After five solo albums released between 1970 and 1974, Todd Rundgren put together the band Utopia.
The band was originally, in effect, Rundgren’s version of Wings and the first two albums billed them as ‘Todd Rundgren’s Utopia’.
But by their third album, Ra, they were a four-piece band with a line-up of Rundgren, Roger Powell, Kasim Sulton and Willie Wilcox which remained stable until their last album in 1986.
Rundgren maintained a solo career concurrent to Utopia, but always shared writing and lead vocal chores with his bandmates.
Ironically the result often sounded arguably more like his solo work than Utopia’s first two albums.
Utopia moved gradually from prog rock to a more pop direction, particularly on the album Adventures In Utopia (1980), which included two hit singles – Set Me Free (#27) and The Very Last Time (#76). The album reached #32 and was Utopia’s highest-charting LP.
Deface The Music (also 1980) introduced a novel concept; original Utopia songs recorded in the style of The Beatles. Despite the sublime track I Just Want To Touch You, the overall result was not unlike Eric Idle’s parody, The Rutles.
After Rundgren’s 1981 solo year with Healing, Utopia returned to action in 1982 with two albums, the first of which (Swing To The Right) was an R&B-flavoured effort, far removed from the groups early prog rock beginnings.
Their second album of 1982 was a self-titled album-and-a-half containing two LP’s, the second of which had Side Three pressed on both sides.
The record was one of Utopia’s finest, featuring their third and final hit single, Feet Don’t Fail Me Now (#82) as well as the excellent Hammer In My Heart and Princess Of The Universe, one of their best rockers (sung by drummer Willie Wilcox).
Their last two studio albums, Oblivion (1984) and POV (1985), used as their template the concise new wave-inflected pop/rock of Oops! Wrong Planet (1977) rather than the Mahavishnu-in-space jazz/prog/funk of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (1974) or the Queen-go-Egyptological pomp-rock of Ra (1977).
Utopia officially broke up in 1986, although they reunited briefly in 1992, releasing the album Redux ’92: Live in Japan. They were unable to secure a new record deal and so disbanded permanently.
John ‘Willie’ Wilcox