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‘White Album’ not Todd Rundgren’s favorite, but he’ll play it anyway

Updated December 5, 2019 - 5:41 pm

Todd Rundgren boasts a bond to the Beatles, having performed with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band for 5½ years. A rock icon himself, Rundgren understands the band’s history and certainly appreciates its vast collection of classic songs.

And he’s not much of fan of “The White Album.”

“It’s not my favorite album in the Beatles’ canon. It might be my least-favorite album in the Beatles’ canon,” Rundgren said in a recent phone chat. “The record is actually the sound of the band breaking up. If you were a big Beatles’ fan at the time, it was potentially horrifying (laughs). Not many of the songs came off as the band working together. Some of the songs seem like a couple of the guys had their foot halfway out the door when they were making it.”

But Rundgren is playing and singing from that album in Las Vegas this weekend. Set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Westgate Las Vegas’ International Theater, “It Was Fifty Years Ago Today — A Tribute to the Beatles’ White Album” features Rundgren along with Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Christopher Cross, Jason Scheff of Chicago and Joey Molland of Badfinger. (Tickets are onsale at the Westgate Las Vegas website.)

The show’s musical director, Joey Curatolo, is also MD of the long-running Beatles tribute act Rain.

Rundgren continues his assessment of “The Beatles” double album.

“The album sounds a lot like the beginning of some particular Beatles solo albums,” said the multi-instrumentalist and songwriting great. “A lot of it seems like individual indulgences, but if somebody listens to it and doesn’t sense that — those are probably people who will come to see this show, those who have some sort of a rosy attitude about the record.”

Beatles fans readily realize, too, that “The White Album” was actually released in 1968, 51 years ago, outside the 50th-anniversary celebration.

“It became 51 years because sometimes it’s difficult to get everyone clear of other obligations to put this together,” Rundgren said. “When we started this process, it might have happened 50 years ago, but it took a year to get everybody free to do this.”

Rundgren has not talked with his old friend and collaborator Starr about performing this show.

“I have spent a lot of time around Ringo as part of the All-Starr Band, and because he was a Beatle, I think he gets kind of sick of talking about it sometimes,” Rundgren said. “He recognizes how important it is to everyone else, but he has lived through it and has to talk about it anytime he talks to the press … when you try to pump him for information about it, unless he’s already in the mood to talk about the old days, he’s pretty much tried to move on.”

Rundgren is highlighted on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which he has covered for years, and also “Helter Skelter” in the touring production.

“Nobody really wants to do ‘Helter Skelter’ because it’s just a scream-fest through the whole thing,” Rundgren said. “But I, for some weird reason, have no problem with that (laughs).” He’s also singing, “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Sexy Sadie” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey).”

The show’s individual members sing samples of their own hit songs to fill out the performance. Rundgren, with such top-10 Billboard hits as “Hello, It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light” is among the list of nominees for the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Rundgren is not a big fan of the Rock hall, either. He laughed and said, “No comment! Again, no comment!” when asked about his nomination.

But Rundgren did offer, “My feelings about it are so incredibly mixed it’s too complicated to even get into. But you know, my recommendation for anyone for who has a ballot that isn’t filled out is T.Rex, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead and MC-5. That’s rock and roll.”

During “The White Album” series, Rundgren has gotten to know Dolenz, the famed drummer for The Monkees.

“This kind of tour gives you an opportunity to work with people you wouldn’t work with under normal circumstances, and me and Micky like to have a late-night meal together,” Rundgren said. “We had a meal where we had to explain American football to a guy from Poland, who was sitting at the bar with us. It was fun, actually.”

Rundgren says the conversation was “a signature moment for us,” because that conversation took place in Cincinnati on Dec. 1, the the same weekend the Bengals won their first game of the season after 11 losses.

“We were lucky enough to be on stage after that,” Rundgren said. “I had something to talk about with the audience.”

Similar to this rock show, that event was a true team effort.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram

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