To paraphrase from a movie I recently watched (yet again), the incredibly funny 1984 film, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, “I’m a singles chart nerd, and I’m pretty proud of it.”
In the years leading up to adulthood, and for a few years after, I was a faithful listener of Casey Kasem’s AMERICAN TOP 40 program, and while I am a self-proclaimed singles chart nerd, I concede that, if there’s a song out there you love, and have loved for years, what position they reached on the singles chart (if they even reached it at all) doesn’t matter. I think if Casey Kasem were here with us today, he might agree. Still, all these years later, there are some songs out there whose peak chart positions surprise me. One of those songs is “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” by Utopia.
For years, Pennsylvania native Todd Rundgren had been going back and forth, releasing solo albums and albums with his band, Utopia. As for his solo career, Todd is best known for his BILLBOARD Hot 100 hits, “I Saw The Light” (No. 16) and “Hello It’s Me” (No. 5, both from 1972), his original 1978 version of “Can We Still Be Friends” (No. 29; covered by Robert Palmer in 1979, and by many others since), and 1983’s fun “Bang The Drum All Day” (No. 63).
Todd Rundgren’s band, Utopia, started out as a Prog-Rock band in 1973, and had several incarnations over the years, releasing nine studio albums between 1974 and 1985. Their biggest album, late 1979’s ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA, was their biggest, blending Rock, Disco and Prog-Rock, and gave the band their only Top 40 hit on the Hot 100, “Set Me Free,” which spent a week at its peak position of No. 27 in April 1980.
NERDY SIDE NOTE: A song Todd Rundgren wrote for Utopia’s 1977 album, OOPS! WRONG PLANET – the last song on the album – called “Love Is The Answer,” was a single released from the album, but it was not a hit. It did, however, end up being a Top 10 hit for Adult Contemporary favorites England Dan & John Ford Coley in May 1979, and it was among the 100 biggest U.S. hits of that year.
From Utopia’s second self-titled album (and their second album released in 1982), there were two singles released from the album: “Hammer In My Heart” and “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now.” With the album recorded just a year after MTV was born, both songs featured videos on a VHS collection called THE UTOPIA SAMPLER, which received a Grammy nomination in 1983 for Best Short Form Video. Speaking of MTV, footage for the “Hammer In My Heart” video was recorded live at MTV’s official first birthday party, hosted by MTV VJ (and current Maine resident and weather enthusiast), Nina Blackwood. That song reached No. 31 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart.
The cheeky video for the other single released from the UTOPIA album, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” featured the band members dressed up as different types of bugs who can’t move their feet. The video kinda reminded me of videos The Cars would end up producing in the 80s, like 1984’s MTV Video Of The Year winner, “You Might Think” (which at one point features singer Ric Ocasek as a fly). In an odd coincidence, Todd Rundgren took Ric Ocasek’s place as lead singer of The New Cars in 2005 (featuring original Cars members Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes) for one album and a tour, which I unfortunately missed.
“Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” has always reminded me of a cross between the U.K. Pop band, Bucks Fizz (who had three No. 1 songs in the U.K. back in the early 80s) and XTC, which, in yet another coincidence, Todd Rundgren produced the brilliant XTC album, SKYLARKING, in 1986, the same year Utopia broke up.
On the BILLBOARD Hot 100, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” debuted at No. 90 in early January 1983, but sadly, it was the legs, not the feet that failed “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” and it peaked at No. 82 a couple weeks later, staying there for three weeks. It was the last time Utopia would see the Hot 100.
I was a bit late learning about “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” (it wasn’t until after I started STUCK IN THE 80s, my little 21-year 80s radio program on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine), but every time I’ve heard it since, it’s never failed me. I suppose maybe 20 years from now, if I hear this song and of course, want to dance to it, I might say, “Feet, don’t fail me now.”
But, for the moment, I’ll proudly dance to this quirky and fun gem at home, because unlike the meaning of the word “utopia” (which means “no place” or an imagined place), here’s a good as place as any to dance, not to mention it’s a place where I don’t have to worry about taking anyone out on the dance floor on account of my mad dancing skillz (those who have seen me dance are laughing, because they know it’s true)…