A Cappella – Todd Rundgren (1985)

A Cappella album cover
A Cappella album cover

Todd Rundgren is one of those performers who’s long career has spanned many styles and genres. Because of his overall eclectic tastes, none of his releases have been considered conventional. Even when he was making adult contemporary pop rock in the ’70s it was fused with bits of prog rock and experimentation.

Utopia, Rundgren’s main project was at it’s peak in popularity during the mid-’80s. It was also a time when Rundgren was in the middle of a dispute with his old label Bearsville Records. His last album for them was typical of Rundgren in that it was challenging and not quite mainstream by any account.

That of course was part of Rundgren’s charm as a cult figure. Aside from the Wall of Voodoo recalling album cover, A Cappella was unusual because all of it’s sounds are said to be made with Rundgren’s voice. As weird as that sounds, it’s even stranger (but not always unusual) that Rundgren was able to land a hit every once in a while while taking sonic risks as he did with A Cappella.

One of Rundgren’s best traits is his voice in Philly soul mode. His Philadelphia roots are usually obscured by his brand of weirdness, but on A Capella, it was less obscured. On songs like “Pretending to Care” and the beautiful “Lost Horizon”, Rundgren channels his best soul influences much like fellow Phillidelphian Daryl Hall does. The two really should work together as both of them have some soul and to varying degrees an appetite for experimentation and the avant garde.

Of course Hall and Oats never sounded quite like the folk beatbox meets soul crooning of “Johnee Jingo” or the general weirdness of “Miracle in the Bazaar”. Despite the experimental nature of the album, it did produce a small college radio hit with the upbeat “Something to Fall Back On”. I might be wrong, but this was the last time Rundgren had anything close to a mainstream hit (if you can call “Something to Fall Back On” that).

Its hard to believe that this album was made with one man’s voice (however electronically processed and sampled). It’s not a feat that I recall anyone doing for a complete album since its release. Rundgren continues to experiment and like Prince is not one to stand still artistically and dwell on the past. However, it would be interesting if he revisited this experiment with Daryl Hall. Rundgren has shared a billing with Hall & Oats as recently as 2009, so the likelihood that they could work together may not be a remote as it sounds. One can only hope.

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