In the late-Seventies, the members of Toto were some of the most in-demand musicians in the world. Many of them had played together on albums by Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan and Michael Jackson. Finally, they decided to join forces to create a very sophisticated version of arena rock. Knowing that these men had the chops to play anything from jazz to R&B to pop, it was surprising when critics heard the first release from the self-titled debut album called “Hold the Line.” But, teens like me ate it up. And, Toto was off to the races.
After the huge debut album, Toto had decreasing success with their next two albums. But, in 1982, the band fell upon an arena rock style that rarely hid their R&B roots on their album Toto IV. This album went on to sell loads of albums, in addition to winning the Grammy for Album of the Year. The album was so big that four songs were big hit songs, including the Grammy-winning Record of the Year and Song of the Year song “Rosanna”, which was written about the late-drummer Jeff Porcaro’s then-girlfriend Rosanne Arquette. That song peaked at number 2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 Singles chart.
But, the big hit from the album, and the one that seems to have stood the test of time, was the off-beat slow song “Africa.” This song showed the range that the band was truly capable of. Toto was able to pulled a neo-African rhythm while staying true to arena rock’s DNA. Now, I have seen that song covered on the T.V. show Glee and have even seen the song done acapella by college and high school choirs. The song did hit number one during the soft rock/yacht rock era, the band’s only number one song.
Two other songs were released but to less success. For the life of me, I will NEVER understand why the last song released from the album, “I Won’t Hold You Back”. The song was a classic slow-dance song. As someone who DJ-ed a few dances back in the Eighties, I know the value of a good underused slow song to people who want to turn the dance into a big make-out session. And, this song worked every time I played it toward the end of the night. I saw it. I may have even lived it, wink wink, nudge nudge.
After Toto IV, the band did not experience the success of that fourth album. And it may have been due to the fact that the band’s membership has been in constant flux. Drummer Jeff Porcaro passed away in 1992. The current line-up looks very little like the original, with guitarist Steve Lukather, keyboardist David Paich, and keyboardist Steve Porcaro are only original members left in the band, even though Steve Porcaro sat out from 1987 until his return last year. On the other hand, David Paich took a break from the band during the 2007-08 tour but has been back ever since.
But, for one magic year, Toto was on top of the world. And, honestly, the album holds up well, with great playing and great songs. But, that seemed to be the thing about the second generation of faceless bands, their success was short-lived.