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Utopia

Stardom was handed to him with Something/Anything?, but Todd Rundgren rejected it. He wanted to explore new musical territory instead, and his adventures led him to form Utopia in 1974. Initially, Utopia was a prog rock septet featuring three keyboardists, but as the '70s progressed, the group evolved into a shiny mainstream rock quartet, and Rundgren retreated into the background, as each of his bandmates contributed songs and lead vocals to the albums. By the early '80s, Utopia had developed into a hit-making entity in their own right, even if much -- if not all -- of their audience were simply dedicated Rundgren fans, which highlights the problem with Utopia: although they did develop their own signature sound, they were nevertheless always perceived as Rundgren's folly. And to a certain extent that was accurate, since the band's musical evolution often mirrored his own -- plus, once he decided he had enough of the group in 1985, it ceased to exist. At that point, Utopia was over a decade old, which made it something more than a folly, but even hardcore Rundgren fans will admit that it's impossible to view Utopia's career as being completely independent from his own.

After all, the band was born out of his desire to experiment with synthesizers and delve into prog rock. In its original incarnation, the group consisted of three keyboardists -- Moogy Klingman, Ralph Shuckett, and Roger "M. Frog" Powell -- a bassist (John Siegler), a percussionist (Kevin Elliman), and a drummer (John "Willie" Wilcox), along with Rundgren on lead guitar. The band's first album was released months after Rundgren's Todd hit the stores. Appearing in October 1974, Todd Rundgren's Utopia consisted of only four tracks, all of which were mainly instrumental, none of which were less than ten minutes apiece. Rundgren continued in that direction on his next solo album, Initiation, which was released in spring 1975. Mere months later, Utopia released Another Live, a wild live album devoted to long synth experiments. Utopia's live concerts were marked by these improvisatory excursions, yet they were also distinguished by their video backdrops and random, computer-generated music.

Another Live proved to be the culmination of the synth experiments and, in some ways, the long stretch of willfully difficult records Rundgren was making during the mid-'70s. After recording the solo pop album Faithful in 1976, he revamped Utopia, stripping away two of the keyboardists (Klingman and Shuckett), as Elliman and Siegler left. Kasim Sulton joined as the new bassist. By any measure, Ra, the first album released by the new lineup, was a prog rock record, but it was heavier and less overtly experimental than before. Ra was released early in February 1977 and was followed seven months later by Oops! Wrong Planet, a record that found the quartet abandoning prog for streamlined pop/rock, with a hard rock bent.

Utopia played on the club tour that resulted in the 1978 solo Rundgren live album Back to the Bars, which appeared after his hit record The Hermit of Mink Hollow. Back to the Bars featured both solo and Utopia material. No Rundgren or Utopia records were released in 1979, but the following year found Utopia reaching new heights. Released in January 1980, Adventures in Utopia brought the band their largest audience to date. On the strength of the Top 30 single "Set Me Free," the album climbed to number 32, spending 21 weeks on the charts. Utopia quickly followed the record in October with Deface the Music, a devastating satire of the Beatles. It was a good, clever record, but it shedded the group's recently expanded audience.

Following Rundgren's solo 1981 venture, Healing, the group returned in 1982 with Swing to the Right. The record stiffed, failing to crack the Top 100. Its failure was one of many problems Rundgren had with his longtime label, Bearsville. He was able to wrangle Utopia free from the label after Swing to the Right, moving the quartet over to the fledging Network label. Several months later, the group released Utopia. Thanks to the minor hit "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," which received moderate airplay on MTV, the record performed better than its predecessor, peaking at 84 and spending 19 weeks on the charts. Unfortunately, the label folded the following year, which meant Utopia had to find yet another new home. They settled with another new label, Passport. Their first album for the label was titled Oblivion, released in January 1984. Oblivion performed respectably in the charts, peaking at number 74, but the following year its follow-up, POV, tanked, reaching only number 161. Part of the problem was that Utopia's sound had progressed, but its glossy arena rock was no longer contemporary. Following POV, Rundgren effectively pulled the plug on the group, choosing to concentrate on his solo career, as well as computer programming.

Like Rundgren, Powell concentrated on writing computer software; he also designed a keyboard called the Powell Probe. Sulton continued to play music, recording a handful of solo albums, and acting as a sideman for Cheap Trick, Hall & Oates, and Joan Jett, among others. Wilcox moved behind the scenes as a producer and songwriter. Utopia reunited in 1992 for a tour of Japan, which was captured on Rhino's live album Redux '92: Live in Japan. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Utopia

1. Libertine

2. Bad Little Actress

3. Feet Don't Fail Me Now

4. Neck On Up

5. Say Yeah

6. Call It What You Will

7. I'm Looking At You But I'm Talking To Myself

8. Hammer In My Heart

9. Burn Three Times

10. There Goes My Inspiration

11. Princess Of The Universe

12. Infrared And Ultraviolet

13. Forgotten But Not Gone

14. Private Heaven

15. Chapter And Verse

16. Hammer In My Heart (Dance Mix)

x

Track List: Adventures In Utopia

1. The Road To Utopia

2. You Make Me Crazy

3. Second Nature

4. Set Me Free

5. Caravan

6. Last Of The New Wave Riders

7. Shot In The Dark

8. The Very Last Time

9. Love Alone

10. Rock Love

x

Track List: Oops! Wrong Planet

1. Trapped

2. Windows

3. Love In Action

4. Crazy Lady Blue

5. Back On The Street

6. The Marriage Of Heaven And The Hell

8. Abandon City

9. Gangrene

10. My Angel

11. Rape Of The Young

12. Love Is The Answer

x

Track List: RA

1. Overture: Mountain Top And Sunrise / Communion With The Sun

2. Magic Dragon Theatre

3. Jealousy

4. Eternal Love

5. Sunburst Finish

6. Hiroshima

7. Singring And The Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairytale)

x

Track List: Redux '92: Live In Japan

1. Fix Your Gaze

2. Zen Machine

3. Trapped

4. Princess Of The Universe

5. Abandon City

6. Hammer In My Heart

7. Swing To The Right

8. The Ikon

9. Hiroshima

10. Back On The Street

11. Only Human

12. Love In Action

13. Caravan

14. Last Of The New Wave Riders

15. One World

16. Love Is The Answer

Comments

Report as inappropriate
kbrown5295
Should play the RA album totally electric and mind blowing tour !!!
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jkinney2311
The Road To Utopia
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Roger Powell was NOT M. Frog Labatt. They are different keyboard players.
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I don't see Deface the Music, Swing To the Right on here either!
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love utopia
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suggest-musi c @ p a n d o r a . c o m to request more Utopia albums. Please join me in requesting that the Oblivion, POV and Some Trivia album be added -- it rounds up the final three LPs from Utopia.
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Love is the Answer! Todd is the Answer!
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Please more from this album Utopia, the Network album Hammer in my Heart One of the Great songs of Rock!
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The Bio Left out the ill-fated Disco Jets sessions that are now available for sale on Amazon! Check it out! I am going to my grave with Oblivion! And if my wife don't like it then CryBaby, Cry!
Report as inappropriate
The only way to get more Utopia albums added is to flood the following email with your album requests: suggest-musi c @ p a n d o r a . c o m
I've already requested Oblivion, POV & Some Trivia. Please help me.
Report as inappropriate
I remember sitting at a table in a bar where Todd and Utopia were playing and sitting next to me was a very attractive woman. I started talking to her about anything and somehow I got onto Kasims watch that he was wearing I loved it .... Long story longer this woman tells me it was a Lucien Piccard 18kt watch. I said wow how would you know that she replied back I bought it for him as an anniversary gift. I'm his wife.

Robert Ian Munro aka Mr Rhino Hello Boonton NJ, I miss you all
Report as inappropriate
kmusikman
Fo couse it was awesome. A mix of hits and other great songs.
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kmusikman
Just saw Tood, Kasim , Pairoe and others at the Rigdefiled Playhouse in CT
Report as inappropriate
HEY ANYONE SEE UTOPIA AT RADIO CITY/NYC FOR THERE FIRST LP? STANDING ON LINE TO GET IN,TODD JUST COMES WALKING DOWN THE STREET TO DO THE SHOW,STOPS TO STAY HI AND SIGHS AUTOGRAPHS.T H E Y PLAYED OVER THREE HOURS TILL THEY THOUGH THEM OFF THE STAGE.I MISSED THE LAST TRAIN AND HAD TO STAY OVERNIGHT THOSE WERE THE GOOD OLD DAYS!I STILL HAVE THE ORIGINAL PROGRAM FROM THE SHOW
Report as inappropriate
please add oblivion pov and swing to the right
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Play more Utopia please?
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Yes, Yes -- include POV, Oblivion & Trivia albums.
Report as inappropriate
emilesland
Please add Oblivion and POV albums!
Report as inappropriate
my first todd experience was in 1976 in NYC. Todd is Godd!
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i love this record. I used to spend hours listening back in 82 while I was serving in the Navy. It brings back wonderful memories. I was going though so many changes and this tape was an escape for me.
Report as inappropriate
There's a great Utopia compilation album that rounds up nearly all the songs on the band's last 3 albums from the 1980s. It is called "Oblivion, POV and Some Trivia." Can fellow fans check out samples on this album on Amazon.com, then -- if you like it-- join me in asking Pandora to add it? (simply e-mail: suggest-musi c @ p a n d o r a . c o m , or better yet, jasymn@pando r a . c o m , who is a very helpful listener advocate)
Report as inappropriate
Todd was at the Catalyst last year in Santa Cruz with Kaz on guitar and Prarie Prince on drums. They were great and there was room to rock out. He is still putting out unique tunes with an intense message.
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Saw the Adventures in Utopia tour. Willie had the motorcycle drum set rolling with Todd and Kaz banging on the ankh guitars. Totally mind-blowing . This is great music!! Adventures is my favorite.
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WOW! Amazing. Blowing my mind, I cannot believe I don't own all this stuff already.
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OMG I SAW UTOPIA IN 75 AND THEY BLEW MY MIND TODD IS SUCH A WIZARD!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
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cool

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