5 Albums You Didn’t Know Todd Rundgren Produced

The contributions that Todd Rundgren has made to rock and pop music are staggering. The discographies of his solo recorded work and albums with his band Utopia have produced several hits, yet are still underappreciated. Rundgren’s recordings alone are worthy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but that just scratches the surface of his accomplishments. There is no doubt his extensive and influential work as a producer earned him induction into the Hall in 2021.

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In terms of his production credits, Rundgren may be best known for XTC’s 1986 album Skylarking, though for all the wrong reasons. While Rundgren’s clashes with XTC frontman Andy Partridge are what attracted headlines, he injected his own pop sensibility into the English band’s sound to great effect. Rundgren is also often associated with his production work for the New York Dolls, Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, and The Tubes.

Here are five albums you may not think about when Rundgren’s work as a producer comes to mind. In each case, Rundgren left an indelible mark on the artist’s legacy.

Straight Up by Badfinger (1971)

As protégés of The Beatles, you might expect that there would be a Fab Four connection with the production of Badfinger’s fourth album, rather than one with Rundgren. In fact, Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick was the initial producer for Straight Up, but when Apple Records rejected his version of the album, they replaced him with George Harrison. However, as Harrison became involved in organizing The Concert for Bangladesh with Ravi Shankar, he no longer had time to produce Straight Up.

Apple then turned to Plan C, having Rundgren produce the remainder of the tracks for the album. Rundgren claimed he also finished the production on the four songs that Harrison worked on, though he received no credit for those tracks. One of those Harrison-produced tracks was “Day After Day,” which features the ex-Beatle on slide guitar. Rundgren was solely responsible for the production of “Baby Blue,” which turned out to be the last of Badfinger’s Top 40 hits, peaking at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sparks by Sparks (1971)

The Los Angeles-based band has enjoyed some of its biggest album chart success in the 2020s with A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip and The Girl is Crying in Her Latte, but their only Rundgren-produced effort was their debut. They weren’t even called Sparks when the album was first released—the record and the band were both called Halfnelson. The self-titled album was reissued with the band’s new name in 1972.

Sparks features a blend of melodic and slightly offbeat tunes that is similar to Rundgren’s own Something/Anything?, which was released five months later. No wonder Sparks’ Ron Mael said he and the band felt like “kindred spirits” with Rundgren. There must be something to that, as Sparks collaborated with Rundgren on the track “Your Fandango” from his 2022 album Space Force.

War Babies by Hall & Oates (1974)

Combining Rundgren with Hall & Oates seems like a natural, given their common Philadelphia roots and soul influences. Yet this was the only one of the duo’s 18 studio albums that Rundgren produced. Rundgren is notorious for imposing his vision on the works he produces, and War Babies is no exception. While the songs’ R&B touches could be attributed to all three of Hall, Oates, and Rundgren, the album’s proggy vibe strongly echoes Rundgren’s mid-’70s work with Utopia.

This was the last album Hall & Oates made before they broke through in 1976 with “Sara Smile.” Even though—or maybe because—it’s a sonic departure from their other albums, it’s worth exploring if you’re more familiar with their more popular releases.

Wasp by Shaun Cassidy (1980)

Rundgren’s ability to remake other artists’ sound into something that resembles his own extended to this album he made for the ’70s teen idol. Cassidy’s spare, New Wave-y cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” would have been right at home on an early ’80s Utopia album. Rundgren wrote three songs for the album, and three members of Utopia (Rundgren, John “Willie” Wilcox, and Roger Powell) co-wrote “Cool Fire” with Cassidy. The band also backed Cassidy over the entirety of Wasp.

The album was Cassidy’s second in a row to miss the Billboard 200, and it would be the last one he would release. It might not have resonated with fans of bubblegum pop, but listeners who enjoy Rundgren and Utopia will probably dig it.

Forever Now by The Psychedelic Furs (1982)

Of the five albums featured here, Rundgren’s influence on Forever Now is the least obvious, but if you listen, it’s there. The songs retain the dissonant, gothy vibe from the band’s first two albums, but pop flourishes find their way into the mix. The vocal counter-melody in the chorus of the title track, the bell set in “Goodbye,” and Richard Butler’s straightforward vocal delivery in “Sleep Comes Down” have Rundgren’s fingerprints all over them. Rundgren himself played the memorable marimba part in the album’s big hit, “Love My Way.”

Forever Now was a one-and-done affair for the Furs and Rundgren. The band moved on to work with Billy Idol producer Keith Forsey for their 1984 follow-up, Mirror Moves. While both albums were certified Gold, Forever Now was the one that made the Furs a viable radio presence in the U.S. “Love My Way” still stands as their signature hit, having received more than 155 million streams on Spotify.

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Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NAMM

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