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Todd Rundgren The polymathically peverse singer-songwriter and studio wizard reveals the tunes that opened up his third earAs told to Joe Stannard, Monday November 03 2008 16.14 GMT Article history
Todd Rundgren ... a wizard and a true star. Photograph: Mark Mawston

James Cotton Blues Band - The Sky Is Falling

James Cotton is a famous blues harp player. We had a lot of great players on the Taking Care of Business album, like Johnny Winter and the late Michael Bloomfield. It was an attempt to bring him a little bit into the ... I don't know, I guess he'd be an artist of the 50s and we were trying to bring him not necessarily into the 70s, but into the early 60s if we were lucky (laughs). We had a great opportunity to work with some people who really admired him, like Johnny, Michael and myself. There are some fond memories there.

Grand Funk Railroad - We're An American Band

The first and probably last time I'll ever see the music business operating like a well-oiled machine, a time when when you could expect a certain number of record sales and you could assume the record would chart no matter what it sounded like, because of the band's previous history. We were not so much trying to challenge commercial assumptions as artistic assumptions. Everyone had a very low opinion of the band, mostly because of terrible prior productions. Their manager produced their records and he wasn't very good at it (laughs). So we did We're An American Band and then a follow-up production called Shine It On and it was just amazing to me to see how everything fell into place once we got a decent record made. It didn't take long to make and actually, before we had completed the album itself, we had a record already in the Top 20.

Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell

This wasn't a record in which I saw any great commercial success. I looked at it as a Bruce Springsteen spoof, as he was the biggest thing happening then. The songs were all too long and too dramatic, but still depended on a rudimentary, roots-oriented view of rock. The changes were all simple with straightforward chord structures, which we made rock'n'roll-y in terms of bombast and arrangement tricks. Meat Loaf didn't even have a band when he first auditioned for me, it was just him, Jim Steinman on the piano and two backing singers. They acted out the whole record with nothing but a piano! None of us really expected that it would become the huge commercial success that it was.

Cheap Trick - You Say Jump

The singer, Robin Zander and the guitarist, Rick Nielsen, and maybe one of the other guys, had been in a band with members of the Nazz before they became Cheap Trick, so we had a pre-connection. I had always thought that they were one of the best performing bands ever, and that Rick was one of the great rock/pop songwriters, so I always thought it would be good for us to work together. And it turned out to be a pretty good fit except for the fact that the record label was still hung up on trying to find a follow-up to I Want You to Want Me. Every record had to have a version of I Want You to Want Me somehow (laughs). The original song was on a previous album, In Color, but it was the live version on their At Budokan album that was the giant radio hit.

XTC - Dying

Every other act that I'd worked with could be expected to go and play the record live, or already had played some parts of the record before we began to record it. But lead singer Andy Partridge had acute stage fright, which meant that the band never performed live and that their musical life revolved around their studio recordings. For me to become as involved as I did in the making of this record was almost like me barging my way into the band (laughs) and there was some reaction to that, especially from Andy, because he was used to being rewarded from the record-making process with no expectation that it would ever be played anywhere. Andy's style is cerebral, whereas Colin Moulding writes about things that seem like they are important and integral to him. Dying is a good example, it's an extremely simple song and the lyric is just deadpan, straightforward. It's not trying to be clever in any way - it's all about a feeling.

The Pursuit of Happiness - I'm An Adult Now

I did two records with this band in the early 90s, and this was one of the lost gems of music to me, the fact that this band could not seem to find their audience and succeed, where other bands with much less talent and character had. It was kind of a disappointment. They were both great records, both comparatively effortless. The first was called Love Junk, and I'm An Adult Now was something of a white rap (laughs), all about the responsibilities of growing up.

Todd Rundgren - Courage

My new album Arena was produced in a bizarre way. When I first got into my workspace and into the recording process, I booted up my Pro Tools system but no sound was coming out because I live in Hawaii and the air is so humid that it can eat away at a computer's insides. I got fed up and decided I had to make progress without messing around with this equipment. So I did a tiny bit of research about what there was out there and discovered that with just an audio interface, a laptop and a couple of software tools, I could make a record that sounded as if I had done it in a studio. Having the flexibility to just carry my laptop into the linen closet to do some vocals or into another room because this room isn't sound-isolated enough, gave me a whole new perspective. This new-found freedom to my working day is one of the reasons why I don't have the healthy production schedule I used to.

Todd Rundgren November tour dates:

Manchester Academy 2 (Nov 6)
Edinburgh Picture House (Nov 7)
Norwich Waterfront (Nov 22)
London Kentish Town Forum (Nov 23)

Tickets: 08700 603 777

Todd's new album Arena is available on Cooking Vinyl

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