[Review] Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1971)

With more piano ballads than rockers, I’ve always found this a bit of a bore.

Kronomyth 2.0: All choked up.

The Ballad of Todd Rundgren is a professionally produced pity party featuring piano ballads with minimal accompaniment (bass, drums) and multi-layered vocals, plus a few rock songs to shake things up. Where his last album, Runt, featured an eclectic mix of ideas, Ballad sticks close to the Laura Nyro/Joni Mitchell school of the solo confessional. It starts out promising enough with some surreal pop (“Long Flowing Robe,” “Bleeding”), but “Wailing Wall” bores me to tears and begins to show signs that Todd’s masterful production may be a thin veneer to hide structural weakness in the material.

Some people enjoy this album more than his last; most people, actually. Me, I prefer “Believe In Me” to “Be Nice To Me” and the medley of “Baby Let’s Swing/The Last Thing You Said/Don’t Tie My Hands” to “Parole.” Although this record was again assigned to Runt, there is no band; in fact, the entire album is in sore need of one, since most of the songs feel about one musician light. The material on his next album, Something/Anything?, tries more things and hits more highs.

The Ballad of Todd Rundgren is, as its name suggests, a portrait of the artist as a sensitive young man. The production is gorgeous in spots, the songwriting impressive enough, but I’m usually looking at my watch during the second side. That said, I can see where listening to this album repeatedly (something I really haven’t done) would breed a certain loyalty to it. I also enjoy the rock side of Rundgren more than the balladeer. If you’re not bored by ballads, then you’ll likely want to hang around for this one.

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Original LP Version

A1. Long Flowing Robe (3:30)
A2. The Ballad (Denny & Jean) (3:00)
A3. Bleeding (4:05)
A4. Wailing Wall (3:05)
A5. The Range War (2:38)
A6. Chain Letter (5:02)
B1. A Long Time, A Long Way To Go (2:12)
B2. Boat On The Charles (4:28)
B3. Be Nice To Me (3:27)
B4. Hope I’m Around (4:55)
B5. Parole (4:22)
B6. Remember Me (0:51)

All songs written by Todd Rundgren.

Original 8-track version
A1. Long Flowing Robe
A2. The Range War
A3. Parole
B1. Bleeding
B2. Long Time and a Long Way to Go*
B3. Boat on the Charles
C1. The Ballad (Denny and Jean)
C2. Wailing Wall
C3. Nice to Me*
C4. Remember Me
D1. Chain Letter
D2. Hope I’m Around

*Slight variations on the song titles.

The Players

Todd Rundgren (vocals, guitars, piano, clavinette, pump organ, mandolin, fiddles, percussion), Tony Sales (bass, percussion), N.D. Smart (drums, percussion) with John Guerin (drums on B3/B4), Hunt Sales (congas on B2, drums on B5), Jerry Sheff (bass on B3/B4). Produced by Todd Rundgren.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on June 24, 1971 in the US (Bearsville, A10116) with gatefold cover. Also released on 8-track in 1971 in the US (Ampex, AMR F 81016) with different track listing (I’ve also seen this listed as AMR 81016).

  1. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact in the US (Bearsville/Rhino, RNLP/RNC 70863) with lyrics innersleeve.
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1990 in Japan (Bearsville, VICP-2010).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc on February 22, 1999 (EMI).
  4. Re-released on 20-bit K2 remastered compact disc on September 22, 1999 in Japan (Bearsville, VICP-60804).
  5. Re-issued on K2 remastered compact disc in 2006 in Japan (Bearsville, VICP-63260).
  6. Re-released on super high material compact disc on March 18, 2009 in Japan (Victor, VICP-70058).
  7. Re-packaged with Runt on 2-for-1 compact disc in 2011 in the UK (Edsel).
  8. Re-issued on compact disc on December 10, 2014 in Japan (Bearsville/Rhino, WPCR-80172).

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