Toto: A Band of First-Call Session Musicians
The formation of the LA-based band Toto was an incredible assembly of musicians and songwriters. By the time the band came together in 1977, keyboardist David Paich had already won an Emmy Award for Best Song or Theme for music he co-wrote with his father (Marty Paich) for an episode of the TV series Ironside, and a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for co-writing the #1 hit “Lowdown” with Boz Scaggs. Lead guitarist Steve Lukather was already regarded as a wunderkind, and one of the most sought-after session musicians– playing on records for artists like Aretha Franklin, Tommy Bolan, Diana Ross, and Warren Zevon, as well as Boz Scaggs. Drummer Jeff Porcaro and his brother, keyboardist Steve Porcaro were also highly respected session players. Veteran bass player David Hungate and lead singer Bobby Kimball completed the all-star group that seemed destined to dominate the music industry.
Predictably, Toto’s self-titled debut album in 1978 reflected the esteemed pedigree of its band members, selling well over 2 million units in the U.S. alone, and yielding the #5 pop/ rock smash “Hold the Line.” Toto’s second album ‘Hydra’ surprisingly did not match the success of their first LP, and their third album ‘Turn Back’ fell even further off the pace of their premiere.
The group started to work on their fourth album under intense pressure from their record label (Columbia) to return to their multi-platinum status. As co-founders Lukather and Paich explained it, the band was determined to pull out all the stops and make their next release Toto IV a seminal record.
Toto IV Earns Popular and Critical Acclaim
Toto IV got off to a roaring start in 1982, when the first single from the album “Rosanna” shot to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained at that position for 5 straight weeks. The tune busted the Top 10 in Canada, the Netherlands. Norway, South Africa, and Switzerland. The band’s objective to reach new heights for their fourth album was working well.
After the massive success of “Rosanna”, it was decided that the second single would be an experimental track written by Paich & Jeff Porcaro titled “Africa.”
Toto’s “Africa” Experiment Exceeds all Expectations
The concept for “Africa” was inspired by David’s frequent perusing of issues of the magazine National Geographic, and a haunting documentary about human suffering in Africa that he watched on late night TV in the early 80s. David began to experiment in his living room with a cutting-edge synthesizer called the CS-80, and discovered that the instrument could simulate a brassy flute effect that fit the African vibe that Paich imagined for what became “Africa”. Steve Porcaro worked with various studio equipment to produce a kalimba sound, while brother Jeff began composing the instrumental loop with an exotic percussion feel that gave the song a rhythmic African groove line. It was a complex arrangement that only a band with a genius ensemble like Toto could produce.
The genesis of “Africa” started with the chorus that David had written “I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never had”. The chorus set the tone for the evolution of the song that each band member had a hand in constructing.
Lukather calls “Africa” a “wild card song,” because it was very different from anything they had done, but the band’s bold decision to release the tune as their second single during such a pivotal time in their career proved to be a brilliant move. “Africa” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983, and also hit #1 in Canada. It peaked at #3 in the U.K. and broke into the Top 10 in Ireland, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria, and Switzerland.
Weezer’s “Africa” Cover Tops Charts
“Africa” has been covered by many bands, the most notable being the 2018 version by Weezer.
The idea for Weezer to remake “Africa” originated from a tweet on Twitter that was sent by a 14-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, named Mary Klym to band frontman Rivers Cuomo. Mary tweeted “@riverscuomo– it’s about time you blessed the rains down in Africa.” Ironically, Weezer released a version of Toto’s “Rosanna” first, and finally relented to social media pressure and unleashed their cover of “Africa.” It was their first song to hit the pop charts since 2009. Weezer’s version of “Africa” went to #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became a heavily played #1 track on Billboard’s Top Alternative Songs chart in the summer of 2018.
Toto IV Meets Toto’s Lofty Ambitions
Toto IV achieved the band’s lofty ambition, becoming a global blockbuster that sold over 3 million copies in America, and nearly 5 million units worldwide. The album garnered six Grammy Awards in 1983, including Album of the Year, Producer of the Year, and Record of the Year for “Rosanna.”