I know, if I’m honest, that it’s the product of an utterly cynical and insincere process, yet there’s something about Todd Rundgren’s “Wolfman Jack” that strikes me as one of the most upbeat, happy and instantaneous songs ever made, every single time that I hear it.
There’s significant cognitive dissonance between knowing, on some deep primal level, that Rundgren — a notorious studio wizard (a true star, no less) — probably spent far too long perfecting every little last piece of every single thing that you hear in its 2:54 run time, from the amount of the echo of the opening sax to the “whoo-oo-oo-oo-oohhh” harmonies in the background, and the emotional rush that comes to me every time I hear the song. It sounds so effortless, and yet, I know, there was doubtlessly a lot of effort into making that the case.
And yet: It’s this beautiful, over-the-top piece of nostalgia for something that likely never existed, and something that seems to rejoice in going just that little bit further than you expect even when you think you know how ridiculous the whole thing is. (The falsetto at the end of “You can’t do this to me” at 1:53, for example.)
I’d heard some Todd Rundgren before this song, and never quite got it; I distinctly remember hearing “I Saw The Light” and going, “This is what people went so nuts over? I don’t get it.” But when I heard this for the first time, I had a mild epiphany; I knew this wasn’t what the majority of his music sounded like — or, really, anything beyond this song — but for the almost-three minutes it lasted, I didn’t care. This, I decided, was someone I could listen to for days on end.
(Strange but true; I can never listen to this song just once. I always, without fail, play it through a second time at least.)