By: Thom Jennings
Opinions are like…well you know the expression. In anticipation of Todd Rundgren’s upcoming appearance in Buffalo, I thought I would offer my ranking of the TR solo catalogue. No Nazz, no versions of Utopia, no live in concert or best of compilations either, these are all the studio albums released under the TR moniker, (or on occasion Runt or Tr-i).
Please keep in mind that no list of this type is definitive, and it is meant to stimulate discussion as opposed to hateful “what the f— is he thinking ranking that album so high.”
Each of these albums holds a special place in my heart and have provided the soundtrack of my life ever since I listened to my first TR album, “Back to the Bars” which does not make this list because it is a live album.
And now, for entertainment purposes only, my ranking of TR’s albums!
Hermit of Mink Hollow– It’s tough to perk this on top because Todd’s certainly offered up more innovative albums in his catalogue, but this is so well crafted you would be hard-pressed to find anyone that could find fault on it. Todd’s most accessible album with no flaws, this album should have gone platinum.
A Cappella-This could have been an exercise in self-indulgence, instead it winds up being a creative masterpiece. “Pretending to Care” may be my all-time favorite TR ballad.
Nearly Human-I loved this album the minute it came out, and the subsequent tour was magical. Todd’s songwriting was incredible, and the players on this album really shined. Only reason it’s not number one is the addition of Elvis Costello’s “Two Little Hitlers”
Something/Anything?– It’s Todd’s most successful album for a reason, and I have a love/hate relationship with it for that reason. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant work.
A Wizard, a True Star-AWATS is likely the favorite album of the hardcore Todd fan. It represented the shift from Philly soul singer to studio wiz kid. So much has already been written about AWATS that I have nothing worth adding.
Liars-This album appeared on the scene when many of Todd’s fans wondered if he had any classic albums left in the tank. He did, and then proceeded to hit the road with a kick ass tour to support the album.
Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren- This is an album that may deserve a higher rank. It is a beautiful album that laid the groundwork for “Something/Anything.”
The Individualist– This album just kicks ass. It is a sonic assault with some great hooks.
Healing – A classic amongst the fans, definitely a work of art, and if ever an album was meant to be listened to from beginning to end, it is this one.
Todd-I have always considered this album to be AWATS little brother. To have this album at number 10 is more of a reflection as to how good other 9 albums before it on the list are. Lots of innovations on here, especially the dual coast recorded “Sons of 1984.”
Global- After the dark, brooding “State” Todd delivered a peppier product, complete with socially conscious lyrics, a strong ballad and some Philly soul seasoning.
The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect-Another album that is hard to rank this low. So many strong cuts and great moments. Just as “Todd” is the little sister to AWATS this one is “Hermit’s” little sister. ”Hideaway” is a contender for my favorite Todd song of all time.
Runt-His first was not his best, but this album certainly gave fans a taste of Todd’s genius as a solo artist in the post-Nazz era. So many cool songs, and while “We Gotta Get You a Woman” was the single, it is not even close to being the best track on the album.
Arena-Lots of great songs, but this album could have used a live band to give it the authentic arena rock feel. The song “Courage” is the best song he has written in this century. The tour kicked ass, Todd ran through the album top to bottom, and included Kasim Sulton on keyboards near the end.
No World Order-This album took me years to really appreciate. “Worldwide Epiphany” and “Fascist Christ” are killer live numbers. It was a bigger departure than AWATS was years earlier, and was the first interactive CD (I did not won a computer back then so I was not able to appreciate the interactive part) The Lite and remixed versions are really cool.
State-This is another one that took some time to grow on me, but if you give this album a chance you will find its dark and brooding themes very interesting. You have to listen to this through some good headphones to fully appreciate it.
Initiation– If side 2 was not a long instrumental this album would be ranked much higher. Side one contains some of Todd’s finest work, including the masterpiece “Fair Warning.” The opening number “Real Man” has been a concert staple for many years.
Faithful-In the case of “Faithful” it would be much higher if it weren’t for side 1, which features covers from 1966, an important year for Todd musically. Side 2 has no filler, and if it were not for “Bang the Drum” years later, “When I Pray” might still be in some of Todd’s sets. “Love of the Common Man” may be the song Todd has performed the most over the years (although “I Saw the Light” is probably number one).
2nd Wind– I loved the concept, a studio album performed live. It just never captured the excitement of its predecessor “Nearly Human.” The subsequent tour may be my favorite; if you hear “Live in Chicago”, you will understand why. This was also the last solo album recorded completely with outside musicians.
One Long Year– There are some great moments on this album, but because the tracks were recorded over a long period of time it does not have the feel of a complete album. “Buffalo Grass” is an incredible song.
Todd Rundgren’s Johnson-Todd’s only album that is exclusively covers of one artist; in this case they are Robert Johnson covers. Todd’s guitar work is excellent.
(re)Production-There are a few shining moments on this album of covers of artists he had produced over the years. Whereas “Faithful” had versions that did not deviate far from the original versions, these songs were very different, and the album could have been titled “Unfaithful”
Up Against It!-Near the bottom but there are some classic moments on this release. The music was intended for the musical of the same name, so it sounds like a Broadway musical. The version of “Parallel Lines” is worth the import price of the album.
With a Twist...- This was a Bossa Nova album of Todd’s previously released songs. I never warmed up to these versions, but Todd slips a few in on tour.
My Ultimate 20 song Todd Rundgren Solo Setlist
No Utopia songs on this list, so there are some gems missing, but if Todd let me write the setlist for one magical night of deep cuts sprinkled with some fan favorites, this would be the show.
Boat on the Charles
Can’t Stop Running
When I Pray
Just One Victory
Todd Rundgren will play at the Town Ballroom on Tuesday April 28.