The heartbreak behind Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me”


Todd Rundgren is probably not the only one to be driven by grief to write his very first song. He is perhaps among fewer artists by the fact that he recorded it twice, and perhaps even less by the fact that he later had the chance to tell the person in question that it was about her – and didn’t.

Still, as a way to deal with emotional pain and develop musical abilities, “Hello It’s Me” has worked quite well: it has become a radio staple, has been featured in a series of film projects, and has now appeared. during a key sequence in the opening episode of Sex and the city following And just like that.

Rundgren’s first professional group, Nazz, were in the process of switching from covers to original songs when he decided to try his hand at writing in 1967 at the age of 19. He found musical inspiration in a jazz version of the Civil War staple “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, performed by jazz keyboardist Jimmy Smith.

“After coming up with an interpretation of the chords, I realized that they could be the basis of an original song,” Rundgren told the the Wall Street newspaper in 2018. “Over the next few days, I developed a melody. Burt Bacharach was a big influence, especially his music for Dionne Warwick. The song “Walk on By” always knocks me out. “

As for the lyrics, he got the idea to write about Linda, a high school crush and the first girlfriend who shot him down on his father’s instructions. “She probably loved me because I was the only guy in school with long hair,” Rundgren recalls. “We became close, we kissed a lot and we kissed a lot at parties.

“One day in May 66, a friend dropped us off and I walked Linda to her front door,” Rundgren added. “Her father, who was outside, hated me on sight. He turned the garden hose towards me. Long hair on a guy was a political statement back then and a red flag for parents. A day or two later, Linda told me that she was now forbidden to see me. Just like that, she stopped talking to me and didn’t take my calls. I adored him and was heartbroken, almost suicidal.

Listen to the original version of “Hello It’s Me” by Nazz

After months of agony, he realized he just had to get over it and move on with his life – which perhaps contributed to the idea of ​​writing “Hello It’s Me” not from the point of view of the lover who had been abandoned, but of the one who falls.

“It gave me a bit of power and allowed me to imagine how I could have done things differently on the phone,” he said. “I opened with, Hello, it’s me / I’ve been thinking about us for a very long time / Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong / There is something here that doesn’t last too long / Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as of me. To soften the blow, I wrote a bridge explaining why breaking was good for her: It’s important to me / That you know you’re free / ‘Because I never want to change you for me.’ I guess in some ways this is how I would have liked to be disappointed.

Nazz recorded their version of “Hello It’s Me” in 1968, with the group’s lead vocals Robert “Stewkey” Antoni – but Rundgren was never entirely satisfied with it, feeling that it didn’t fit the Bacharach and Beatles that he was. he had aimed. for.

“I envisioned the song as a ballad, but it turned into a funeral song,” said Rundgren, although this version had its small hits. “I played the vibrations on the recording, not the guitar. A guitar seemed inappropriate to me, and I was not a ballad player, ”said Rundgren. “Vibes also gave the song a cooler, more atmospheric feel. “

He left the group the following year to pursue his own path, and by 1971 Rundgren was struggling with his pending solo debut. Something anything? had accidentally become almost a double LP. “I needed songs for the fourth side, so I decided to update ‘Hello It’s Me’,” he told the Wall Street newspaper. “At that point, I imagined the song to be faster and more sophisticated than the original Nazz. that of Carole King Tapestry had just come out and his bouncy, melancholy sound was an influence.

Listen to Todd Rundgren’s solo update of “Hello It’s Me”

The new version of Rundgren was presented live, with the assembled musicians playing together, rather than recording track by track. “I thought I had written and performed enough [the album] all myself, ”said Rundgren To mix together magazine in 2019. “What could I do that was different? I decided that I would do everything live in the studio with no overdubs.

“I had something going on in my head,” Rundgren added. He “taught them the changes, found the feeling that I loved. If someone was playing something that I didn’t like I would say, ‘No, don’t play that. Change it to something else. ‘ I wanted it to be less dirgey than the original and have a little more energy. The music had evolved a bit, so I wanted something that sounded a bit more contemporary, as opposed to the original stripped down band.

In keeping with the vibe of the session’s first take, Rundgren included a few false starts on the album version of “Hello It’s Me”. “People struggled to hear where they were supposed to go,” Rundgren said To mix together. “The only person who was supposed to come in on four was the bass, and everyone was supposed to come in on one, but everyone kept coming in on four. So if you listen to the album version, you can hear all these false starts.

The updated version landed it a Top 10 hit, becoming one of the top 100 best-selling singles of 1973. “Hello It’s Me” retains a place in many concerts, appearing as the third song in the set. list of his American tour 2021..

“I didn’t think it would be a success,” admitted Rundgren in the To mix together interview. “I didn’t think that live stuff was appropriate for a single. I always thought it was too raw or too rough, but apparently someone heard it and thought it was a single.

By this time, he had missed the opportunity to reconnect with Linda, after she called his hotel room before a turn-of-the-century Oklahoma show. “There was a long break on my side,” he told the the Wall Street newspaper. “When we finally started talking, she told me that she lived in the neighborhood, that she was married and that she had children. My voice did not heat up and I avoided talking about the good old days.

“I told Linda that I would put her on the guest list for the seats. She thanked me and we said goodbye, ”said Rundgren. “I added his name but didn’t include a behind-the-scenes pass. Our lives had gone in two different directions and we really had nothing to say to each other. I think I also wanted to keep the image I had of her in high school. I never told her that she was the inspiration for the song.

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