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Utopia is an American rock band. In its initial incarnation, in 1973-75, the group was a progressive rock band with a fluid membership known as "Todd Rundgren's Utopia". By 1976, the group was known simply as Utopia and was a stable quartet of Rundgren, Kasim Sulton, Roger Powell and John "Willie" Wilcox. This incarnation of the group gradually abandoned prog-rock for straight rock, new wave and power pop, and scored the top 40 hit "Set Me Free" in 1980. Though often thought of as a Rundgren-oriented project, all four members of Utopia wrote, sang, produced and performed on their albums; "Set Me Free", for example, was sung by Sulton.
Utopia broke up in 1986, but reunited briefly in 1992. More recently, beginning in 2011 the earlier prog-rock incarnation known as Todd Rundgren's Utopia was revived for a series of live shows.
- 2 Members
- 3 Discography
- 4 Music videos
- 5 References
The first two albums - Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974) and Another Live (1975) - featured lengthy, complex and highly arranged progressive rock pieces, performed by a six-piece multi-instrumentalist ensemble. It was made up of Rundgren (guitar and vocals), Kevin Ellman (drums and percussion), Mark "Moogy" Klingman (keyboards), Jean Yves "M. Frog" Labat (synthesizers), Ralph Schuckett (keyboards), and John Siegler (bass and cello). Soon after this album was completed, Labat left the band and was replaced by former Moog programmer Roger Powell. The debut album itself contained only four tracks and ran for almost sixty minutes 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 two of the album.
The live LP Another Live (1975) featured new members Powell and John "Willie" Wilcox (drums). It showcased several extended progressive tracks which were not released in studio versions and also displayed Rundgren's continuing interest in the Broadway musical a version of "Something's Coming" fromWest Side Story and the music of his rock heroes, including 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 Nazz and written by him.
On October 9, 1975 Utopia played their first UK concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London with the trimmed-down lineup of Rundgren, John Siegler, Roger Powell and Willie Wilcox, with backing vocals by future soul star Luther Vandross and Anthony Hinton (a former member of Vandross' early 1970s vocal quintet Luther). This concert was recorded by the BBC for broadcast and has since been widely bootlegged.
In 1976, the Powell/Rundgren/Seigler/Wilcox lineup recorded an instrumental album entitled Disco Jets, which included a disco arrangement of the "Star Trek" theme as well as original compositions. Bearsville Records passed on releasing the album, and it was shelved. (It eventually surfaced in 2001 as part of a Todd Rundgren rarities box set, and was finally issued on its own in 2012.) Seigler left the group after the recording of this album.
By mid-1976, 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, vocals) and Willie Wilcox (drums, vocals). This line-up remained stable until the group's demise. All four band members wrote, sang, produced and even engineered material for the band.
The first Utopia album Ra (1977) continued showcasing the group's progressive leanings, 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. Utopia's subsequent albums increasingly featured more concise and pop-oriented material that showed the influence of the prevailing new wave trend.
1977's Oops! Wrong Planet was an even more pop-oriented album, and the song "Love Is the Answer" became Utopia's main set-closer. "Love Is the Answer" later became a big hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley charting No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary list in 1979, but the Utopia version failed to chart.
Utopia had only one Billboard top 40 hit: "Set Me Free", from their best-selling album Adventures in Utopia (1980), peaked at No. 27 in the US. The same year, the band issued the LP Deface The Music, which was an overt pastiche of the merseybeat and Sgt. Pepper-era music of The Beatles. Though the album received some positive critical notices, the move away from new wave derailed the band's career momentum.
Utopia managed to hold onto their cult status throughout the '80s with their albums, concert performances and videos that were shown on MTV in its early years. The group had a number of album-oriented rock hits including "Caravan," "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" (co-written by bassist Doug Howard, who replaced Sulton during his brief hiatus from the group), and "Love In Action." The video for "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" memorably featured the band dressed in insect costumes. The album Swing to the Right (1982) featured satirical political songs, and the Canadian top 40 hit "One World". The follow-up self-titled LPUtopia (1982) spread 15 tracks across a LP and a bonus unlisted EP.
The band's final two albums Oblivion (1984) and POV (1985) were neither commercially successful, nor critically well-received. After issuing the collection Trivia in 1986, which included tracks from their previous three LPs plus two previously released outtakes, Utopia called it quits.
Rundgren had a successful solo career before, during, and after Utopia, as did his bandmates, although to more modest levels. Powell toured with David Bowie for the live album Stage, and previously worked as protégé for Robert Moog. Powell's solo album Air Pocket was voted No. 1 in 1980 by Keyboard Magazine magazine, but after the demise of Utopia he had to give up performing for some time due to Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Prior to Utopia, Wilcox recorded the Rundgren-produced War Babies album and toured with Hall and Oates. Wilcox was the senior composer and sound designer for NBC Universal Television from 1999–2005, and wrote and programmed "We Connect", the No. 1 dance hit for artist Stacey Q. He continues to write and produce for television, film and artists with his company Willie Wilcox Music. Wilcox composed the ringwalk music used by the current No. 1 ranked boxer in the world, Manny Pacquiao. Bassist Kasim Sulton issued a solo LP in 1982, which spun of a Canadian top 40 hit with "Don't Break My Heart", and has toured as a band leader for Meat Loaf, and performed with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Scandal, Hall and Oates, and others.Todd Rundgren and Utopia performing: Schuckett on keyboards, Ellman on drums, Siegler on bass, and Sulton on keyboards, and additional guitarist Jesse Gress, in Boston, Mass., Nov. 15, 2011.
Though Utopia officially broke up in 1986, they reunited briefly in 1992, yielding the album, Redux '92: Live in Japan, but they were unable to secure a new label arrangement so they disbanded permanently. 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 using the name The New 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.
Rundgren, Powell, and Sulton were reunited on stage during the debut live presentation of Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star presented by RundgrenRadio.com in 2009. In subsequent shows on the tour, Ralph Schuckett replaced Powell, continuing the trend of former Utopia members to remain connected musically.
On January 29–30, 2011, a reunion of most of the members of the 1974 Utopia Mark II band (Rundgren, Moogy Klingman, Ralph Shuckett, John Siegler, and Kevin Ellman) was held for two nights at the Highline Ballroom in New York City. Proceeds from the shows went to defray medical treatment for Klingman's bout with cancer. Material was drawn from the 1972-75 catalogs of Rundgren and Todd Rundgren's Utopia. This marked the first time this lineup performed together in over 35 years. Fellow musicians Jesse Gress and longtime Utopia (1977–86) member Kasim Sulton performed on some of the songs.
Ten months later, in November 2011, the band toured live as 'Todd Rundgren's Utopia' for the first time since 1975, with the same lineup of Rundgren, Klingman, Schuckett, Siegler, Ellman, Gress, and Sulton. Klingman died on November 15, 2011.
- Current members
- Todd Rundgren - lead guitar, lead vocals (1973–1986, 1992, 2011–present)
- John Siegler - bass, cello (1974–1976, 2011–present)
- Ralph Schuckett - keyboards (1974–1975, 2011–present)
- Kevin Ellman - drums, percussion (1974–1975, 2011–present)
- Kasim Sulton - bass, vocals (1976–1982, 1982–1986, 1992, 2011–present)
- Jesse Gress - guitar (2011–present)
- Former members
- Jean Yves "M. Frog" Labat - synthesisers, rhythm guitar (1973–1975)
- Dave Mason - keyboards (1973–1974)
- Hunt Sales - drums, percussion (1973–1974)
- Tony Sales - bass, backing vocals (1973–1974)
- Mark "Moogy" Klingman - keyboards (1974–1975, 2011; died 2011)
- Roger Powell - keyboards, vocals (1975–1986, 1992)
- John "Willie" Wilcox - drums, percussion, vocals (1975–1986, 1992)
- Doug Howard - bass, vocals (1982)
- Lineups timeline
|Year||Album information||Chart positions|
|1974||Todd Rundgren's Utopia||34||28||–|
|Oops! Wrong Planet
|1979||Adventures in Utopia
|1980||Deface the Music
|1982||Swing to the Right
- Another Live (Bearsville, Warner Bros., 1975) US No. 66
- Redux '92: Live in Japan (BMG, 1992)
- Official Bootleg, Vol. 9: Oblivion Tour (Nippon Crown, 2001)
- Bootleg Series, Vol. 2: KSAN 95FM, Live '79 (Sanctuary, 2002)
- Live At Hammersmith Odeon '75 (Shout! Factory, 2012)
- Trivia (Passport, 1986)
- The Collection (Castle, 1988)
- Anthology (1974-1985)1989
- Oblivion, POV & Some Trivia (Rhino, 1996)
- City in My Head (Essential Records, 1999)
|1977||"Communion with the Sun"||–||–||–||Ra|
|"Love Is the Answer"||–||–||–||Oops! Wrong Planet|
|1980||"Set Me Free"||27||–||55||Adventures in Utopia|
|"The Very Last Time"||76||–||–|
|"I Just Want to Touch You"||–||–||–||Deface the Music|
|1982||"One World"||–||–||34||Swing to the Right|
|"Hammer in My Heart"||–||31||–||Utopia|
|1983||"Feet Don't Fail Me Now"||82||–||–|
|"Love with a Thinker"||–||–||–|
- "Magic Dragon Theatre" (1977)
- "Set Me Free" (1980)
- "You Make Me Crazy" (1980)
- "I Just Want To Touch You" (1980)
- "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" (1982)
- "Hammer In My Heart" (1982)
- "Crybaby" (1984)