The 1972 double album Something/Anything? is Todd Rundgren's third and most successful album as a solo artist.
Though heavily influenced by the Singer-Songwriter movement - Laura Nyro in particular - different songs range into psychedelia, Motown Soul, Power Pop, early Synth-Pop, and even opera. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Something/Anything? sessions involved copious Ritalin use by the singer. Rundgren played every instrument on the first three sides, but after an earthquake struck his Los Angeles studio, Rundgren set up live sessions in New York City and at his upstate Bearsville studio to complete the final side with a rotating series of session players chosen for him by keyboardist Moogy Klingman.
The commercial and critical success of Something/Anything? was something of a double-edged sword for Rundgren, who set out immediately to avoid being pigeonholed as a Singer-Songwriter on the Progressive Rock-tinged followup A Wizard, A True Star, aiming away from the pop mainstream towards cult status. Paradoxically, this ensured that Something/Anything? would remain his best-known release. The album was listed at #173 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and spawned the major hit singles "I Saw the Light" and "Hello It's Me". "Couldn't I Just Tell You" subsequently became a Power Pop classic that served as a major influence on subsequent works in the genre.
Side One: "A Bouquet of Ear-Catching Melodies"
- "I Saw the Light"
- "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference"
- "Wolfman Jack"
- "Cold Morning Light"
- "It Takes Two to Tango (This Is for the Girls)"
- "Sweeter Memories"
Side Two: "The Cerebral Side"
- "The Night the Carousel Burnt Down"
- "Saving Grace"
- "Song of the Viking"
- "I Went to the Mirror"
Side Three: "The Kid Gets Heavy"
- "Black Maria"
- "One More Day (No Word)"
- "Couldn't I Just Tell You"
- "Torch Song"
- "Little Red Lights"
Side Four: "Baby Needs a New Pair of Snakeskin Boots (A Pop Operetta)"
- "OvertureMy Roots: Money (That's What I Want)/Messin' with the Kid"
- "Dust in the Wind"
- "Piss Aaron"
- "Hello It's Me"
- "Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me"
- "You Left Me Sore"
Before we go any further, I'd like to show you a tropes list I made up, and one can be made for any album, even this one:
- Alliterative Title: "It Takes Two to Tango".
- All There in the Manual: The liner notes give commentary on each individual song, either on their concept or the meaning of the lyrics. This includes additional context for the Rock Opera, including additional libretto.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: "Couldn't I Just Tell You"
- Audience Participation Song: Liner notes invite the reader/listener to participate by going to a mirror while listening to "I Went to the Mirror", as it's a "multimedia experiment." "Intro" invites listeners to find examples of poor production on their favourite recordings, and then proceeds to demonstrate them.
- Break-Up Song: "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference"
- Call-Back: The track "OvertureMy Roots: Money (That's What I Want)/Messin' with the Kid" is made up of archival recordings Rundgren made with other bands. "Hello It's Me" was originally a hit for the Nazz.
- The Cover Changes the Meaning: The original Nazz version of "Hello It's Me" is a Beatles-styled ballad. The version here pushes the tempo up and goes for more of a pop-jazz feel a la Carole King. In the process, the lyrics change tone from regretful to wistful.
- Cover Version: "Money (That's What I Want)", originally by Motown artist Barrett Strong, and "Messin' with the Kid", originally by blues musician Junior Wells. These are archival recordings from Rundgren's earliest bands.
- And Rundgren's remake of his own "Hello It's Me", which he first recorded with The Nazz (and which has become much better known than the original).
- Distinct Double Album: Exaggerated Trope. Instead of two discs with distinct concepts, each LP side has its own overriding concept:
- Side one is described in the liner notes as "a bouquet of ear-catching melodies".
- Side two is "the cerebral side".
- Side three is "the kid gets heavy".
- Side four is "Baby Needs a New Pair of Snakeskin Boots (A Pop Operetta)".
- Downer Ending: The Rock Opera that closes out the album ends with the protagonist not getting the girl and then dying from exhaustion after screaming his lungs out. This probably won't be obvious without the liner notes.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Slut" is an ode to a slut. Similarly, "Torch Song" is a torch song, and "Song of the Viking" is about Vikings.
- Fading into the Next Song: The entire fourth side is gapless, mostly linked with Studio Chatter. Apart from this, "It Takes Two to Tango" fades into "Sweeter Memories" and "Intro" fades into "Breathless".
- Friends with Benefits: The most popular interpretation of "Hello It's Me".
- Genre Roulette/Genre-Busting: Like many of Rundgren's other albums, Something/Anything? covers a wide range of musical territory.
- I Am the Band/Self-Backing Vocalist: As lampshaded in the album's artwork◊, on the first three sides of the album, Rundgren is the only featured performer, and also produced everything himself (the majority of them were recorded with the assistance of James Lowe and John Lee, though he recorded some of the songs himself at his home studio). He initially intended to do the same for the fourth side, but after an earthquake struck his studio in Los Angeles he decided to take a different approach and performed the songs in New York City with anyone who showed up to the sessions.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: "Hello It's Me" has a narrator stuck in a Relationship Revolving Door telling his partner that he's content to keep things that way because "it's important to me that you know you are free."
- Instrumentals: "Breathless" features only drums, piano, a Moog synthesizer, and a small amount of Scatting.
- Intentionally Awkward Title: "Piss Aaron" and "Slut"
- Last Note Nightmare: "The Night the Carousel Burnt Down". "Saving Grace" is an inversion, being a standard soft-rock song other than starting off with a creepy bass note and unintelligible Black Speech.
- Medium Awareness: In "Intro", he invites the listener to search records for mastering gaffes — hiss, hum, popping P's, bad editing — whoever finds the most, wins!
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness - spans from 1 to 5. Examples:
- 1 - "Hello It's Me", "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference"
- 2 - "Saving Grace", "You Left Me Sore"
- 3 - "I Saw the Light", "It Takes Two to Tango"
- 4 - "Couldn't I Just Tell You", "Wolfman Jack"
- 5 - "Black Maria", "Little Red Lights"
- Musical Pastiche/In the Style of...: "I Saw the Light" for Carole King, "Wolfman Jack" for Motown, "Song of the Viking" for Gilbert and Sullivan, "Little Red Lights" for Jimi Hendrix, "Slut" for The Rolling Stones.
- My Girl Is a Slut: "Slut", of course.
- One-Man Song: "Wolfman Jack" and "Piss Aaron".
- One-Woman Song: "Black Maria" and "Marlene".
- One-Word Title: "Intro", "Breathless", "Marlene", and "Slut".
- Power Pop: Despite scraping the bottom of the charts as a single, "Couldn't I Just Tell You" is one of the most influential songs in the genre as a whole, often cited or covered by other artists.
- Protest Song: "Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me", supposedly.
- Record Needle Scratch: How "Intro" ends.
- Rock Opera: Side four.
- Shout-Out: "Wolfman Jack" is a shout-out to the legendary radio DJ of the same name.
- Silly Love Songs/Real Life Writes the Plot: Several songs are about one of Rundgren's botched high school relationships, which in turn led to mild Creator Backlash.
- The Something Song: "Song of the Viking", "Torch Song"
- Song Style Shift: "Hello It's Me" starts out as soft-rock before the horns and chorus drag it into Soul territory.
- Spelling Song: "Slut".
- Spoken Word in Music: On "Intro", Rundgren creates makes a game of spotting potential production errors on any album, maybe even your favorite album! Then he gets cut off and "Breathless" starts up.
- Studio Chatter/Throw It In!: All over the record, most famously the botched drum take and "Mother of Goooddddddd!" introducing "Couldn't I Just Tell You".
- Stylistic Suck: On "Intro", the award-winning Record Producer demonstrates what poor production sounds like. Spot examples on your favorite album - whoever finds the most, wins! This qualifies as an arguable In-Universe example of Self-Demonstrating Article: Rundgren invites listeners to find them on "any record, including this one", and of course, there they are, right where he's demonstrating them.
- Wanderlust Song: "Little Red Lights":But once I hit the open road
I'll be sailing off and on my own.