Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Wizard A True Star - on Facebook

You can visit the 'A Wizard A True Star' Facebook page using this link:
http://www.facebook.com/groups/288957367354/
 
For me, this is the greatest record ever made.  I bought the album in 1974 - it was the record that awakened my sense of musical wonder. Although it is now almost 40 years old, it still sounds, as the rock writer Barney Hoskings puts it: "more bravely futuristic than any ostensibly cutting-edge electro-pop being made in the 21st Century." 

A Wizard A True Star  was a single album that had more musical ideas on it than many artists could muster in a whole career. It ranges across a variety of styles, reflecting a precocious talent channelling everything from The Beatles and The Beach Boys to classic soul and Jimi Hendrix. At a few minutes short of an hour in length, the album pushed the limits of just how much music could fit on a vinyl record. 

This advert from Rolling Stone in 1973 gives some idea of how Todd Rundgren wasn't content to be the sensitive singer-songwriter his fans and his record company might have wanted him to be. I had come to know Todd via the single I Saw The Light, which was a radio play hit in the UK. I decided I wanted to investigate further. At the record shop, I couldn’t afford the album from which it came, Something / Anything, because it was a double, but I was attracted to the cover of his recent release A Wizard A True Star. So I bought that instead. It’s fair to say the record blew my mind. I had grown up listening to the Beatles and then Glam Rock and bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. There wasn’t much light and shade in my record collection. AWATS changed all that.

 From the opening fuzz tones of ‘International Feel’, it was clear I was going to have a unique sonic experience, with short bursts of song ideas merged together in what Todd has described as “a stream of consciousness”. That first side has 12 tracks on it; it's like watching a fast action cartoon. The mood and style of side two is in marked contrast; Todd takes a more measured approach, with the middle of the side devoted to his soul medley. Each track is a given the chance to soar. The songs still seque into each other, but do so beautifully, particularly towards the end, as the fuzz guitar of ‘Hungry for Love’, tails off to the solo piano of ‘I Don’t Want To Tie You Down’ which in turn echoes away into the guitar frenzy of ‘Is It My Name’. And then we conclude with the majestic, anthemic ‘Just One Victory’. 

Because he had crammed so much on the record, Todd urged the listener to crank up their stereo to get the full effect. In fact he suggested people tape the record and then crank it up, to avoid having the stylus jump off the vinyl. 
First issues of the vinyl LP were dye-cut, giving the record sleeve an odd shape, and psychedelic images on both sides of the gatefold cover. The original album package included a ‘band aid’ poem written by Todd’s friend Patti Smith, as well as a postcard encouraging purchasers to send their name to be included on a poster, which was given away with Todd's next album.
 
Rundgren has always made it clear this was not a solo performance, like much of Something/Anything. Indeed, the list of musicians on AWATS includes some who would later become top session players, including the Brecker Brothers, Rick Derringer and David Sanborn. The contribution of drummer John Siomos (who later played on Frampton Comes Alive) is also important, providing the solid groove for much of the album’s more soulful moments.

Todd went on to make many classic records, but none was as influential and cohesive as this one. I must have been through four or five copies of it on vinyl. I used to play it literally all the time. Todd was never one to repeat himself though. He only became more willful in his desire to keep his fans guessing, and ultimately lost a lot of his original audience along the way. A Wizard, A True Star  is, for fans who have stayed the course, the high point of a prolific musical journey.

When Todd announced in 2009 that he was going to tour and play the album in its entirety, I decided to set up a Facebook page as a tribute. I wasn't able to go to any of the shows, as he only played a few in the US and one in London in 2010, so this was my way of getting involved and spreading the word about an album that remains a very special part of my own musical journey.  On the FB page, I have collected together as many of the contemporary photographs as possible, together with video of the 2009 concerts. I have also included video of Todd appearing on the Daryl's House show with Daryl Hall and a performance of I Think You Know  from 2011 when he toured the album Todd.  Check it out: http://www.facebook.com/groups/288957367354/

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