What comes to mind when you think of the iconic late 70’s, early 80’s band Toto? Probably the first tune you think of would be Africa, then Hold The Line, and lastly the hit song Rosanna. For a band that has been around for more than four decades, this group of session musicians has to be one of the most underrated bands I have ever come across. Their biggest success, without a shadow of a doubt, would be their award winning album, Toto IV, topping the charts after its release in 1982.
This album got the ball rolling for the group, eventually leading them to playing on other well-known albums of the 80’s, most specifically, Michael Jackson’s thriller album in 1982 as well. But what is it about Toto IV that makes it so spectacular to its audience?
The first three songs, Rosanna, Make Believe, and I Won’t Hold You Back tell a sort of story that only those who have dealt with heartbreak can understand. Rosanna, though it has an upbeat and a catchy chorus, is filled with hurt as the subject’s lover, whom he seemed to once adore, has up and made tracks. The band’s guitarist, Steve Lukather, and Bobby Kimball, the band’s singer at the time, both take lead on this track singing words like “Never thought that a girl like you could make me feel so bad,” and “Never thought that losing you could ever hurt so bad,” bluntly stating the situation of a loss-of-love. “Meet you all the way,” which is repeated in the chorus, could be the subject agreeing completely with the split that his Rosanna has initiated, or on the other hand, he could be making this statement as a plea meaning, “Yes, I agree with everything you say wholeheartedly, just please come back.”
On to track 2, Make Believe. This song is just as blatantly obvious about its meaning as Rosanna. The first words of the song are “Why don’t we make believe we’re in love again,” indicating the subject’s desire for just a small fragment of the love that he and his lover once shared. Throughout the song the words “always remember” are sung as backing vocals as Kimball, who takes the lead on this one, follows up with scenarios like “the day we met in the pouring rain. Breaking this one down lyrically, it seems like mostly a desperate plea to bring back the love even if it is only “make believe.”
I Won’t Hold You Back is a spectacular ballad sung by Steve Lukather, finally closing the situation with the subject finally letting go of his lost lover. It is very slow, piano driven, and Lukather’s vocals are clear and smooth. Throughout Toto’s early career, before Joseph Williams entered the scene, Lukather seemed to have been the one always chosen to perform the vocals for the ballads. For example, 99 from the not-so-successful album Hydra (1979) was performed by Lukather, as well as If It’s The Last Night from Isolation (1981). Perhaps it had something to do with the smoothness I mentioned about Lukather’s voice during this time period. Over the years, his voice became more hard-edge and rock and roll.
The rest of the track listing of Toto IV (including Good For You, It’s A Feeling, Afraid Of Love, Lovers In The Night, We Made It, Waiting For Your Love, and Africa) are all general songs about Love that follow the concept that Toto has been about for all these years. One thing is certain about this band, they know how to write both a catchy tune and a soulful ballad about love (as well as probably having the most songs titled with a Woman’s name). However, there is a track on the album sung by seemingly one of the most overlooked members of the band, Steve Porcaro, brother to the late Jeff Porcaro, original drummer and founder of Toto, and Mike Porcaro, second official bassist of Toto, who also passed away from ALS in 2015. The song is titled It’s A Feeling and it takes a turn from Toto’s love theme that they have going on with the album. Instead of being about Love Gone Lost or being a sucker in love, it seems to lead more toward the idea of being in a complex relationship with a woman who was never really his in the first place. The lyric “It’s a feeling, you never belonged to me,” clearly gives this idea away. The song itself has a sort of eerie feel about it, as if it were something you would hear walking down the street when there’s someone stealthily following behind you.
Finally, we have reached everyone’s favorite track: Africa. There is not much to say about this song as even the band members cannot say what the song means. The writer of the song, Toto’s pianist David Paich, tacked it onto Toto IV as a “last-minute addition” without really realizing it would have so much success and eventually become a staple song of the 80’s. “It was a rogue, fluke kind of thing that pops up every once in awhile,” Paich said about the song as it climbed the charts, eventually reaching the no. 1 spot like no other tune about a social worker (yes, really) has ever done. For more information on the story of Africa and a Q & A with David Paich, click the link I have provided at the bottom of the essay.
For the album as a whole, it is clear to see why (without evaluating and analyzing and thinking too much about it) it was such a huge success. There are cheesy love ballads, funky tunes to dance to, and catchy songs that make great karaoke killers. The band itself during this era was phenomenal with the legendary Jeff Porcaro and Lenny Castro (percussion) providing that tribal sound in Africa, Steve Lukather bringing rock and roll to Rosanna and Afraid of Love, Bobby Kimball with the soul, and David Paich adding character with his writing style. At the 25th Grammys, the album won 7 awards, including best album and best record for “Rosanna.”
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Peace, Love, and Rock and Roll!
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