Rundgren wrote this song, which takes us through a phone call where the singer breaks up with a girl. It's a remarkably realistic account, devoid of sweeping metaphors typically found in breakup songs. We hear the one side of the phone call, which starts with the familiar greeting, indicating they've been together a while. Then they have "the talk," where he hashes out why they can't be together and lets her know that she should have her freedom. All he can ask in the end is that she think of him every now and then.
Remarkably, it was the first song Rundgren ever wrote. In his teens, Todd was an avid listener to music but it was only when he put The Nazz together at the age of 19 that the young musician realized he'd better start penning some material. He attributes the sophistication and success of this song to the vast amount of listening he'd done by the time he wrote it.
A specific musical inspiration was the Dionne Warwick song "Walk On By," written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. " I hadn't thought much about the songwriter's role previous to listening to that record and realizing how different it was, how it had all the qualities of music that I admired, and yet it also was a song," Rundgren said in his 2018 Songfacts interview. "That was the first time I really started to, in my own head, deconstruct what a songwriter was doing. That song had a lot of influence in 'Hello It's Me.'"
This was originally recorded by Todd Rundgren's late 1960s band The Nazz, and included on their 1968 debut album. This dirge-like version with lead vocals by Stewkey Antoni received little attention, and made just #66 in the US. The Nazz broke up in 1969, and were fondly remembered after the fact. "It turns out now that The Nazz was everybody's favorite undiscovered group," Rundgren said in 1972, the year he released his third solo album Something/Anything?, which contained a new version of this song that eventually caught on and established Rundgren as a solo artist.
This song, and many others Rundgren wrote at the time, was inspired by a high school relationship that didn't work out. He graduated in 1966, wrote the song about a year later, and recorded the original Nazz version in 1968, so that relationship was still fresh in his mind. He realized, however, that he didn't want to keep revisiting this heartbreak, so he made a conscious effort to avoid that theme in his post-Something/Anything? output. "There's more than just relationships to write about," he said when speaking at Red Bull Music Academy. "There's your whole inner life to draw on."
In real life, Rundgren was the one getting dumped, but he flipped the story so he was breaking up with the girl. Speaking with Marc Myers in 2018, Rundgren explained that the girl was named Linda, and she was his high school girlfriend. He had long hair, and one day when he walked her home, Linda's dad saw him for the first time and turned the hose on him - no hippie kid was going to date his daughter. A few days later, Linda acceded to her father's wishes and broke up with him. She did it rather casually, which Todd didn't appreciate.
Rundgren wrote the lyric thinking about how he would have liked Linda to break up with him: in a sensitive phone call where she tells him it's important that he's free.
Many years later, Rundgren was in Tulsa for a concert (this was likely March 31, 2003) when Linda called his hotel asking for tickets to the show. He put her on the guestlist, but never told her she inspired his most famous song. "Our lives had gone in different directions," he said. "We had nothing to say. I also wanted to hold on to the image I have of her in high school."
According to Rundgren, the chord progression for "Hello It's Me" were lifted directly from the intro of jazz organist Jimmy Smith's rendition of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."
Rundgren expected the album opener "I Saw The Light," which was the first single from Something/Anything?, to be his big hit, even going as far as to say so in the liner notes rather tongue-in-cheek. However, his re-recording of "Hello It's Me" eclipsed it on the charts - "I Saw The Light" stalled at #16. Both songs displayed his newfound admiration (and subsequent imitation) of Carole King following her Tapestry album.
"Hello It's Me" was a very slow-moving hit; the Something/Anything? album was released in February 1972, and it only became a hit when radio stations started playing it over a year later and the song was subsequently released as a single. It didn't hit the Top 40 until November 1973, and by then, Rundgren's psychedelic album A Wizard, a True Star had been out for eight months. That album was a completely different sound, and Rundgren was in a completely different mindset. The record company didn't put any singles out from Wizard for fear of alienating Rundgren's fans, and Todd had a hard time performing the sudden hit that was now five years old. One of his more bizarre moments came when he performed the song on The Midnight Special wearing what looked like something from David Bowie's closet. Rundgren's girlfriend Bebe Buell called it his "Man-Eating Peacock outfit."
This song was used as the ending clip in the first ever episode of That 70's Show. The gang sings this in the car on the way to a Todd Rundgren concert. This clip also appears on the last episode of the show.
Suggestion credit: Jim - Melbourne, FL
The 1968 version of this song by The Nazz was originally relegated to the B-side of another single, "Open My Eyes." Ron Robin told us how the single got flipped. Says Ron: "How 'Hello It's Me' by Nazz became a 'sort of' hit nationally was quite an accident. I was the music director/DJ at WMEX in Boston when a record promoter came by to tell me about this new group... Nazz. He was promoting 'Open My Eyes,' a terrific hard driving rocker. I loved it. At home I accidentally played the flip side of the record and heard 'Hello It's Me.' It blew me away. I just had to add it to our playlist at the station. After a few weeks it made it to our top 5. We were the only station in the country playing it! Several months later other stations across the country started playing it. Several years later Todd records it in his new style without Nazz and of course without Nazz lead singer Stewkey."
What is it about this song that has such lasting appeal? Kasim Sulton, who played bass in Rundgren's band Utopia, told us that there is something special about Todd's songwriting. "It's so difficult to write a good lyric, a lyric that people turn their heads and say, 'I know what you're talking about, I know how you feel, I know what you mean. I know what he's saying there,'" Kasim told us. "And then to put it in the context of a melody in a song is equally as hard. But Todd does that better than anybody I'd ever worked with, and I've worked with some great people over the years."
Structurally, this isn't typical of hit songs: the title appears just once (the opening line), and there's no real chorus, just two repetitions of the bridge ("It's important to me..."). It is, however, typical of Rundgren's atypical songwriting - he rarely follows conventional form.
In our 2015 interview with Todd Rundgren, he called this "a selfish song." Said Rundgren, "It's me, me, me - it's all about me. I'm in charge, and all this other stuff."
For this reason, Rundgren didn't play it when he toured with Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band, as it didn't fit in with the other songs in the show. Instead, Rundgren played a song he recorded with his band Utopia that was a hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley: "Love Is The Answer."
Rundgren recorded a dark, Bossa Nova version of this song on his 1997 compilation album With A Twist. Speaking about the song in Mojo, he explained: "'Hello It's Me' has become the albatross to me: everyone has attached to me the idea of the amateur singer, the amateur piano player, the funk-free boy doing his little song. But I just can't go there anymore, I can't even think there anymore."
The Isley Brothers released a sultry R&B version running 5:32 on their 1974 album Live It Up. In their version Ron Isley repeats "Hello" several times in the intro.
When Erykah Badu was putting together But You Caint Use My Phone, her 2015 concept mixtape with songs dealing with phone calls, her old flame Andre 3000 (from Outkast), he was looking for song that she could use and came across the Isley Brothers recording. When he suggested it to Badu, she asked him to rap on it, which he did. Using the basic structure from the Isley's version, but was used as the closing track on her mixtape.
Paul Giamatti performed this song in the movie Duets.
Suggestion credit: Stephanie - Ellicott City, MD
One of the backing singers was Vicki Sue Robinson, who had a disco hit a few years later with "Turn The Beat Around." Her work on Something/Anything? (she also sang on the track "Dust In The Wind"), marked her first appearance on an album. She was one of the singers who had performed in the Broadway musical Hair that was invited to sing on the album.
Clemence from New YorkThis song also packed a nostalgia punch for me, even though I never really paid attention to the lyrics until just recently. It was a song I heard a lot as a child in the 1970s (I was 5 in 1974) that I am just investigating now. I keep wondering, "Is it important to *her* that she knows she is free?" Just listened to the Isley Brothers version - it gave me chills. Thanks to whoever mentioned that.
Chris Rogers from Newyork Citytypo on my last post - Dreams existed from 1969-1972. Their first recording was simply self-tilted, and the second was called "Imagine My Surprise. The band was notable for being equally loved by jazz fans and rock fans; for the presence of the incredible drummer Billy Cobham; and for the debut (for the second album) of Will Lee at age 19, who became one of New York's top studio musicians and later played bass with the David Letterman Show for its entire run!
Chris Rogers from Newyork CityTHERE is a great reason (actually 3) why the horns sound so good! I would like to confirm that my father, the late Barry Rogers did play the trombone solo on Hello It's Me. The horn section of Barry, Michael & Randy Brecker - was the horns section for the groundbreaking jazz/rock DREAMS band, which recorded 2 albums for Columbia and existed from 1989-1972. They also recorded and worked together as a horn section for many others including James Taylor and Elton John. What is notable, is that the three of them 'jammed up' the horn arrange,int, or at least the riff at the end, which they were adept at. The flugelhorn solo is played by Randy Brecker, and he specifically told me that they jammed up the parts. The radio 'single" faces out but the album version also features the horns stretching out a little bit. Anyone not familiar with these three - they are among the all-time greats. Barry Rogers (deceased in 1991) is still considered by almost everyone own the music field as being the greatest trombone soloist in history of New York Salsa, and as such is internationally famous. Randy Brecker to this day continues to be among the all-time greatest jazz trumpeters ever, and a winner of multiple Grammys. He is also one of the founding fathers of the fusion genre, with the BRECKER BROTHERS BAND. Michael Brecker (deceased in 2007) went on to become the 'most influential tenor saxophonist since John Coltrane", a winner of at least 15 Grammy awards, and was also notable for his great solos on pop recordings with James Taylor, Paul Simon, and just about everyone you can think of!
Cogs from TexasJennifer - Los Angeles, Ca - It evokes a eerie, stale sense of loneliness- at least for me" that's what makes me like it, as if it's a distant lonely memory from childhood.
Marlene - Montreal, Qc - I can never hear this song without being transported back to my backyard, hearing it on the transistor radio, drinking coke, and the smell of coconut suntan oil." omg yes! I picture hot summer outside as a child. you know, i think it's the reverb that gives a dreamlike atmosphere.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 7th, 1973, Todd Rundgren performed "Hello It's Me" on the NBC-TV program 'The Midnight Special'... Two months earlier on October 6th, 1973 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on December 16th, 1973 it peaked at #5 (for 1 week) and spent 20 weeks on the Top 100... It reached #17 in Canada and on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Track chart... Mr. Rundgren will celebrate his 66th birthday come next June 22nd, 2014.
Dt from Gulf Breeze, FlGreat song, excellent arrangement. Was especially good to listen to after a breakup, along with cocktail of choice.
Bill from Lodi, CaFYI, Stevie Nicks didn't sing back up on the studio version, she was on the live version from "Back To The Bars", along with Hall and Oates, et al.
Keith from Philadelphia, PaSo awesome..........
Eb from Fl Keys, FlBacking vocals by Stevie Nicks, which she did for so many great fellow artists. I read somewhere, "She was/is not a prima donna, but a bella donna." Anyway, I never tire of this great song. Rundgren's a genus.
Bill from Lodi, Ca"Hello It's Me" was one of the first songs Todd wrote in his life, imagine, your first song is your most famous and popular 45 years later.
Marlene from Montreal, QcI can never hear this song without being transported back to my backyard, hearing it on the transistor radio, drinking coke, and the smell of coconut suntan oil.
Mike from Bakersfield, CaFirst of all, as some have pointed out...Todd did NOT record all the tracks on this tune, nor any of the 4th side of this album. The drummer was not John Siomos on this track, but rather Billy Mundi. Great drumming, by the way!
Michael1757 from Campbell, Oh There was a guy I was in the Navy with,that went to high school with Todd,& he said that he,Todd,used to walk around school with a cape,tophat long tail's,& a cane. Is it true? I don't know. It sounded right. We were in the service in "77". So it would have been just prior to that,or a few year's hence.
Michael1757 from Campbell, OhHe played every instrument on the whole album,Something/Anything. Hey,throw money.Teehee
Barry from Sauquoit, NyNazz's version peaked at No. 66; Todd Rundgren also led a group called Upotia, in 1980 they released a record titled "Set Me Free", it peaked at No. 27!!!
Captain from Los Angeles, CaIt is ALSO in Sophia Coppola's "Virgin Suicides", when the characters are at the prom. Everyone is smiling, the cool guy walks into the gym, moving in slow motion as this song comes on. ;-)
Nicole from Plymouth, MaHello it's me...I've thought about us for a long long time. Probably one of the best lyrics ever written. We have all felt that way before. This song reminds me of a very special guy (my very own Eric Forman) And yes this song does play in the very episode of That 70's Show. Such an awesome show.
Rebekah from Seattle, WaI love this song. It invokes many emotions in me and if you listen to it, it could have several messsages in it and it is pretty deep. On the other hand, after reading what the origins are, I am not sure if it is so deep. I think it is what he would have intended to say if the other woman had actually given him a chance. Anyway, I like how it says ,"It's important to me/That you know you are free/Cause I'd never want to make you change for me." I LOVE this song. Being a poet, I like songs that have a deeper lyrical depth and I think this one is pretty deep.
Doug from Auburn, GaThe first song to chart in the Billboard Top 100 by a band (Nazz) and chart again later as a cover by a member of the original band. Knowing this won me a prize in a radio station's trivia contest!
Randy from Raleigh, NcThis song is covered by Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles on "Under the covers vol.2" Thy do a really nice job on this and 15 other pop tunes.
Beryl from New York, NyI loved the song when it was released. I was 15 then. Now the song means something different to me. Something current in my life could be scored with this song.
Mitch from New York City, NyI know some of the answers to the comments posted. Barry Rogers did play trombone on this song, and the guitarist was Robbie Kogale from Great Neck, LI. This song, along with "Dust in the Wind" and "You Left Me Sore," were recorded live in the studio on a Sunday late November, 1971. The musicians were contracted by organist, Moogy Klingman, who also wrote the horn charts.
Also of interest is that at least four of the twelve players are no longer with us. They include drummer John Siomos, trombonist Barry Rogers, horn player Mike Brecker and background singer Vicki Sue Robinson.
Zane from Kenosha, WiSong reminds me of the show That 70's Show
Debbie from Canton, OhThis song sends me back to countless good memories of yesteryear. Loved the song then, still love it now.
Dave from Calgary, AbOne of my favorite songs from the early 70's. Have not seen the Tums ad and hope I never do. Not sure who the musician is but I've always admired the bass playing on this track.
Budd from Rutland, VtThis song is a favorite of mine.But I think that it's wrong to be used in a tums ad.It takes out the true meaning from it.
Rob from Berkeley, Cagreat and gentle song, and now it sells tums antacid tablets. embarassing Ca-ching Yikes!
J from Sticks, NyMy partner's brother allegedly played guitar on the second version of this song when he was a kid (20). He said the horns were playing outside the studio at the doorway. I have no way of proving this, only his word, but he said Todd was bloody brilliant, and swears the VC guitar sitting here in the room was part payment for his session work. Too bad they never include the chatter on the radio. I always get a tickle out of that.
Monica from Biloxi, MsAlways loved this song...but never knew much about Todd Rundgren til now. Great song...Great memories!
Myra from North Brookfield, MaSimply my favorite song of all time - I never tire of it. There is no romantic association for me. I just love the sound and the emotion that it evokes.
Roman from Barrie, Ongreat artist, great lyrics, since he often played most of the instruments in the recording studio, when it came to concerts he once had part of the show's background music on tape which upset some of the fans. I just heard this song in a TUMS commercial on TV.
AnonymousRediscovered this song....so great. It was certainly a different time.
Time Traveler from Phila, PaThe word is Todd did not write this song. He paid another writer for the lyrics.
Vince from Balston Spa, NyOne of the best produced songs ever.
Abel from Beavercreek, OhA very nice and easy to listen to song. Hits a lot of areas and means a lot to many people. Smooth.
Brian from Paris, Tx"This song shows up on side 4 of the Something/Anything album, a side that has lots of "spontaneous" studio chatter between all the songs (though I use scare quotes because it sounds like very contrived spontaneity to my ears). Thus, this song starts and ends with such chatter, though you never hear that on the radio, presumably because it was edited off the single? Or do the radio stations edit it off?"
This is what I was talking about.
Brian from Paris, TxSome do, some don't.^^^^^^
Weavil from Wisconsin Rapids, WiTodd also re-did this Bossa Nova style on 1997's "With A Twist" http://trconnection.com/lyrics/Title.44 ...'tis a GREAT version. He's also 'lounged'it up a bit on many tours since 1989
Johnny from Chicago, IlOne of the two or three songs that I would give five stars.
Don from State College, PaThe first 3 sides of the Something/Anything? album were entirely peformed by Todd. This song comes from Side 4 which features Todd playing with studio musicians like Mark "Moogy" Klingman (organ), John Siomos (drums), Stu Woods (bass), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Mike Brecker (sax), Barry Rogers (trombone), Robbie Kogale (guitar) and back up singers. Todd plays piano and sings lead. I believe that the 4th side was recorded "live" in the studio -- meaning, no overdubs.
Bryant Urban from Seattle/born Trenton,n.j., WaThis song was first an east coast(Philly) hit by Todd's first band Nazz. Over 3 albums he only sang one lead(you are my window). The original is slow, lush vocal arranging, and Todd plays the vibes. If he sounds whiney, well he was probably 17 when he wrote the song. That's the brecker brothers (sax&trumpet) on the live version.I accept that he's strident, and difficult for many to love. Still, if you listen to his entire discography, listen, it's dazzling. He can be called an "artist" a term too often strewn about randomly. I must admit i've always thought "hello it's me" is a weird thing to say on the phone, and i never have.
Dave from St Paul, MnThis is one of very few pop songs to feature a trombone solo. I have heard (but cannot verify) that the player was Barry Rogers, a NYC session player who is probably better known to salsa fans, having recorded & performed for many years with Eddie Palmieri and other salsa greats.
Michael from San Diego, CaSome real good Saxophone is being played throughout this tune. It adds to the emotion of song in a fascinating way!
Brent from Miami, FlOne of my all time favorite songs.....pure genius. TR's son is a shortstop in the Florida Marlin's minor league organization.
Michael from San Diego, CaBeautiful song, that I just discovered not too long ago - now I can't get it out of my head!
Jennifer from Los Angeles, CaNever much cared for this one- it evokes a errie, stale sense of lonliness- at least for me. A bit on the whiny side too. I wouldn't mind a spoof re-release of this song where it ended abruptly with a phone hanging up after the opening "hello, it's me"
Jac from Goshen, KyTodd had his biggest hit with this one and to this day it holds up rather well. It's lyrical depth is beyond most romantic rock songs in that the person singing this to the girl is kind of in a state of denial about his place in the relationship. He tells her how much he's thinking of her, then concludes, "Maybe I shouldn't think of you as mine," like he just realized it while he was singing it. In the 2nd verse he start to tell her more of his true feelings but then realizes, "Sometimes I can't help seeing all the way through." The truth is that she's dumped him and probably moved on with her life, but he's just not quite ready to admit it. Pretty deep stuff for a pop song and to my ears one of Todd's classics.
Ryan from Willits, CaIf you liksten closely to the studio chatter (I mean REALLY closely) you can hear someone in the background say "If anyone f*cks up..."
Garrett from Nashville, TnThis song probably uses more chords than any other pop hit.
Pamela from Brooklyn, NyRerecorded by The Isley Brothers, which became a big hit for them on R&B charts. One of my favorites by this group
Turner Brooklyn, NY
Tim from Charlotte, NcTodd Rundgren performed vocals, background vocals, and all the instrumental tracks on "Hello It's Me".
Barry from Gagetown Nb CanadaMany childhood memories are refreshed when I hear this song ... notably , skating at the local arena on a Friday evening with my steady (Cheryl)1974
Fyodor from Denver, CoThis song shows up on side 4 of the Something/Anything album, a side that has lots of "spontaneous" studio chatter between all the songs (though I use scare quotes because it sounds like very contrived spontaneity to my ears). Thus, this song starts and ends with such chatter, though you never hear that on the radio, presumably because it was edited off the single? Or do the radio stations edit it off?