Rundgren continues to explore, innovate, and create; successful in remaining true to his music and his fans, vowing no end to his professional endeavors following the tradition of consummate performers such as Tony Bennett.
Rundgren was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began his career in Woody's Truck Stop, a Philadelphia-based group based on the model of Paul Butterfield Blues Band. However, he left the band to form the garage rock group Nazz in 1967. The group gained minor recognition with the songs "Open My Eyes" and "Hello It's Me". (He later recorded a solo, uptempo version of "Hello It's Me"; it became one of his signature songs. Nazz released three albums during this time - Nazz (1968), Nazz Nazz (1969), and Nazz III (1970).
After leaving Nazz in 1969, Rundgren alternated production work for other groups with his career as a recording artist. In 1970 he formed the 'band' Runt, consisting of Hunt Sales on drums, his brother Tony Sales on bass (sons of slapstick US TV kiddie show pioneer Soupy Sales and future members of David Bowie's band and Tin Machine) and Rundgren himself, who wrote, produced, sang and played guitars, keyboards and other instruments. Whether Runt can really be described as a band, or simply as a pseudonym for Rundgren as a solo artist is a little cloudy: for their first album, (1970's Runt) the group seems to be a definite trio, but for their second album (1971's Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren), Hunt Sales plays only on two tracks and is replaced by N.D. Smart on the rest of the album. Furthermore, only Rundgren is pictured on the covers of both albums, and both albums have been subsequently reissued with the same titles and cover art, but bearing the artist credit "Todd Rundgren".
Whether a solo artist or a band, "Runt" had a #20 hit in the U.S. with "We Gotta Get You a Woman" in 1970, and two other Runt songs placed in the lower reaches of the Hot 100.
By 1972, the "Runt" persona/band identity was dropped, and 1972's Something/Anything? was credited simply to Todd Rundgren. He wrote, played, sang and, engineered and produced everything on three of the four sides of this double album. His music during this period (later classified as an early form of power pop) was profoundly influenced by soul music, '60s pop/rock (especially The Beatles and The Beach Boys), and the chord progressions of Laura Nyro and Carole King. He sometimes demonstrated an interest in other genres as well, however, such as hard rock and experimental music. Something/Anything? featured the top 20 U.S. hits "I Saw The Light" (#16; an original song, not the Hank Williams classic), and a remake of the Nazz near-hit "Hello It's Me", which reached #5 in the U.S. and is Rundgren's biggest hit. The former song featured Rundgren on all vocals and instruments.
Though Rundgren never completely abandoned his popular music influences, by the mid-1970s many of his compositions were stretching themselves into something akin to progressive rock. 1973's transitional A Wizard, a True Star caught the beginning of this trend, which came to fruition in 1974's Todd and 1975's Initiation. His music during this period addressed cosmic themes, showing a strong interest in spirituality (particularly Far Eastern religion and philosophy), and displayed the musical influence of psychedelic rock, as well as the avant-garde jazz fusion of contemporary acts such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa. When touring, the music was presented in a lavish stage setting that echoed the ambitious space-themed shows of acts like Parliament/Funkadelic. Rundgren (who had adopted an outlandish space-rock image on stage) was often seen playing the eye-catching psychedelic Gibson SG that Eric Clapton played in Cream. Rundgren auctioned off the original guitar, and he now owns a reproduction
His 1976 album Faithful marked a return to the pop/rock genre, featuring one side of original songs and one side of covers of significant songs from 1966, such as "Good Vibrations" and the Yardbirds' "Happening Ten Years Time Ago" (the B-side of that Yardbirds single gave Nazz its name). Faithful was followed by Hermit of Mink Hollow (1978); this included the hit ballad "Can We Still Be Friends", which reached #29 in the U.S. and was accompanied by an innovative self-produced music video. Subsequent solo releases included the album-long concept work Healing (1981), the New Wave-tinged The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1982), and A Cappella (1985), which was recorded using Rundgren's multitracked voice, accompanied by arrangements constructed from programmed vocal samples. "Bang the Drum All Day", from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was a minor chart hit which has become more prominent in subsequent years, having been adopted as an unoffcial theme by several professional sports franchises, notably the Green Bay Packers, and becoming popular on radio, where it was often featured on Friday afternoons. It is now considered one of Rundgren's most popular songs. In 1986, Rundgren scored four episodes of the popular children's television show Pee Wee's Playhouse.
Nearly Human (1989) and 2nd Wind (1991) were both recorded live - the former in the studio, the latter in a theater before a live audience, which was instructed to remain silent. Each song on these albums was recorded as a complete single take with no later overdubbing. Both albums marked, in part, a return to his Philly soul roots. 2nd Wind also included several excerpts from Rundgren's musical Up Against It, which was adapted from the screenplay (originally titled "Prick Up Your Ears") that British playwright Joe Orton had originally offered to The Beatles for their never-made follow-up to Help!.
After a long absence from touring, Rundgren hit the road with Nearly Human - 2nd Wind band, which included brass and a trio of slinky backup singers (one of whom, Michele Gray, Rundgren married). He also toured during this period with Ringo Starr's All-Starr band.
The next few years saw Rundgren recording under the pseudonym TR-i ("Todd Rundgren interactive") for two albums. The first of these, 1993's No World Order, consisted of hundreds of seconds-long snippets of music that could be combined in various ways to suit the listener. Initially targeted for the Philips CD-i platform, No World Order featured interactive controls for tempo, mood, and other parameters, along with pre-programmed mixes by Rundgren himself, Bob Clearmountain, Don Was, and Jerry Harrison. The disc was also released for PC and Macintosh and in two versions on standard audio CD, the continuous mix disc No World Order and, later, the more song-oriented No World Order Lite. The music itself was quite a departure from Rundgren's previous work, with a dance/techno feel and much rapping by Rundgren. The follow-up, 1995's The Individualist, featured interactive video content that could be viewed or in one case, played; it was a simple video game) along with the music, which was more rock-oriented than No World Order.
Rundgren returned to recording under his own name for With a Twist, an album of bossa-nova covers of his older material. His Patronet work, which trickled out to subscribers over more than a year, was released in 2000 as One Long Year. In 2004, Rundgren released Liars, a concept album about "paucity of truth" that features a mixture of his older and newer sounds.
In early 2008, Todd launched his official myspace page.
Todd released his new rock album titled Arena on September 30, 2008. In concert, he had been performing the album in full and in sequence before its release.
Rundgren's back-up band circa A Wizard, a True Star proved to be the first incarnation of Utopia. This band featured an interesting character completely disguised in a silver suit, M. Frog Labat (Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi) on synthesizers, who also put out his own electronics/keyboards-based solo album. Utopia (version 1) would reform again in 1974 as a larger prog-rock ensemble, which included multiple keyboards, synthesizers and brass. They premiered on 1974's Todd Rundgren's Utopia, and went on to record the 1975 live album Another Live. In 1976, Rundgren re-established Utopia (version 2) as a tight, disciplined four-piece group that became a popular recording and touring band of its day. Favoring pop and anthemic rock over the group's earlier synthesizer experimentation, this core Utopia lineup featured Roger Powell on keyboards, Kasim Sulton on bass, and John "Willie" Wilcox on drums, although all members played multiple instruments and sang both lead and harmony vocals at times. After 1977's prog-rock fusion homage, Ra, Utopia moved toward a more pop-oriented style with 1977's Oops! Wrong Planet, which included "Love Is the Answer", later a hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley, and the more successful Adventures In Utopia in 1980, which spawned the hits "Road to Utopia", "Set Me Free" and "Caravan". Other releases include Deface the Music (also 1980), an uncanny Beatles homage that borders on parody; Swing to the Right (1981), incorporating more new wave elements; their pop-referenced, self-titled album Utopia (1982), as well as their 1983 Oblivion, which showed a cynical side of Utopia, sporting a black cover; 1985's P.O.V. includes "Mated", later a staple of Rundgren solo tours. Rundgren eventually disbanded Utopia in the mid-80s; they released Trivia (1986) as their "swan song" effort. However, in 1992 a brief tour of Japan reunited the Rundgren/Powell/Sulton/Wilcox lineup, and "Redux '92: Live In Japan" was released on Rhino Records.
Eventually, the compilation Oblivion, P.O.V. and Some Trivia was released in 1996, an effort by Rhino Records to re-release selections from the Todd/Utopia discography.
In addition to his own recordings, Rundgren has produced albums for Halfnelson (first incarnation of Sparks), New York Dolls, Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, Hall & Oates, Ian and Sylvia (on their "Great Speckled Bird" album), Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, Shaun Cassidy, The Tubes, Tom Robinson Band, XTC, Bad Religion, Cheap Trick, The Hello People, Hiroshi Takano, Bourgeois Tagg, 12 Rods, The Pursuit of Happiness, The Psychedelic Furs, Steve Hillage, The Band, The American Dream, and many others. The troubled XTC sessions produced the album Skylarking, now considered a high point for band and producer despite its acrimonious origin. Rundgren's production of Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell helped that album become one of the very top selling LPs released in the 1970s. The industry regard for Rundgren's production work has been a lofty one: Jim Steinman, with whom Rundgren worked on Bat Out of Hell, has said in interviews that "Todd Rundgren is a genius and I don't use that word a lot."
Rundgren has long been on the cutting edge of music and video technologies. His music video for the song "Time Heals" was among the first videos aired on MTV, and a video he produced for RCA, accompanied by Gustav Holst's The Planets, was used as a demo for their videodisc players. His experience with computer graphics dates back to 1981, when he developed one of the first computer paint programs, dubbed the Utopia Graphics System; it ran on an Apple II with Apple's digitizer tablet. He is also the co-developer of the computer screensaver system Flowfazer.
In the 1990s, Rundgren was an early adopter of the NewTek Video Toaster and made several videos with it. The first, for "Change Myself" from 2nd Wind, was widely distributed as a demo reel for the Toaster; he also used the system for videos from No World Order (songs "Fascist Christ" and "Property"). Later, he set up a company to produce 3D animation using the Toaster; this company's first demo, "Theology" (a look at religious architecture through the ages featuring music by former Utopia bandmate Roger Powell) also became a widely-circulated item among Toaster users. Most of Rundgren's Toaster work is available on the video compilation The Desktop Collection.
Rundgren composed music for the 1986 TV series Pee-wee's Playhouse and Crime Story as well as the movies "Undercover" (a/k/a "Under Cover") (1987), and Dumb and Dumber (1994), plus background cues for several other TV shows. He hosted a syndicated radio show called "The Difference" in the early 1990s.
As the Internet gained mass acceptance in the mid-1990s Rundgren, along with longtime manager Eric Gardner and Apple digital music exec Kelli Richards, started Patronet, which offered fans (patrons) access to his works in progress and new unreleased tracks in exchange for a subscription fee, cutting out record labels. The songs from Rundgren's first Patronet run were later released as the album One Long Year. Since then, Rundgren has severed his connections with major record labels and continues to offer new music direct to subscribers via his website, although he also continues to record and release CDs through independent labels. (However, as of November 2007, the PatroNet.com website offers the following message: "PatroNet is undergoing a major software revision and is not accepting memberships at this time.")
In the summer of 2001, Rundgren joined artists such as Alan Parsons, The Who's John Entwistle, Heart's Ann Wilson and Ambrosia's David Pack for the successful "A Walk Down Abbey Road" tour, in which the musicians played their own hits alongside Beatles favorites.
Rundgren toured the US and Europe in 2004 with Joe Jackson and the string quartet Ethel, appearing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien performing their collaborative cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". (video)
In January 2009, Rundgren produced Cause I Sez So by the New York Dolls, which was released on May 5, 2009 by Atco Records.
On October 23, 2009, in one of last concerts at the famed Wachovia Spectrum, Philadelphia area musicians The Hooters, Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates headlined a concert titled "Last Call". Tickets were as low as $6.00, the deep discount reflected ticket prices in 1967 when the Spectrum first staged concerts.
In late 2005, rumors began circulating that the influential Boston-based band The Cars were planning to re-form despite bass player Benjamin Orr's death and the oft-mentioned refusal of former lead singer Ric Ocasek to even consider any reunion. Soon the rumors mentioned that Rundgren had joined Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes in rehearsals for a possible new Cars lineup. Initial speculation pointed to The New Cars being fleshed out with Clem Burke of Blondie and Art Alexakis of Everclear. Eventually it was revealed that The New Cars were to complete their lineup with veteran bass player and former Rundgren bandmate Kasim Sulton and studio drummer Prairie Prince of The Tubes, who had played on XTC's Rundgren-produced Skylarking and who has recorded and toured with Rundgren.
In early 2006, the new lineup played a few private shows for industry professionals, played live on The Tonight Show and made other media appearances before commencing a 2006 summer tour with the re-formed Blondie.
Rundgren has referred to the project as "an opportunity ... for me to pay my bills, play to a larger audience, work with musicians I know and like, and ideally have some fun for a year."
The New Cars' first single, "Not Tonight," was released on March 20, 2006. A portion of the song is featured on a promotional teaser for the band online. A live album/greatest hits collection, The New Cars: It's Alive, was released in June, 2006. The album includes classic Cars songs (and two Rundgren hits) recorded live plus three new studio tracks.
In September 2009, Rundgren assembled a very limited-engagement tour with Jesse Gress, Kasim Sulton, Prairie Prince, Greg Hawkes, Bobby Strickland, and Roger Powell (and his wife Michele as costume designer and back-up singer for the concerts finale'), covering his 1973 album, "A Wizard, A True Star." The shows included a complete, start-to-finish rendition of the album, with multiple costume changes and theatrical props to accent the songs. The opening band for the shows was Utopia, with Roger Powell, Kasim Sulton, and Prairie Prince.
In December 2009, Rundgren once again took the AWATS Live show on the road with four shows in California. Roger Powell returned to his real job in the computer/software industry and was replaced by Ralph Schuckett, who played keyboards on the studio recording of the original album.
The AWATS show has had two European dates as well; playing in London, England at the Hammersmith Apollo on February 6, 2010, and the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Holland on February 8, 2010. Rundgren opened the London and Amsterdam shows by showcasing his new project, entitlted 'Todd Rundgren's Johnson'; consisting of Rundgren, Jesse Gress (guitar), Prairie Prince (drums) and Kasim Sulton (bass) reworking Robert Johnson songs.