Last year, when John Mellencamp appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman, he turned the focus to Todd Rundgren, who was onstage with Paul Shaffer's band that night.
"I hear Todd's songs and I don't understand why he's not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Mellencamp said. "I mean, I've written a couple of good songs, but he's written a [expletive]-gob of them."
Our sentiments exactly. It's true that Rundgren has had only one Top 10 single -- "Hello It's Me"; more on that song in a moment -- but he's written, sung, performed and produced more great music over the past 50 years than most Hall inductees have. His mellow-rock classics alone earned him the moniker "the male Carole King."
As we get ready for Rundgren's career-retrospective concert Jan. 20 at the Granada Theater, here are just a few of the 67-year-old singer's contributions to music.
Do unto others
Long before Danger Mouse or Pharrell Williams popularized the term "artist-producer," Rundgren pioneered the concept of a performer who also sculpts sound for other bands in the studio. Rundgren's early knob-twisting masterpieces were Badfinger's "Baby Blue," Grand Funk Railroad's "We're an American Band" and the New York Dolls' "Personality Crisis." Later standouts include Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell, Patti Smith's Wave and XTC's "Dear God."
Along with the Beach Boys and the Beatles, Rundgren was one of the main architects of power-pop. From his 1968 Nazz song "Open My Eyes" (immortalized on Nuggets) to his jangly '72 solo gem, "Couldn't I Just Tell You," Rundgren opened the door for Big Star, Cheap Trick and countless others.
Rundgren was sprinting toward the future back when most bands still thought smoke machines were high-tech. An early adopter of wireless microphones in the mid-'70s, he developed a computer paint program for Apple in 1981 and helped popularize everything from computer screen savers to music videos. No World Order (1993) was billed as the world's first interactive album.
He had us at 'Hello'
Rundgren wasn't the first to use "Hello" in a song title, but his sublime "Hello It's Me" paved the way for a string of melancholy "Hello" hits that don't quite measure up to his (see Neil Diamond, Lionel Richie and Adele). Fun fact: Although Rundgren first released "Hello It's Me" in 1968 with his band, Nazz, the song we all know today is the faster, more soulful version Rundgren recorded for Something/Anything?, the 1972 solo album that Rolling Stone ranked No. 173 on its 500 Greatest Albums list in 2012.
Like late superstars David Bowie and Miles Davis, Rundgren built his career on trying new sounds, styles and approaches. He's experimented with new wave, classical, metal, R&B, prog-rock, a cappella and even Jamaican ska in his most infectious hit, 1983's anti-work anthem "Bang the Drum All Day" -- known to Green Bay Packers fans at Lambeau Field as "The Touchdown Song."
By Thor Christensen, a Dallas writer and critic.