Top 10 Todd Rundgren Essentials

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Todd Rundgren is more than just a songwriter. He is a song craftsman, a musical tradesman, tinkering with the intricacies, meticulously tuning the fine details to craft a hit.

Often unsung, Rundgren was a purveyor of pop music in the 1970s and a trailblazer of electronic and progressive music thereafter. His sound has always been unlike anyone else’s—lavish, artful, and experimental, coated in a thin sheen of psychedelia and instantly recognizable by his flat, matter-of-fact, but dazzling, way of singing.

Here are 10 Todd Rundgren essentials that pull him from the fringes and recognize him for the star he is.

10. “Marlene”

The twinkling, sighing “Marlene” is a tune about an old flame. In 1972, Rundgren wrote the song about his then-girlfriend and “groupie” Marlene Pinkard.

When asked if he and Marlene were together when he wrote the song, Rundgren replied: “It was just around the same time.” The artist explained to author Rob Steen, “There would have been a lot of miserable material about her had I not got out of that state of mind.”

9. “All the Children Sing”

All the children sing / All the birds are chirping harmony / The scent of love is in the air / Sunset on the sea / The angel of the Lord / Just declared we aren’t worth a thing / The galaxy is null and void / All the children sing

Nonsensical phrases are strung together to create the 1978 Rundgren classic “All the Children Sing,” a brightly bouncing tune full of abstract bits and bobs.

8. “Love of the Common Man”

“That song just came to me,” Rundgren explained to Songfacts Carl Wiser of his 1976 hit, “Love of the Common Man.” “I was doing a record called Faithful and half of the record was cover songs of music that would have been on the radio around 1966/1967, so Faithful was done 10 years later.”

He continued to detail the simple strumming impassioned bop, “I wanted to write a series of songs that were more or less single form or that could have been on the radio. My first real attempt at that was ‘Love Of The Common Man.’ Trying to do something that was not too complicated but still had all the earmarks of my style of songwriting.”

7. “Black Maria”

Black Maria, you scare me so / I feel as though my heart stop dead / You’re a liar, this I know / I watch you go around my head, sings Rundgren in the 1972 moody, rock-drenched number.

With “Black Maria,” the artist gets in touch with his darker occult-rock side, a stark contrast from his usual jangling and jubilant hits.

6. “We Gotta Get You a Woman”

With its snappy infectiousness, the 1970 bop “We Gotta Get You a Woman” is essential for any playlist, but not one for Rundgren’s setlists.

“I usually don’t perform the song because I personally don’t identify with it anymore,” Rundgren told Songfacts. “It’s from so early in my career that I have a hard time relating to it. As much as I realize that people enjoy hearing the song, people get more pissed off if I don’t sing, ‘Hello It’s Me’ with some regularity, ‘I Saw The Light,’ or ‘Can We Still Be Friends’ with some regularity.”

5. “Can We Still Be Friends”

Ending a relationship isn’t easy, but the 1978 tune “Can We Still Be Friends” searches for the best way to call it quits.

“It isn’t necessarily about a specific person,” the artist explained to the aforementioned outlet. “It’s about, perhaps, a specific situation, but I don’t have to have experienced something to be able to write a song that other people think represents their experience.”

4. “A Dream Goes On Forever”

You’re so long ago and so far away / But my dream lives on forever / I guess I believe that I’ll see you one day / For without it there is no dream, Rundgren paints visions of lost love, but hope in the future because a dream lives on forever.

The futuristic droning of the 1974 classic “A Dream Goes On Forever” is a hypnotic ray gun of a hit, sending mesmerizing beams of sound throughout the song.

3. “Bang the Drum All Day”

When asked which of his songs played the biggest role over the years, Rundgren explained, “Well, it’s kind of a toss-up between ‘Hello It’s Me’—because people pester me constantly to play it, even though it was the first song I ever wrote—but, ironically enough, the one that probably had the most direct impact was ‘Bang The Drum All Day’ because I made so much money off of it.”

“Bang The Drum All Day” is a hyperactive, blood-pumping party hit. However repetitive, the 1983 song’s energy is infectious and makes you believe you can rock the kit.

2. “Hello It’s Me”

Hello, it’s me / I’ve thought about us for a long, long time / Maybe I think too much, but something’s wrong / There’s something here that doesn’t last too long

The 1972 Rundgren classic “Hello It’s Me” takes listeners along for a one-sided phone call where a couple has “the talk,” ending their relationship against a slow-swinging, piano-pounding arrangement.

1. “I Saw the Light”

“I Saw the Light” is a Rundgren mainstay, but far from the artist’s favorite in his catalog. “I wrote this song in 15 minutes from start to finish,” he once said of the 1972 standard. “It was one of the reasons that caused me to change my style of writing.”

He explained, “It doesn’t matter how clever a song is—if it’s written in 15 minutes, it is such a string of clichés that it just doesn’t have lasting impact for me. And for me, the greatest disappointment in the world is not being able to listen to my own music and enjoy it.”

Photo by Scott Dudelson / Getty Images

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