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How Prince saved Todd Rundgren from embarrassing himself


Prince is said to have been a huge fan of Todd Rundgren, who supposedly acted as a strong influence on his work, and he repaid the prog-rock pioneer by saving himself from a moment of embarrassment.

While the two musicians weren’t close friends – or even known acquaintances – their paths did cross on one occasion in 1981. Both artists were booked to appear on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. At the time, Rundgren was the more established thanks to his much-celebrated work with Utopia, as a solo artist, and producer.

Meanwhile, Prince was still the relatively new kid on the block. Although he’d been around for many years, his experience paled into insignificance compared to Rundgren, who was the main musical guest on the programme.

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Prince showed off his skills to the nation with an electric performance of ‘Partyup’. Former producer Jean Doumanian later discussed the performance to Rolling Stone and said: “I was blown away, he was just the most original act I had seen in a long time.”

Rundgren was next up, and initially, he was worried he’d pushed the boat out too far by wearing something risque. However, Prince’s wild costume overshadowed him, and he needn’t have feared that his outfit was the topic on everybody’s lips. Speaking to The Guardian in 2013, Rundgren recalled: “My most interesting experience with Prince was on Saturday Night Live. I was wearing a slightly racy costume in which my, er, package was prominently displayed. And there were some complaints”.

Adding: “Then Prince came on for his first national TV appearance and he wore a pair of tidy-whitey underpants and a big cape. So no matter what anyone had to say about my costume, it became all about Prince in his underwear.”

When you appear on the same line-up as Prince, even back then, nobody will leave the show thinking about anybody else apart from ‘The Purple One’. However, in a dramatic turn of events, following the programme’s airing, nobody would be talking about Prince or Rundgren because their performances were overshadowed by the loose tongue of SNL cast member Charles Rocket.

He shocked the audience at Studio 8H and the millions watching at home when Rocket grabbed all the headlines and attention when he said “fuck” live on-air during the episode. Although it seems like much apropos of nothing, it distracted from the outfits of both Prince and Rundgren, who became footnotes.

Listen to audio from Prince’s performance below.