Thursday, 9 November 2017

Influential Albums #5 – Todd

About the fourth time I listened to this, I thought I understood the first track.  It’s called ‘How About A Little Fanfare?’, and it begins with Todd enunciating seven heavily distorted syllables that make no sense at all, except that they’re followed by a loud, cacophonous, well, fanfare.

So at that fourth listen, I clapped on the cans, dropped the needle into the groove, and heard a very quiet pre-play of what was to follow – the fanfare…  the syllables suddenly made sense… “how was that little fanfare, that little fanfare…?”
I’ve never been able to make it happen since.  Presumably you have to hit the run-in groove at exactly the right point to hear it; or else I was hallucinating – this was 1974.
I’ve just listened to sides 1 and 2 of this album (I still can’t make the little fanfare play again, but I swear it exists, somewhere out there in the vinyl exosphere) and would like to explain, in three simple paragraphs, why it’s influential.
1.     Todd Rundgren was a pioneer explorer of the electronic creation of music.  Synths had of course been used extensively in pop from 1968 onwards, but no-one had previously built an entire album around these totally constructed sounds and playing – the latter including his early use of sequencing technology to make a machine perform licks and riffs that not even the most proficient human would be capable of replicating.
2.     He was also a pioneer in the techniques of self-performed, self-produced multi-track recording. Although many other musicians are credited on the internet as having performed on the record, including the Brecker brothers who obviously did the horn parts (Todd egocentrically doesn’t name anyone but himself in the original cover notes), it’s obviously mostly him.  This made me begin to understand that just one person, given the right kit and skill-set, could make music from scratch.
3.     It contains one of my Desert Island Discs.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Confident Insecurity

My workmate (I call him that, though we mostly met down the pub, where this story takes place) George was a thoroughly anglicised Hong Kong Chinese, with all the confident insecurity I imagine comes with that territory.  George was (still is, I trust) a keen golfer.  One lunchtime, George came into the pub full of his weekend experience.  He’d attended some expensively well-known course (serious golfers will throw a lot of money and self-respect at their game), played eighteen, and was changing his shoes in the locker room, when in walks an extremely famous golfer whom I’ll just call Nick.
George can’t believe his luck and avidly engages Nick in conversation.  Nick’s a decent sort and lets George admire him for a while, though he’s clearly getting a bit bored by this insecurely over-confident bloke.  Eventually, inevitably, George brings the chat round to golf, hoping to pick up a game-changing tip.
“I’ve always wondered, Nick,” he says.  “I tee off and manage say 180 yards, but you usually get about 260.  How do you do that?”
Nick scratches his head and ponders for a while.  “Well, George,” he finally says.  “I think it’s this.  I hit it harder than you.”