Phish Halloween 2013: The Case for Todd
Our Phish Halloween series continues with another cover possibility (albeit an exceptionally unlikely one) for the show later week. This time, we'll take a look at Todd Rundgren's Todd. Be sure to check out the previous installments where we discussed Bob Seger's Nine Tonight, Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, Derek and the Dominos' Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Led Zeppelin II and Michael Jackson's Thriller, The Band's The Last Waltz and The Police's Synchronicity.
First off, let come right out and say this: Phish is not going to dip into Todd Rundgrenâ€™s back catalog to perform his 1974 double album Todd at Boardwalk Hall on Thursday night.
But to me thatâ€™s not quite the point here. Donâ€™t worry, we still have a few days left for speculation, so I imagine weâ€™ll likely have time for passionate pitches as to why Phish can or will play albums by Springsteen, Elton John, Radiohead, Hendrix, The National, The Allman Brothers Band, TV on The Radio, etc. However, I view this forum as a setting to make a case for why Phish should play a particular album, not if they will play it. Plus, if youâ€™re not all that familiar with Todd Rundgren or Todd then I see this brief essay as something of a mitzvah.
Hereâ€™s the thingâ€¦everyone has their headphones album. For many of you it was Dark Side, for Trey Anastasio himself it was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Will they cover it that this year? My gut says no). For my group of friends living out in the sticks of Rhode Island it was Todd Rundgrenâ€™s Todd. This was the album that we would listen to with the lights switched off on the shag rug with our heads propped up on the pillows we dragged over from that fancy couch in the living room we were never supposed to enter.
Todd Rundgren, like Phish, is an iconoclast, someone who has pursued his own muse from album to album (which also has held true during his producing career which includes The Bandâ€™s Stage Fright, the New York Dollsâ€™ self-titled debut,Grand Funkâ€™s We're An American Band, Meatloafâ€™s Bat Out of Hell and XTCâ€™s Skylarking along with some Shaun Cassidy thrown into the mix as well as Badfingerâ€™s Straight Up, which includes â€śBaby Blue,â€ť the song that appeared in the closing scene of Breaking Bad). Heâ€™s flirted with the mainstream via â€śHello Itâ€™s Me,â€ť which some of you may know from its presence in a K-Tel Records television commercial during the 1970â€™s. Others are likely more familiar with "Bang the Drum All Day," a tune played during timeouts across the NBA and after the Green Bay Packers score a touchdown (Rundgren later reimagined the song as â€śBang On the Ukulele Dailyâ€ť after he relocated to Hawaii). "Bang the Drum" appeared on his 1982â€™s album The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, a suitable album title if ever there were one. Of course, Todd being Todd, he followed up this release with 1985â€™s A Cappella, a recording that consisted solely of tracks created from Rundgrenâ€™s vocals (long before anyone could initiate such an effort through readily accessible digital technology). A Cappella also contained a track that some of you may recognize, as Uncle Jesse himself, Mr. John Stamos, sang â€śHodja,â€ť a Rundgren original from the album, with a vocal group on an episode of Full House (one of the Olsen twins really seemed to dig it).
Ultimately, Todd Rundgrenâ€™s music is ideally suited to Phish due to a shared sensibility. Rundgrenâ€™s blend of pop, psychedelic and prog is similarly manifested in the sounds of the Vermont quartet. So will this be the year that Phish perform Toddâ€™s Todd? Of course not but letâ€™s play our gameâ€¦
Why They Might Do It: The album is tailor-made for Phish. Stephen Thomas Erlewine has characterized it as â€śan impenetrable double album filled with detours, side roads, collisions and the occasional pop tune.â€ť Sound familiar? Oh yes and did I mention that the sixth song and lone cover is "Lord Chancellor's Nightmare" from Gilbert & Sullivanâ€™s 1882 opera "Iolantheâ€ť? Beyond that the release runs a gamut of styles and includes a sublime ballad ("A Dream Goes on Forever"), your quintessential made-for-Fishman oddity ("An Elpee's Worth of Tunesâ€ť), plenty of room for Mikeâ€™s bass along with a vocal turn on â€śEverybodyâ€™s Going to Heaven/King Kong Reggae,â€ť a range of instrumental interludes with such titles as "The Spark of Life" "Drunken Blue Rooster" and "In and Out the Chakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space)" and it all comes to a rousing close with â€śSons of 1984â€ť (chorus optional). Plus, while Iâ€™m unsure about the status of that Boardwalk Hall pipe organ, if itâ€™s up and functional it would be well suited for many of the 17 tracks on Todd. Whatâ€™s more, Rundgren could wield an axe as well (he still can) so there are plenty of opportunities there.
Why They Wonâ€™t Do It: Well, they just wonâ€™t. I canâ€™t remember hearing a member of band credit Rundgren as an influence. Having said that I have to believe they have some familiarity with Todd, if not Todd, having likely watched the same K-Tel commercials that I did, growing up in the Northeast, juxtaposed with those Harry Hood claymation adsâ€¦