“It was a disco spoof, but it was a hoot to record and I remember laughing so hard I cried.”
Todd Rundgren And Utopia Go “Disco!”
Not familiar with this Utopia album? Well that’s because it was never released! More on its ultimate resurrection in a minute, but first, it’s time to listen to Utopia’s legendary “lost” album, the wacky and wonderful “Disco Jets!”
In 1976, Todd Rundgren, Roger Powell, John Siegler and Willie Wilcox were Utopia – and they recorded an instrumental album that took an offbeat look at the current disco craze!
Of course, Bearsville Records chose not to release it, so no videos were made, but here is the title track as shared on YouTube – audio only:
The phenomenal book “A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio” by Paul Myers discusses this project.
Here is what Myers writes:
“Shortly after ‘Faithful’ was finished, the Rundgren, Siegler, Powell, and Wilcox line-up went back into Bearsville to record another entire album’s worth of instrumental disco tracks, which made up the infamous ‘lost album, Disco Jets.”
“A completely tongue-in-cheek exercise…’Disco Jets’ had begun after Rundgren had painstakingly rearranged the theme from ‘Star Trek’, one of his favorite TV shows…”
Since Todd was a huge “Star Trek” fans, he reimagined the theme, making it “disco-fied” of course, and the band sounds like they are having a blast.
Here is that effort from the album – again, no music videos, just an audio-only version from YouTube – and yes, it is as magnificent as it sounds!
Since it was the Bicentennial, the band also wrote and recorded a song called ‘Spirit of 76’ as well. The album had a terrific cover, too!
Utopia member Roger Powell remembers the band knocking out the album in one long weekend.
“It was a disco spoof, but it was a hoot to record and I remember laughing so hard I cried”, he told Myers.
Here is how “Record Collector” magazine described it:
“Disco, once reviled by “real music” fans, has now been reappraised, exonerated and welcomed into the fold: there’s no time like a recession to make people appreciate the value of a source of unfettered, uncomplicated joy.
And so to Disco Jets: a loopy instrumental undertaking but with minimal, winningly gimmicky vocal interjections.”
It goes on to say:
“Largely conceived as a spoof, ‘Disco Jets’ is performed with such perky chutzpah that it actually works as a disco artefact. Same joie de vivre, see. The squelchy funk of Black Hole and Time Warp recalls the 70s Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, while the title track and VHF, overlaid with synth-spray sonic jism, boast the kind of sinuous, sunburst melodies that only Rundgren and Frank Zappa could devise.”
The great “A Dream Goes On Forever Vol. 1” by Billy James includes some quotes from Todd as well about the album:
“We just did it for fun, over a two day period, recorded a disco album, like a dance record.”
The book goes on to include a Todd interview from 1999, when he says:
“It was the last thing that John Siegler did with the band. And as i recall, we just went in there thinking we were going to do a while mix of pop music that we thought was just so incredible silly we couldn’t’ overlook it!”
Todd also says that the record label never really showed any interest in releasing the album, so it languished unheard for decades.
Bravo To Cherry Red Records!
Lucky for all of us diehard Utopia fans, the album was first included on a Japan “outtakes” compilation, and then officially released in the great version I’ve shared here in 2001 by Cherry Red records…
The terrific booklet that is included shares a lot of great insight on the album, like this:
“Interestingly, in April 1977, soon after the release of Todd’s classic solo album ‘Hermit Of Mink Hollow’, a new mix was undertaken of the ‘Disco Jets’ sessions, one which was destined to remained unreleased in any form for another twenty four years.”
The next Utopia album would end up being “RA”.
Wow! I think that, in hindsight, the record label should have added this as a bonus CD on that release – much like Todd added the extra songs “Time Heals” and “Tiny Demons” to “Healing”. But they didn’t, so it became a legend for years before seeing the light of day…
As I said, according to the booklet, Todd went back and played around again with “Disco Jets” after releasing his “Hermit” masterpiece – here is a look at that album:
As I said at the top of this story, Utopia recorded the “Disco Jets” album right after the release of another solo Todd masterpiece:
“Faithful” is one side full of faithful covers of his favorite songs, and a side of original music that is among his greatest ever – see some of the music videos form his brilliant album here:
“Disco Jets” wasn’t released when recorded – and I have to believe it would have confused some causal fans, just as this Utopia album did:
Decades later, this is another GREAT Utopia album, but it was polarizing at the time – see the music videos and my story about the album here:
Finally, as a huge fan of Utopia, I bought everything they released, included this great 80’s power pop classic:
See more of this classic album here:
Let me know if you own “Disco Jets!”