“I saw Bat Out Of Hell as a spoof on Bruce Springsteen, I thought it would be just a cult thing” says Todd Rundgren, the man who produced one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
Philadelphia-born Todd, after cutting his teeth in a band called Woody’s Truck Stop, formed a garage band called Nazz in 1967 in which Todd wrote most of the songs most notably Hello It’s Me (which he later cut as a solo single). They also released three albums, the imaginatively titled Nazz (1968), Nazz Nazz (1969) and Nazz III (1971). He was influence by The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Yardbirds and Cream, but it was after hearing Laura Nyro’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and Dionne Warwick’s first album, which he describes as, “The sensibility of Burt Bacharach” that made him change his writing style and use of harmonies. He recalled, “It always rankled with me when my album Something/Anything? came out and people said, ‘He’s the male Carole King’ which is someone I appreciated as a songwriter but never emulated.”
In 1970 Todd had gone solo and released his first two albums, Runt and Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, but it was his third album, the aforementioned, Something/Anything? that brought him to the mainstream. The album, in which Todd played all the instruments and overdubbed scores of vocals, opened with I Saw the Light, a 1960s pastiche and a homage to Laura Nyro. He recalled, “I wrote this song in 15 minutes from start to finish. It was one of the reasons that caused me to change my style of writing. It doesn’t matter how clever a song is – if it’s written in 15 minutes, it is such a string of clichés that it just doesn’t have lasting impact for me. And for me, the greatest disappointment in the world is not being able to listen to my own music and enjoy it.”
The song is about a mixed-up teenage boy who stumbles into his first affair and doesn’t know if he loves the girl or not. Was it based on a personal experience? Todd revealed, “I Saw the Light is just a string of clichés. It’s absolutely nothing that I ever thought, or thought about, before I sat down to write the song.”
Todd liked the way Berry Gordy operated at Motown and decided to copy the idea of putting a track that he thought would be a hit at the beginning of the album. The song reached number 16 in the US, but it was his solo remake of Hello It’s Me that became his biggest hit reaching number five. In the UK, I Saw the Light was his only hit and only just made the top 40. The song has been used in the TV shows Six Feet Under, Beavis and Butthead and That ’70s Show and also in the films Kingpin and My Girl.
Todd enjoyed making records but was equally comfortably producing. By 1977 he’d got together with Meat Loaf and they started work on Bat Out Of Hell. Looking back on that, he recalled, “the best thing about that album was that you had three egos – three huge egos – in me, Jim Steinman and Meat. That, of course was also the worst thing about that record – and you can still hear that today – the best and the worst. None of us thought it would be a success – it was such a crazy idea, as the record unfolded. I mean, can you believe we just wanted to get it done? We just wanted to hand it in – to have it finished.”
Beyond that he worked with XTC and even did some backing vocals for Celine Dion. Throughout the 80s, 90s & 2000s, Todd has released a string of cult albums with the most recent being 2011’s (Re) Production which contains covers of Hall & Oates’ Is It A Star, Badfinger’s Take It All and even his own version of Meat Loaf’s Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.