Harry’s Hundred: No. 79

Posted: February 16, 2012 in Music
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“Nazz Nazz” by the Nazz (1969)

When I was doing more in the way of newspaper writing, I occasionally had the opportunity to interview sundry rock stars.

Several years ago, I called Todd Rundgren at a hotel at which he was staying in Chicago, during a tour that was going to bring him to Pittsburgh. We had a nice conversation going until I asked about a new anthology of his 1960s band, the Nazz.

Todd promptly said something to the effect that he wasn’t particularly thrilled with that part of his career, and I promptly changed the subject to his son, Rex, who was playing minor-league baseball at the time.

I’m sorry that Mr. Rundgren feels that way, because my favorite album in which he’s involved is “Nazz Nazz,” that band’s second album. I first hear it when my college roommate, Mike, bought it after Rhino Records re-released it, on green vinyl, if I recall correctly. (Uh … I didn’t recall correctly. According to Mike, it was on red vinyl.)

Th Nazz is best remembered today for its phase-shifted single “Open My Eyes,” which has become a psychedelic classic of sorts, and for the original version of “Hello, It’s Me,” which gave Todd a top-10 hit several years later as a solo artist. Those tracks appeared on the band’s self-titled debut album for SGC Records.

For the follow-up, the Nazz intended to release a double album, to be called “Fungo Bat,” built around Rundgren’s prodigious songwriting skills. The label preferred to play it safe, releasing a single LP, and Rundgren departed the band shortly afterward for what has turned out to be a durable career as a musician, bandleader and producer.

Despite the acrimonious circumstances, “Nazz Nazz” stands up extremely well as its own entity, with an abundance of pop-rock hooks tinged with the type of experimentalism that would become one of Rundgren’s hallmarks in the future.

“Nazz Nazz” kicks off with what should have been a hit single, “Forget All About It.” The song’s relatively bombastic opening builds to a crescendo that basically urges the listener to relax, a message added by a suitably mellow bridge.

Side One of the LP displayed a variety of styles: the straight-ahead rock of “Not Wrong Long,” which actually was released as a single; “Rain Rider,” a pop-psychedelic gem with its “Ride my chariot, baby!” chorus; “Gonna Cry Today,” displaying Rundgren’s penchant for balladry; “Meridian Leeward,” the bizarre tale of a pig who becomes a man and eats “half of Uncle Fred”; and the heavy-duty “Under the Ice.”

Side Two mixes it up with pop, blues and ballads before melding the assorted elements into the band’s 11-minute magnum opus, “A Beautiful Song,” which lives up to its title with a mixture of instrumental prowess, orchestration and good, old-fashioned jamming.

The remaining part of the would-be “Fungo Bat” appeared later as “Nazz III,” on which keyboardist Robert “Stewkey” Antoni replaced Rundgren’s vocals. (Antoni later played in a band called Sick Man of Europe with future Cheap Trick members Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson.)

Todd Rundgren went on to make decades’ worth of noteworthy music. But despite his own opinion of his work with the Nazz, some of us still really enjoy listening to it.

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