Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Songs #402 & 403 of 9999 - It's TWOsday!

Song #402 of 9999                                   Song #403 of 9999

Title: I Saw the Light                                 Title: I Saw the Light    
Artist: Todd Rundgren                               Artist: Todd Rundgren
Year: 1972                                                  Year: 1997
Album: Something/Anything?                   Album: With a Twist...


For reasons I don't quite understand, Todd Rundgren keeps popping up in my TWOsday blog posts. (This is the third time!) The first time it was because he made a unique a cappella album and I paired him with Björk (yesterday's feature!), who had done the same. The second time it was because he made a note-for-note remake of The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" which I found astonishing. And now, here he is again, painting over his catalog of hits with the brush of Bossa Nova.

"I Saw the Light," Rundgren's massive chart topper from 1972 is almost perfectly suited for such a transformation. Sure, there are some surface elements already in place: shakers, syncopated drums, etc. But it's the harmony that makes it such a swell candidate, as the verse is constructed around a ii-V-I progression, an essential building block of traditional jazz. Further, nary a chord in the song can be found without a 7th attached. Here's the progression from the pre-chorus through the chorus, beginning with Then you gazed up at me...:
Fmaj7     Em7    Am7    D7     Dm7    G7    Cmaj7   etc.
The bossa version finds Rundgren in a lower key (A instead of C) to allow for a cooler vocal delivery. And all of the Latin lounge elements are in place. But what really makes this work, in my opinion, is the rhythmic variation on the vocal melody. Each line is delivered with a slightly harried rhythmic cadence compared to the original. It's a bit jarring on first listen but it suits the style and is perhaps a bit more lyrical.

Does the experiment work? (And let's face it—everything is an experiment with Rundgren.) I think it does, at least for a song or two. That With a Twist... is an entire album of bossa nova likely explains its lack of success with critics and the record-buying public—the gimmick wears thin after a while. But it was fun to see Rundgren on this tour in a small Lancaster, PA nightclub with his faux tiki bar set up on stage and actual patrons sitting at tables right in front of the band being served drinks by an onstage monitor engineer. Although I don't remember this, the Wikipedia article on the subject states that Rundgren and the band "never acknowledged the larger theater audience, and the show ended when the last 'bar patron' left the stage." Heh. (Here's a clip of him performing the tune on Conan. And yes, he is playing a banana shaker.)

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