A Wizard, a True Star

A Wizard, a True Star is the fourth album by American musician Todd Rundgren, released March 2, 1973 on Bearsville Records. It marked a departure from his previous, Something/Anything? (1972), with its lesser reliance on straightforward pop songs, a development he attributed to his experimentation with psychedelic drugs and his realization of "what music and sound were like in my internal environment, and how different that was from the music I had been making."[3][4] Upon release, the album received mixed reviews and reached number 86 on US charts. It has since been recognized for its influence on later generations of bedroom musicians.[4]

A Wizard, a True Star
Rundgren wizard.png
Studio album by
ReleasedMarch 2, 1973 (1973-03-02)
Recorded1972–1973
StudioSecret Sound Studio, New York City (except "Just One Victory", Advantage Studios)
Genre
Length55:56
LabelBearsville
ProducerTodd Rundgren
Todd Rundgren chronology
Something/Anything?
(1972)
A Wizard, a True Star
(1973)
Todd
(1974)

The album was produced, engineered, and, with the exception of some tracks, entirely performed by Rundgren. He envisioned the record as a hallucinogenic-inspired "flight plan" with all the tracks seguing seamlessly into each other, starting with a "chaotic" mood and ending with a medley of his favorite soul songs. At the time of release, he stated that Wizard intended to advance utopian ideals; later, he said that the album had no definite meaning. No singles were issued from the album, as he wanted the tracks to be heard in the context of the LP. With 19 tracks, its nearly 56-minute runtime made it one of the longest single-disc LPs to date.

BackgroundEdit

In February 1972, Something/Anything? was issued as Todd Rundgren's third solo album, and his first credited under his own name.[5] It included many songs that would become his best-known, as well as extended jams and studio banter, such as the spoken-word track "Intro", in which he teaches the listener about recording flaws for an egg hunt-type game he calls "Sounds of the Studio".[4] After the album's success, critics hailed Rundgren as the spiritual successor to the 1960s studio experiments of the Beatles and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Rundgren felt uncomfortable that descriptions also came to include "the male Carole King". "With all due respect to Carole King," he said, "It wasn't what I was hoping to create as a musical legacy for myself."[6]

Rundgren returned to New York, and for the first time in his life, started experimenting with psychedelic drugs. To his recollection, this included DMT, mescaline, psilocybin, and possibly – but not certainly – LSD.[3][nb 1] He began to think that the writing on Something/Anything? was largely formulaic and borne from laziness, and sought to create a "more eclectic and more experimental" follow-up album.[3] His music tastes also started to lean moreso to the progressive rock of Frank Zappa, Yes, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.[7] He explained, "It wasn't like I suddenly threw away everything that I was doing before and decided that I was going to play the music of my mind", rather, the experiences allowed him "to actively put some of [my songwriting habits] away and to absorb new ideas and to also hear the final product in a different way."[8] However, he "wasn't really aware, at that time, that I'd make such a radical shift".[6]

ProductionEdit

The sound and structure of Wizard was heavily informed by Rundgren's hallucinogenic experiences. He said, "It was very ADD ... and I wouldn't dwell on whether a musical idea was complete or not."[9] Rundgren and keyboardist Moogy Klingman established a professional recording studio, Secret Sound, to accommodate the Wizard sessions. Located at Manhattan's 24th Street, the studio was designed to Rundgren's specifications and was created so that he could freely indulge in sound experimentation without having to worry about hourly studio costs.[9] To this effect, he said, "I had the idea that a synthesizer was supposed to sound like a synthesizer, instead of sounding like strings or horns."[2]

Two or three months were spent wiring the studio; the expenses were ultimately paid by the royalties gained from Rundgren's "Hello It's Me" single and the $10,000 advance given to Klingman for his second solo album (Moogy II, co-produced by Rundgren).[9] Rundgren remembered: "I have to say that, in some sense, A Wizard, a True Star was kind of rushed through because the studio wasn't finished. ... a lot of it seemed sorta ad hoc."[9] According to Klingman, the studio equipment "was breaking down all the time" and was "barely held together with band-aids and bubble gum."[9] They differed in their recollection of the first song recorded for the album. Rundgren thought it was "Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel", whereas Klingman believed it was "International Feel".[10]

Rundgren provided a host of instruments and equipment, including vibraphones, organs, keyboards, Fairchild equalizers, and his Stephens 16-track machine.[9] Depending on the track, he played all of the instruments alone or with assistance from Moogy & the Rhythm Kingz, a band that included drummer John Siomos, keyboardist Ralph Schuckett, and bassist John Siegler.[11] Rundgren encouraged the musicians to contribute any ideas they felt would benefit the music.[12] According to Siegler, "when Todd needed guys to play on his record, we were already there. It was like a club. Secret Sound was our clubhouse, and suddenly Todd was the leader of the club."[12] He said a typical session involved Rundgren arriving with a piece of music, written on piano or guitar and often untitled, to which the band would learn by and ear and create charts if necessary. Vocals were not recorded until after a basic track was completed.[12] Rundgren was also the sole engineer, as Klingman recounted, "he would go in the control room and set levels and come out and then he would run back in and adjust the levels. It was astonishing to watch, but that's how he liked to work."[13]

Wizard was one of the longest single-disc LPs ever cut,[14] as its 55:56 playing time stretched the technical limits of how much music could fit on a vinyl record.[15] Each side is much longer than the typical 17 to 20 minutes of a typical album. Therefore, the groove spacing is narrower, causing a significant drop in volume and sound quality. Rundgren acknowledged this issue on the album's inner sleeve and advised listeners to turn up the volume on their speakers to compensate.[16] All of the album's recording was at Secret Sound, except "Just One Victory", which was recorded earlier at Advantage Studios.[16][17]

Style and conceptEdit

It was fairly early on in my psychedelic explorations, so everything at that point is just pretty colors and this world of new discoveries. A Wizard, a True Star is just like a baby trying to get back to an un-imprinted point where all of this input doesn't necessarily have a preconceived meaning. I left it up to the listener to place it somewhere or rank it, evaluate it, remember it, forget it, whatever.

—Todd Rundgren, 2010[17]

Rundgren wrote, under the album's title in its original liner notes, that he was "not a real star ... just a musical representative of certain human tendencies: the Quest for Knowledge and the Quest for Love."[16] Although he denied that the record should be considered a concept album,[18] Wizard was envisioned as a "flight plan" with all the tracks seguing seamlessly into each other, starting with a "chaotic" mood and ending with a medley of his favorite soul songs.[10]

The album's first side is titled "The International Feel (In 8)".[16] Its tracks pivot radically between different musical moods and includes Rundgren's rendition of "Never, Never Land", from the 1954 musical of Peter Pan,[19] as well as "Rock N Roll Pussy", a song aimed at former Beatle John Lennon and so-called "limousine radicals".[20][nb 2] The other side, "A True Star", is mostly occupied by ballads, including a medley of the soul songs "I'm So Proud", "Ooh Baby Baby" and "La La Means I Love You.[19] He explained the meaning of the medley: "It's like opening up a hole in your memory and suddenly these memories – soul records you loved, say – start leaking out from who knows where. That's another aspect of psychedelic drugs sometimes, hearing and seeing things that wouldn't be familiar to you if you weren't so psychedelic. You suddenly see them differently and they convey a different meaning."[10]

Wizard, at different points, incorporates prog, psychedelic rock, Broadway show tunes, bubblegum pop, and Philadelphia soul.[22] Other influences were drawn from jazz and funk. Schuckett said that Rundgren often spoke of Ravel as his favorite classical composer at the time, although "I don't think Todd really listened to much funk, so [me and Moogy] were kind of showing him that stuff."[13] Musicologist Daniel Harrison likened Wizard to late 1960s Beach Boys work such as Smiley Smile, specifically in that the albums shared musical aspects such as "abrupt transitions, mixture of various pop styles, and unusual production effects."[23] Harrison added that few artists in this period chose to emulate the Beach Boys' experiments due to the band's poor commercial standing.[23] Rundgren said that adapting his sound to meet commercial expectations was never an issue for him since he already made "so much money from production", a rare luxury for an artist.[24] He recalled that Bearsville owner Albert Grossman, however, was "surprisingly" encouraging of Wizard. Klingman remembered Grossman walking in on a session of "Da Da Dali" and found Rundgren singing in an exaggerated Al Jolson voice while the band were purposely playing "all wrong notes", and yet "Albert didn't miss a beat. ... He just kept silent and nodded like everything was fine."[12]

In a 1973 interview, Rundgren suggested that he aimed to advance utopian ideals with the album, that Wizard was the first album not to rely on "complete songs" to determine feel, pacing, length, or mood, and that "[i]t may [someday] come to a point where people take rock and roll musicians more seriously than they take politicians."[14] Elsewhere, in 1972, he claimed that "what I'm doing isn't even really music, because deep inside of me, what I want to do is much greater than music. Music is the way I understand how to communicate now ... but it will eventually have to go beyond that."[14]

PackagingEdit

Wizard was packaged in an unconventionally-shaped sleeve.[25] The surrealistic painting on the front cover was designed by Arthur Wood.[26] He included coded messages in the image, which Rundgren referenced in a 2009 interview:

He had this little language that he invented and there are these sort of rhythm like things coursing through the artwork, there's this runic sort of stuff in there. I think it was secret love messages to his girlfriend or something like that, nothing really earth-shattering. He never explained to me what they really meant so I wouldn't know. I just pretty much saw a painting of his in a gallery window and I liked the combination of this sort of old classical style with a bizarro symbolically almost Dali-esque symbology. I also liked the way he drew two perspectives at once, the front perspective and the profile at the same time. The whole thing to me just represented graphically what I was going for musically and I sat for him for a couple of sessions and he essentially just painted it and I didn't instruct him at all what it was supposed to resemble.[8]

Also included within the sleeve was a poem by Patti Smith, "Star Fever", and a die-cut postcard that implored the record-buyer to "send this card in and we'll put your name on the next record."[27] Rundgren credited both of these features as Grossman's ideas.[27]

ReleaseEdit

 
Rundgren performing with Utopia, circa 1976

A Wizard, a True Star was released in March 1973[27] and charted at number 86 on the Billboard 200.[28] At Rundgren's behest, no singles were issued from the album, as he wanted the tracks to be heard in the context of the LP.[17] Its release coincided with the success of the "Hello It's Me" single. Bearsville executive Paul Fishkin spoke about the label's "bad luck with timing" and explained "Todd was off on his psychedelic adventure, and then a year later 'Hello' becomes a hit. At which point, we're up against Todd in a completely different mindspace ..."[27] He added that when he asked Rundgren about issuing five more potential singles from Something/Anything?, Rundgren responded: "No fucking way am I releasing anything else off that album."[2] The album failed to chart in the UK.[19]

Utopia as a group is to convince people of the potential reality of the concept. Utopia isn't even the greatest potential reality, it's just what we can afford now. We're the Disneyland of rock and roll bands. Anyone can get into it with a little bit of effort.

—Todd Rundgren, March 1973[14]

Wizard marked the beginning of more experimental ventures that Rundgren further explored with the band Utopia.[29] As the album was scheduled for release, he prepared a technologically ambitious stage show with the newly formed group,[30] his first official band since the Nazz.[14] The tour began in April and was cancelled after only a couple weeks on the road.[30] Once Rundgren was finished with other production duties, he began formulating plans for an improved configuration of Utopia, but first returned to Secret Sound to record the more synthesizer-heavy double album Todd, which was more material drawing on his hallucinogenic experiences.[31][nb 3] "A Dream Goes on Forever", a song originally written for Wizard, was recorded for Todd.[7]

Critical receptionEdit

Retrospective professional reviews
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic     [29]
Christgau's Record GuideB–[32]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [33]
MusicHound Rock5/5[34]
Pitchfork8.8/10[4]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [35]

Critical reception to Wizard was mixed.[27] Writing in Creem, Robert Christgau deemed Rundgren "a minor songwriter with major woman problems who's good with the board and has a sense of humor".[36] Rolling Stone's James Isaacs reviewed that it was "his most experimental, and annoying, effort to date ... I doubt that even the staunchest Rundgren cultists will want to subject themselves to most of the japery on side one, which would be better suited for a cartoon soundtrack. On the other hand, side two's restraint, its brimming good humor and its ambience of innocence is irresistible, and helps save A Wizard, A True Star from total disaster."[37] Billboard wrote: "Certainly an unusual LP from the singer/writer/producer, filled with varying vocal styles, strange sounds courtesy of Moogs and other exotic instruments, and fine songs from Rundgren and others. Set takes some time to grow, but ... FM stations should have a ball with this one.[25]

Patti Smith was more enthusiastic in her review for Creem: "Blasphemy even the gods smile on. Rock and roll for the skull. A very noble concept. Past present and tomorrow in one glance. Understanding through musical sensation. Todd Rundgren is preparing us for a generation of frenzied children who will dream in animation."[38] Ron Ross of Phonograph Record deemed "Zen Archer" to be "Todd's most gorgeous single achievement yet" and said that the album "should stand as a final testament to the powerful musical and emotional emancipations of the 60s."[14] Jerry Gilbert of Sounds said the album was "truly amazing".[39] Playboy described the record as "the usual maddening Rundgren smorgasbord", however, "[t]he first side is even more weird, incoherent, funny and, somehow, brilliant. Todd is surely not, as one of his titles would have it, 'Just Another Onionhead.'"[40]

Among retrospective assessments of Wizard, music journalist Barney Hoskyns called the record "the greatest album of all time ... a dizzying, intoxicating rollercoaster ride of emotions and genre mutations [that] still sounds more bravely futuristic than any ostensibly cutting-edge electro-pop being made in the 21st Century."[41][nb 4] In MusicHound Rock (1996), Christopher Scapelliti described Wizard as "a fascinating sonic collage that skews his pop-star image 180 degrees".[34] Evan Minsker of Pitchfork wrote it was "a trippy, constantly moving album that's as psychedelically detailed as it is (intentionally) creepy—not unlike the Sparks record he had recently helmed."[42] Sam Richards of The Guardian compared the album to be "harmonically richer and more ambitiously deranged than The White Album and prefigured Prince's Purple Rain by a decade."[22] Mojo editors deemed it "his finest hour."[19] In 2006, the album was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[43]

Conversely, Ben Sisario wrote in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) that Wizard was "an endurance test of stylistic diversity, with just three fully realized songs ('Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel,' 'International Feel,' and 'Just One Victory') stranded in the midst of so much half-baked sonic decoration."[35]

Influence and legacyEdit

In 2017, Rundgren delivered a commencement speech to the Berklee College of Music in which he stated, in part:

I made this crazy record called A Wizard, a True Star, in which I threw out all the rules of record making and decided I would try to imprint the chaos in my head onto a record without trying to clean it up for everyone else’s benefit. The result was a complete loss of about half of my audience at that point. But … Trent Reznor and other artists have cited that as being a major influence on them and so I have a special pride for what essentially was my act of tyranny after having achieved commercial success. This became the model for my life after that.[44]

The album's musician admirers include Tame Impala[42] and the electronic bands Simian Mobile Disco, Daft Punk, and Hot Chip.[8] "International Feel" was prominently featured in Daft Punk's 2006 film Electroma.[42] In 2018, Pitchfork's Sam Sodsky noted that the "fingerprints" of Wizard remain "evident on bedroom auteurs to this day, from Ariel Pink to Frank Ocean, who sampled its synths on 2016's Blonde."[4] Jellyfish and Imperial Drag co-founder Roger Joseph Manning Jr. praised the record for its unusual sound: "Stuff is distorting. Parts are panned all crazy; there’s so much nuttiness going on, but it ends up enhancing his songs because it adds that much more charm and character."[45]

There was no consideration to perform the album in its entirety at the time of release due to the difficulty in reproducing many of its sounds.[18] One song, "Just One Victory", did become a staple of Rundgren's concert performances as a closer. He later remarked that "People get pissed if we don't do it."[13] In 2010, he toured Wizard in full for the first time. The concerts featured a elaborate theatrical effects and numerous costume changes.[46] A second tour of the album is scheduled for 2020.[47]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Todd Rundgren except where noted.

Side one – "The International Feel (in 8)"
No.TitleLength
1."International Feel"2:50
2."Never Never Land" (Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jule Styne)1:34
3."Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off"1:14
4."You Need Your Head"1:02
5."Rock and Roll Pussy"1:08
6."Dogfight Giggle"1:05
7."You Don't Have to Camp Around"1:03
8."Flamingo"2:34
9."Zen Archer"5:35
10."Just Another Onionhead; Da Da Dali"2:23
11."When the Shit Hits the Fan; Sunset Blvd."4:02
12."Le Feel Internacionale"1:51
Total length:28:21
Side two – "A True Star"
No.TitleLength
1."Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel"4:16
2."Does Anybody Love You?"1:31
3."Medley"
  1. "I'm So Proud" (Curtis Mayfield)
  2. "Ooh Baby Baby" (Smokey Robinson, Warren "Pete" Moore)
  3. "La La Means I Love You" (William Hart, Thom Bell)
  4. "Cool Jerk" (Donald Storball)"
10:34
4."Hungry for Love"2:18
5."I Don't Want to Tie You Down"1:56
6."Is It My Name?"4:01
7."Just One Victory"4:59
Total length:29:25

PersonnelEdit

Moogy & the Rhythm Kingz[11]

Other musicians

Credits adapted from Mojo.[19]

ChartsEdit

Chart (1973) Peak
position
US Billboard 200 86[28]

ReferencesEdit

Notes

  1. ^ His first experience was with DMT, however, he never took it again as he did not enjoy the trip.[3]
  2. ^ In 1974, Rundgren and Lennon were embroiled in a minor feud over comments Rundgren made in the February edition of Melody Maker magazine.[21] They called a truce shortly afterward.[21]
  3. ^ This sequence of events reflected the lyric of "International Feel" ("Wait another year / Utopia is here").[31]
  4. ^ He added, "While everyone else in his peer group was doing drugs, he refused them. When they stopped doing LSD, he started tripping ... For him it was a badge of honor to be different."[2]

Citations

  1. ^ Luhrssen, David; Larson, Michael, eds. (2017). Encyclopedia of Classic Rock. ABC-CLIO. p. 313. ISBN 978-1-4408-3514-8.
  2. ^ a b c d Hoskyns, Barney (2016). "A Hermit, a True Star". Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock. Hachette Books. pp. 275–276. ISBN 978-0-306-82321-3.
  3. ^ a b c d Myers 2010, p. 73.
  4. ^ a b c d e Sodomsky, Sam (20 January 2018). "Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, a True Star". Pitchfork. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  5. ^ Myers 2010, pp. 34, 62.
  6. ^ a b Myers 2010, p. 71.
  7. ^ a b Myers 2010, p. 84.
  8. ^ a b c "Todd Rundgren Interview: Talking With The Wizard & True Star". The Quietus. September 14, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Myers 2010, p. 74.
  10. ^ a b c Myers 2010, p. 75.
  11. ^ a b Myers 2010, pp. 75–77.
  12. ^ a b c d Myers 2010, p. 77.
  13. ^ a b c Myers 2010, p. 78.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Ross, Ron (March 13, 2013). "Todd Rundgren: 'What I'm doing isn't even really music' – a classic interview from the vaults". The Guardian. Retrieved January 15, 2020.
  15. ^ McParland, Robert (2019). The Rock Music Imagination. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-4985-8853-9.
  16. ^ a b c d A Wizard, a True Star (liner). Todd Rundgren. Bearsville Records. 1973.CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ a b c Myers 2010, p. 79.
  18. ^ a b Staunton, Terry (January 26, 2010). "Q&A: Todd Rundgren on recreating A Wizard, A True Star". Music Radar. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  19. ^ a b c d e "A Wizard, a True Star". The Mojo Collection: 4th Edition. Canongate Books. 2007. p. 314. ISBN 978-1-84767-643-6.
  20. ^ Myers 2010, p. 205.
  21. ^ a b Lester, Paul (May 1, 2013). "Todd Rundgren: 'Every once in a while I took a trip and never came back'". The Guardian. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  22. ^ a b Richards, Sam (January 19, 2008). "Todd is God". The Guardian. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  23. ^ a b Harrison, Daniel (1997). "After Sundown: The Beach Boys' Experimental Music" (PDF). In Covach, John; Boone, Graeme M. (eds.). Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis. Oxford University Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-19-988012-6.
  24. ^ Deriso, Nick (November 9, 2018). "Five Reasons Todd Rundgren Should Be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  25. ^ a b "Radio Action & Pick LPs". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 85 (11). March 17, 1973. ISSN 0006-2510.
  26. ^ Myers 2010, p. 112.
  27. ^ a b c d e Myers 2010, p. 80.
  28. ^ a b "Todd Rundgren > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved April 27, 2012.
  29. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2011). "A Wizard, A True Star - Todd Rundgren". allmusic.com. Retrieved July 8, 2011.
  30. ^ a b Myers 2010, p. 99.
  31. ^ a b Myers 2010, p. 81.
  32. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Todd Rundgren". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0-89919-025-1. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
  33. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Todd Rundgren". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0857125958.
  34. ^ a b Scapelliti, Christopher (1996). "Todd Rundgren". In Graff, Gary (ed.). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Detroit: Visible Ink Press. ISBN 0787610372.
  35. ^ a b Sisario, Ben (2004). "Todd Rundgren". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon and Schuster. p. 707. ISBN 0743201698.
  36. ^ Christgau, Robert (August 1973). "The Christgau Consumer Guide". Creem. Retrieved October 15, 2016.
  37. ^ Isaacs, James (May 10, 1973). "Review". Rolling Stone.
  38. ^ "Todd's Electric Exploitation: Rock and Roll for the Skull," Creem, April 1973, p.56-57.
  39. ^ Gilbert, Jerry (April 14, 1973). "Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, A True Star (Bearsville)". Sounds.
  40. ^ "A Wizard, a True Star". Playboy. Vol. 20 no. 7. July 1973.
  41. ^ Hoskyns, Barney (March 2003). "He Put A Spell On Me: The True Stardom of Todd Rundgren". Mojo.
  42. ^ a b c Minsker, Evan (September 20, 2013). "Todd Rundgren". Pitchfork.
  43. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (7 February 2006). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5.
  44. ^ Rundgren, Todd (2017). "Todd Rundgren: 'A Wizard A True Star' Was Abomination to Everyone Else, But It Was My Defining Moment – California Rocker". California Rocker. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  45. ^ Schultz, Barbara (May 14, 2018). "Roger Joseph Manning Jr". Keyboard Mag.
  46. ^ Myers 2010, p. 306.
  47. ^ Deriso, Nick. "Todd Rundgren to Celebrate 'A Wizard, a True Star' On New Tour". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 15 January 2020.

Bibliography

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit