic present day update: Greg Hawkes is a Turtle)

Judge for yourself: listen at Amazon

Five years later…I’ve probably softened on my initial reaction since then, if only for the continuing struggle that so many of my musician acquaintances endure. Can’t afford health care…their work shamelessly stolen and distributed by pirates…an entertainment industry focused solely on spectacle and tweens at the expense of a generation of living, breathing musicians.

Still hate the Blackberry idea though…

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