Todd Rundgren (1948—)

Todd Rundgren is a genius songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer.   In the 70s, he had a couple gold records, a string of hit singles and critical acclaim as both a songwriter and as a producer for landmark albums such as Bat Out of Hell(Meatloaf.)    In comparison, Rundgren's 80s discography is often overlooked and it's a shame because he recorded some real treats back then.

Most of those treats are found on his 1982 record The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect.  The album contains one solid hit—"Bang The Drum All Day"—which has become famous for its use in sports arenas. If you ask me, however, the album's best song is an underrated number called "Don't Hurt Yourself." 

A breakup song, "Don't Hurt Yourself" addresses emotions not typically found in love songs.  In this case, the emotion is fear—fear that your ex is going to do physical harm to his or her body.  As Rundgren notes, "it's just not worth it...don't hurt yourself."  Lyrically, it's nothing brilliant.  At the same time, it doesn't require any extra attention from the listener to understand and digest the meaning of the words—no easy task.  In that regard, I give the lyrics extra credit. 

Musically, "Don't Hurt Yourself" features a contagiously catchy melody in both the verses and the chorus.  Both parts sound like they were written in five minutes.  Knowing how gifted Todd Rundgren is, it's probably true.  Like every other song in his catalog, the production is outstanding.  While it definitely has an 80s feel due to its use of synthesizers, the sound doesn't suffer from datedness as much as other songs from the time period.  Frankly, the synthesizer is used quite conservatively.  However dated you think the production is, the actual song—and Todd's blue-eyed soulful vocal—are terrific enough to look past any elements that haven't aged well.  

"Don't Hurt Yourself" by Todd Rundgren

And for history's sake...

"Bang The Drum All Day" by Todd Rundgren



Appearing on Rundgren's 1970 debut album Runt,  "There Are No Words" is exactly what it sounds like.  It is layers of Todd's vocal harmonies in the form of "ahhhs," "ohhhs" and "ooohs."  Cynics will likely refer to it as a throwaway track.  Such hypothetical cynics would be making it painfully obvious that they have never created—or even attempted to create—music.  Anyone who has will more than likely understand how incredible this piece is.  From a Harmonic perspective, this song is unreal.  The dissonance that Todd achieves in the first 30 seconds of the piece feels impossible.  As a songwriter—not like you should be impressed by that—I couldn't help but wonder "How did he come up with that?"

There is a creepiness in the first half of "There Are No Words" which may dissuade listeners with a narrow musical palette.  If that's you, I suggest you keep listening.  Around 30 seconds, the eeriness transforms into something unspeakably beautiful.  Though there are no words, I can't help but feel like Todd Rundgren is trying to tell listeners something.  Runt is a terrific record, but Rundgren's lyrics make him appear to be very self-conscious.  "Who's That Man"  makes him sound jealous.  "Believe In Me" is a confession about being misunderstood.  The first half of "There Are No Words" is the "misunderstanding" part of Todd Rundgren and the second half is the sensitivity or his compassion, heart and/or soul.  However you interpret it, it is a gorgeous song.  I know it's sacrilege, but I'm not sure The Beatles ever had harmonies as incredible as this.  I'm sure they'd give Todd a thumbs up—he is the guitarist in Ringo Starr's All Star Band, for what it's worth. 

"There Are No Words" by Todd Rundgren

Now is the perfect time to confess that I've been using the words "song" and "piece" interchangeably.  I have always wondered whether "There Are No Words" is a "song" or a "piece."  As I learned in college (more on that college here ), there is an actual difference between the two. 

Courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

  • Piece (of music): A musical Composition; a musical work that has been created.
  • Song: A short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung.

You understand the difference now.  A piece would usually refer to something instrumental and a song is a "set of words" that is sung.  

So what is "There Are No Words"?  It is sung, but there are no words.  So is it a piece? 

Forget I even brought this up.  I think it's important to listen to Runt by Todd Rundgren because it's an amazingly varied and possibly perfect album.  At the very least, listen to "We Gotta Get You A Woman," the hit that put Todd Rundgren on the map.  

Runt by Todd Rundgren