Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Todd Rundgren -- "Heavy Metal Kids" (1974)

Go on and poison all the water, use up all the air
Blow your stupid heads off, see if I could care
Put me down but don't blame me for what you did
'Cause inside everyone is a heavy metal kid
It's time for the second installment in our series of posts about records that were favorites of mine when I when in law school.

This song appeared on Todd Rundgren's 1974 double album, Todd.  I was still in college when the album was released, but didn't buy it until I was in law school.

Back in those days, I bought a lot of cut-out albums.  As some of you will remember, record stores used to have bargain bins with records that had a small hole punched in their covers -- or their upper-right-hand corners were cut off.   

Why were cut-outs physically disfigured in this way?  In those days, record stores  were able to return albums that didn't sell to the record companies for credit.  The record companies sold these returned records (or unsold records that had never left their warehouses and had been deleted from their catalogs due to poor sales) in bulk at a large discount.  Retailers who handled cut-outs would offer them to consumers at half the regular price or less.  The manufacturers would punch a hole or snip off one corner of the album's cover to prevent the retailer from selling the album at the regular price.

Click here to learn more about cut-out and promotional LPs and CDs.

When I was buying records in the 1960s and 1970s, albums usually retailed for $3.99, $4.99 or $5.99.  First-generation cut-outs would go for $1.99 -- a bargain for an album that you knew had a number of good songs.  I remember buying cut-out LPs for as little as 33 cents.  At that price, you could buy an album that had only one good song -- if you discovered that it had anything else worthwhile on it, that was like free music.

I probably got this album for $1.99 somewhere in Harvard Square.  Given that it was a double album, that was a great price.  Like most double albums, Todd has a few weak tracks, but it has a number of good ones -- so I did OK. 

On the surface, "Heavy Metal Kids" scores high for attitude.  Like other classic rock songs (e.g., "My Generation" and "Get Off Of My Cloud" and "(You Gotta) Fight For your Right (To Party!)" and pretty much anything by Iggy Pop -- but especially "Search and Destroy"), it is sung by an angry young man who is pissed off at just about anyone who is older than he is -- but especially his father. 

I'm not sure Todd Rundgren really meant it, however.  The second verse doesn't sound all that serious:

I must have woke up this morning
With a bug up my ass
I think I'll just haul off 
And belt the next jerk that I pass
My old man says 
I'm just a stoned little punk
But he keeps himself a pistol 
And he's always drunk

Note the lines above about the singer's hypocritical father, which are a precursor to similar lines in the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right":

Your pops caught you smokin' 
And he said "No way!"
That hypocrite smokes 
Two packs a day

But the tongue-in-cheekiness level climbs even higher in the final verse.  It's an understatement to describe this verse as hyperbolic -- so I have concluded that Todd is having a bit of fun with his audience:

I was a sweet little kid once
Now I'm a full grown crank
And when I die I'll probably
Come back as a Sherman tank
I know that I could make this world 
So peaceful and calm
If I could only get my hands 
On a hydrogen bomb

Al Kooper
Todd Rundgren is one of the few rock musicians that I believe fully deserves to be called a genius.  (The album that immediately preceded Todd was titled A Wizard, A True Star.  Exactly.)  Another example of such a genius is Al Kooper -- both are true renaissance men.  

Rundgren is a very good singer and musician, and he's a great songwriter -- he wrote pop classics like "Hello, It's Me" and "I Saw the Light."  (Rundgren's early songwriting was heavily influenced by Laura Nyro, so he knew what he was up to from the very beginning.) 

But what really sets Rundgren apart is his record as a producer and recording engineer. 

Meat Loaf
He is the brains behind albums as disparate as Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell (one of the ten best-selling albums of all time) and XTC's Skylarking, which was subtle and unique and ahead of its time and an almost perfect concept album.

He also produced albums by the New York Dolls, Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, Hall & Oates (no one's perfect!), Patti Smith, the Tubes (Al Kooper also produced a Tubes album), Cheap Trick, and the Psychedelic Furs.  (If you plugged those names into Pandora, I wonder what you would get?  It boggles the mind.)  

Here's "Heavy Metal Kids."  (Don't be put off by the first few seconds of the song -- that unpleasant noise is part of the transition between this track and the previous one.)

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Heavy Metal Kids - Todd

Here's a link you can use if you prefer Amazon:

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