Listen to this track by singer, songwriter, and pop music auteur Todd Rundgren. It’s his biggest hit, “Hello, It’s Me” as taken from his biggest selling album Something/Anything. The song was released as a single in 1973, where it reached a #5 showing, becoming something of a staple on classic rock radio from then until today.
Rundgren was among the earliest, and most high-profile proponents of the “record it all myself, and play everything too” school. Here on this song, Rundgren mitigated that approach slightly by playing almost everything himself. Either way, it would prove to be an enduring hit for him. And, it would have a lasting place in pop culture history as well, featured on soundtracks, and TV shows, as well as on classic rock radio.
But, there were other tools at work that helped Rundgren to enhance the rate of his output on a sprawling double album; drugs.
This might seem to be something of a “duh” moment when talking about rock musicians in the 1970s. But, Rundgren hadn’t ever indulged even while a member of the Nazz in the ’60s, the band that originally released this song as single with less celebrated results. But, years later and using Ritalin as a stimulant, Rundgren was spurred on to push his output to the maximum. He’d employ a similar approach when he followed up this double with his 1973 album, A Wizard A True Star, which is an example of his late-to-the-psychedelic-party experiments with mescaline and LSD.
The reason for the disproportionate success of this version of the song when compared to the Nazz version is down to a number of factors. Maybe drugs, and their effects on the artist is one of them. But, I think plain old timing may be the biggest one. By the early ’70s, singer-songwriters as a defined genre was shimmering into focus. Specifically, the success of Carole King’s Tapestry album was an artistic and commercial anchor for what would follow for a lot of artists.
That lush sound is certainly referenced here, repositioned for the early ’70s soul-influenced singer-songwriter feel, removed from the original Zombies-like British-psych inspired single in 1968, when it was originally released. The Carole Kingesque vibe applied to a melody and chord structure that was already there is what really brings this version of the song to life, even if the embers of the original song still helps to sell it.
This approach would be a stylistic touchstone that would inform a number of other songs that would solidify Rundgren as a melodically-driven songwriter; “I Saw The Light”, “Can We Still Be Friends?”, and “The Verb To Love”, all hold the genetic material flowing from “Hello, It’s Me”, mixed with the classic soul music that first inspired him to become to a musician in the first place.
Todd Rundgren is an active musician today. To learn more about him, have a read of this interview with Todd Rundgren at the Guardian.co.uk. Among other things, he talks about the role of drugs in his work, and his involvement as a producer for acts that range from Patti Smith, to Meat Loaf, to XTC.