Todd Rundgren: “A Wizard, A True Star”

Love it or hate it, every serious music nerd should hear this strange album once.  A Wizard, A True Star was released in ’73 when I was 15,  and I soon became addicted (which might explain some things), although some of it annoyed me and still does.  This mash-up of prog, pop, and blue-eyed soul might be the densest, most overly over-dubbed album in history.  There is literally zero space unfilled.  Because of that, there is almost always something interesting going on, even if the song itself isn’t good.  Side one is a medley of song fragments, sort of like side two of Abbey Road produced by a crazier Brian Wilson with access to synthesisers (unfortunately, there’s not a gapless version on YouTube).  The medley sometimes gets cartoonish.  A portion of side two is a medley of Motown covers, which has always seemed a bit random to me. That said, there are plenty of addictive hooks throughout.  Highlights for me are “International Feel” (and its recapitulation, “Le Feel Internacionale,” which ended side 1), “When the Shit Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard,”  “Sometimes I don’t Know What to Feel,” and “Just One Victory.”  The anthemic quality of “Just One Victory” can get annoying, and it’s too long, but it has some great melodic and harmonic twists and turns.

I think Todd was trying to blow up his status as an AM radio pop artist.  The previous year he’d had a commercially successful album, Something/Anything?,  which was mostly straight-ahead pop ballads and rockers: it contained “Slut,” often covered by Big Star, as well as the power-pop classic, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You.”  Something/Anything also yielded a couple of big AM hits, the piano-driven “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me,” that made some people see him as kind of a male Carole King.  I’m guessing that didn’t sit well with him, so he went all-out weird for A Wizard, A True Star.  I’m sure there were hallucinogens involved as well.  It didn’t sell nearly as well as its predecessor.  Fun fact: the month after this album came out, he produced the New York Dolls’ first album.

So what to make of TR?  He was a highly talented multi-intrumentalist and producer, a true master of the studio, and a pioneer of power-pop and prog.  When everything clicked, he could be a very good songwriter.  But he lacked self-censorship.  Something/Anything? is a double ablum with way too much filler.  It could have been a much better single album.  As for A Wizard, A True Star, he really needed to rein in some of the self-indulgent goofiness.  He produced all his own albums, even playing all instruments on many tracks.  He just occasionally needed someone to say “no.”  In that regard, he was like an American version of The Move’s Roy Wood, who had the same issues.  That may not have been a coincidence.  The Move regularly covered “Open My Eyes,” originally by TR’s 60’s band, The Nazz.  And the first time I ever heard The Move’s “Do Ya” was TR covering it live.

Punk Pod

“Punk rock really needs about 10 episodes to do it justice, but we’ll try and tackle [it] anyway. Learn all about this movement right now. “

This is where I learned about Los Saicos. It was fun for an imbecile like me – curious to see what the more refined punko snobs think.

Union Row

THIS IS HUGE! An epic, historic game-changer for Memphis, one requiring all the stars to align for a project of this magnitude to even be considered. According to The Daily Memphian

Supporters believe Union Row, the massive, $950-million office, retail and residential project in downtown Memphis’s blighted east edge will be a catalyst for enormous additional investment.

“That’s a Cinderella story,” Mark Billingsley said in December after he and fellow Shelby County Commissioners voted to pump $100 million into the project.

Developers contend Union Row will create 4,300 jobs and generate $16 million in annual property, sales and hotel taxes. If all phases are completed, the project will be among the largest, if not the largest “mixed-use’’ real estate development in Memphis history.

The project will be built in stages. Phase One, with a construction price tag of about $512 million, represents about half of the overall $950-million venture.

Developers spent $25 million this year — much of it with cash — snatching up an array of parcels where Phase One will rise: Collectively, a 10.8-acre site roughly bounded by Union on the north, Danny Thomas on the east, Beale on the south and Fourth on the west.

Developer J. Kevin Adams believes Union Row will reshape downtown.

“This is the gateway to our downtown,’’ he told a gathering in April at East Memphis’ Crescent Club. “And it’s been blighted for a long time.’’

The site is in decay. Vacant or overgrown lots surrounded by razor wire line the streets amid bits of broken glass. Now out-of-place businesses have agreed to move, including auto repair shop Powerhouse Motors and Lit Restaurant Supply, housed in a repurposed car dealership first opened in 1935.

Demolition is set to begin in October or late fall.

Full article here.

Hornsey Road?

A new stage show produced by Beatle expert Mark Lewisohn sheds some light on a story we thought we knew. From The Guardian

They’ve wrapped up the recording of Abbey Road, which would turn out to be their last studio album, and are awaiting its release in two weeks’ time. Ringo Starr is in hospital, undergoing tests for an intestinal complaint. In his absence, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison convene at Apple’s HQ in Savile Row. John has brought a portable tape recorder. He puts it on the table, switches it on and says: “Ringo – you can’t be here, but this is so you can hear what we’re discussing.”

What they talk about is the plan to make another album – and perhaps a single for release in time for Christmas, a commercial strategy going back to the earliest days of Beatlemania. “It’s a revelation,” Lewisohn says. “The books have always told us that they knew Abbey Road was their last album and they wanted to go out on an artistic high. But no – they’re discussing the next album. And you think that John is the one who wanted to break them up but, when you hear this, he isn’t. Doesn’t that rewrite pretty much everything we thought we knew?”

Full article here, including a link to tour dates for a show I would kill to see.

Born To Lose

Say what you want about Sid being a shit bassist, he would have made a fucking great front man. Just look at him! And give the RUGGED MAN SONG OF THE WEEK™ a play over there while you’re at it. Horrible live recording, but he had the goods as a rock vocalist.

EDIT: Here it is again, for archiving purposes.

According to ancient punk lore, he actually came very close to fronting a band. Twice. The Damned asked him to audition when they were first getting together. Sneaky Dave Vanian had other plans, and sabotaged the rehearsal so he could try out first. Seems Vanian (or an associate) told Sid the band had canceled at the last minute, while Captain Sensible and the boys just assumed Sid no-showed.

Then one day, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were discussing who would make a good lead singer for this new band Malcolm was going to manage. Vivienne suggested one of the Johns who hung around the shop all the time, because he had a great look. Malcolm assumed she meant John Lydon; she really meant John Ritchie – AKA John Beverly, AKA Sid Vicious.

Would the Pistols have had the same impact without Lydon’s brilliant, confrontational lyrics? Arguably not. Still …

BONUS: Here’s an interview Judy Vermorel conducted with Sid for her book, Sex Pistols: The Inside Story. Like most 20-year-olds, Mr. Vicious is in turns insightful and moronic.

Look What I Got

Kindle Deal of the Day last Sunday, $2!

In celebration of The Simpsons thirtieth anniversary, the show’s longest-serving writer and producer offers a humorous look at the writing and making of the legendary Fox series that has become one of the most revered artistic achievements in television history.

Four-time Emmy winner Mike Reiss—who has worked on The Simpsons continuously since episode one in 1989—shares stories, scandals, and gossip about working with America’s most iconic cartoon family ever. Reiss explains how the episodes are created, and provides an inside look at the show’s writers, animators, actors and celebrity guests. He answers a range of questions from Simpsons fans and die-hards, and reminisces about the making of perennially favorite episodes.

In his freewheeling, irreverent comic style, Reiss reflects on his lifetime inside The Simpsons—a personal highlights reel of his achievements, observations, and favorite stories. Springfield Confidential exposes why Matt Groening decided to make all of the characters yellow; dishes on what it’s like to be crammed in a room full of funny writers sixty hours a week; and tells what Reiss learned after traveling to seventy-one countries where The Simpsons is watched (ironic note: there’s no electricity in many of these places); and even reveals where Springfield is located! He features unique interviews with Judd Apatow, who also provided the foreword, and Conan O’Brien, as well as with Simpsons legends Al Jean, Nancy Cartwright, Dan Castellaneta, and more.

Like Cary Elwes’ As You Wish, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s Seinfeldia, and Chris Smith’s The Daily Show: An Oral History, Springfield Confidential is a funny, informational, and exclusive look at one of the most beloved programs in all of television land.

Fame…

A new documentary about Bowie called “Finding Fame” is out on Showtime. Mrs. Droogie and I stumbled on it the other night. I’m a big David Bowie fan, so I’m a bit biased, but I loved it.  A lot of what’s covered in this happened before my time and when I was just a wee Droog, so it’s nice to hear the story of how he became popular. Dude was ahead of his time for sure. Check out the trailer here…

Some of his really early songs were crap, and then he somehow pulled Space Oddity out of nowhere.