Utopia was an American progressive rock band led by Todd Rundgren that toured and recorded from 1973 to 1987.
The first two albums, Todd Rundgren's Utopia and Another Live featured lengthy, complex and highly arranged progressive rock pieces, performed by a six-piece multi-instrumentalist ensemble. The debut album in fact contained only four tracks and ran for almost sixty minutes in total, opening with "Utopia Theme" - recorded live in concert -- and closing with the extended concept piece "The Ikon", which ran more than thirty minutes and took up all of Side 2 of the album.
The first Utopia album - credited as "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" - featured a six-piece ensemble featuring Todd Rundgren, guitar & vocals, Kevin Ellman - percussion, Mark "Moogy" Klingman - keyboards, M. Frog Labat (Jean Yves Labat) - synthesizers, Ralph Schukett - keyboards and John Siegler - bass and cello.
The live-in-concert LP Another Live (1975), which marked the debut of Powell (replacing Labat) and Wilcox (replacing Ellman), also featured several extended progressive rock tracks but it also displayed Rundgren's continuing interest in the Broadway musical (a version of "Something's Coming" (from West Side Story) and the music of his rock heroes (a cover of "Do Ya", written by Jeff Lynne and originally recorded by The Move). The liner notes characterized the recording of "Do Ya" as a return gesture for the Move having covered Open My Eyes, a song recorded by Rundgren's earlier band The Nazz and written by him.
By the third album, the group became known simply as 'Utopia' and settled into a four-person lineup of Rundgren (guitar, vocals), Kasim Sulton (bass, vocals), Roger Powell (keyboards, synthesizers, trumpet, vocals) and Willie Wilcox (drums, vocals).
Like The Beatles, Utopia rotated lead vocals and shared writing credits, although Rundgren was a predominant influence. One distinctive feature of Utopia was its stylistic breadth, which ranged across psychedelic-progressive 1970s rock, soul-pop, blues, 'stadium rock' and heavy metal. Another was the band's unabashed optimism, as evidenced by its name.
The third album Ra (1977) continued the progressive trend, opening with an electronic arrangement of the "Overture: Mountaintop and Sunrise" theme (from Bernard Herrmann's score for the film Journey to the Center of the Earth), but it also contained several shorter, more accessible songs, and the group's subsequent albums increasingly featured more concise and 'pop-oriented' material that showed the influence of the prevailing New Wave trend.
Though the band had satirical political songs, showcased on Swing to the Right (1982) and plenty of bitter heartbreak songs, it was best known for its hopeful, uplifting spirit, which is why its live shows often ended with "Love Is the Answer" from their 1977 album, Oops! Wrong Planet. This theme resonated with its utopian fan-base -- a mix of older Rundgren fans and Utopia's own starry-eyed followers, who tried to carry hippie idealism on through the barren early-1980s. "Love is the Answer" later became a big hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley.
Although they had only one song hit the Top 40 in 1980 with "Set Me Free", they achieved cult status throughout the 1980s with their albums, concert performances and videos that were shown on MTV early years. Further, the band had a number of Album-oriented rock hits including "Caravan", "Feet Don't Fail Me Now", and "Love In Action". The influence of Utopia is notable on the heavily played Todd Rundgren solo album, Hermit of Mink Hollow, particularly on the hit song "All the Children Sing", as well as the tune "Real Man" from his solo effort Initiation. "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" was one of the original videos aired by MTV, in heavy rotation by default, when the channel debuted in 1981 and featured the band dressed in insect costumes.
Rundgren had a successful solo career before, during, and after Utopia, but his bandmates also had modest success beyond Utopia. Roger Powell toured with David Bowie and worked in electronic music. Willie Wilcox was the senior composer & sound designer for NBC Universal Television from 1999-2005. He continues to write & produce for television, film and artists with his company Willie Wilcox Music. Wilcox composed the ringwalk music used by the current #1 ranked boxer in the world Manny Pacqui, and bassist Kasim Sulton has toured as a bandmember with Meat Loaf, Joan Jett and others.
Though the band broke up in 1986, they reunited briefly in 1992, yielding a live album. Various members have continued to work with Rundgren in the intervening years. In 2005, Rundgren and Sulton began working together again in a new lineup of The Cars. After Elliot Easton broke his left clavicle following a tour bus accident, The New Cars took a hiatus. During this hiatus, Kasim took on some work with Meat Loaf and Rundgren to support Bat out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose.
Mark "Moogy" Klingman
M. Frog Labat
Mark "Moogy" Klingman
Utopia Late 1975