40 Years Ago: Toto ‘IV': Beyond ‘Africa’
Toto scored four Top 10 hits, but "Africa" remains the band's lone chart-topper, a concert sing-along staple and their signature song.
Composed by David Paich with a key rhythmic assist from Jeff Porcaro, "Africa" went gold after arriving on April 8, 1982, as part of Toto IV. But its legend continued to grow into the new century, capped by Weezer's celebrated fan-requested cover of the song.
"I'm sure [Weezer frontman] Rivers [Cuomo] was like, This is a joke!" stalwart Toto member Steve Lukather told the Tampa Bay Times in 2018. "And look what happened! Now they've got to play it for the rest of their life, just like I do!"
"Africa" has now been RIAA-certified six-times platinum. That's quite a turnaround for a group once brutally described by Rolling Stone as pros with no poetry.
They weren't alone in giving a side-eye to the effortlessly polished, yet surprisingly diverse Toto. "We were hated very much by the mainstream, and there are still a few people hanging on to that grudge," Lukather acknowledged. "But a new generation of people is finding us."
Along the way, however, the rest of Toto IV tended to get lost, despite including three other Top 40 hits in "Rosanna" (No. 2), "Make Believe" (No. 30) and "I Won't Hold You Back" (No. 10). It actually would have been a career-defining record for Toto, even without the presence of "Africa."
Listen to Toto's 'Good for You'
"I mean, if you really wanna know my true opinion of what the band Toto sounds like for real, I would use 'Rosanna,'" Lukather told Billboard in 2018. "It has everything that Toto is — the groove, the solos, the multiple vocals. Is it rock? Is it funk? Is it pop? You know, that's really what we are: We're an amalgamation of all the music we grew up digging."
The drum-tight "Good for You," one of this project's lesser-known gems, ended up relegated to the flip side of the "Africa" single. But it remains an emblematic showcase for soon-to-depart singer Bobby Kimball, who cowrote it with Lukather. Kimball matches the song's unvarnished carnal desire, lyric by lyric, performing with a reckless, edgy abandon.
The band does the rest, offering a Cuisinart-y blend of genre styles and feel: There's a soaring, almost proggy synth riff (it's one part early Keith Emerson, one part Point of Know Return-era Kansas); an unforgettably earworm-y chorus; a dream-sequence middle-eight; and, finally, a scorching solo by Lukather at the fade. And, through it all, they never let go of this relentless, R&B-infused groove.
It's a planet away from "Africa," and another example of how Toto – and Toto IV – refused to be pigeonholed. They offered soaring love paeans like "Rosanna" – featuring another eye-popping turn at the synth by Steve Porcaro – then floored it for "Make Believe." They resurrected an unfinished thought from Kimball for "Waiting for Your Love," while also making room for Porcaro's sleekly ruminative "It's a Feeling."
Pushed along by a record label miffed over the failure of 1981's light-selling – and, perhaps notably, harder-edged – Turn Back, Toto were reborn. "We definitely felt like our backs were up against the wall," Steve Porcaro told Billboard. "They wanted us to deliver. We pretty much did whatever the hell we wanted to do in the studio. We had never felt any kind of pressure before, but boy, we were definitely feeling it at that time."
Listen to Toto's 'It's a Feeling'
The wonder of it all is that so much of it sprung from the mind of Paich. He wrote three tracks and cowrote three others not titled "Africa" on the 10-song LP. If their No. 1 hit starts to feel like something of an addendum amid an embarrassment of Toto riches, that's because it was.
"We had finished our record, so when I started writing ['Africa'], they were like, 'Dave, why don't you save this for your solo album?'" Paich told Grantland in 2015. "It's kind of the joke: When someone writes a song that doesn’t really fit into the Toto mold, the joke is everybody says, 'Save that for your solo album.' So the band kind of indulged me and let me start working on this track for it. This one barely made it; it just got on the end of the Toto IV album."
No Toto LP, it seems, was complete without a trusty Lukather-sung ballad – and IV included arguably his very best in "I Won't Hold You Back."
The single shot up the chart in 1983 after its parent LP won a stunning six Grammys, including record, album and producer of the year. (They further sweetened things by adding backing vocals by Eagles' Timothy B. Schmit.) Ironically, "I Won't Hold You Back" dates back to Toto's previous album but didn't fit its more regimented rock focus.
"A lot of people were bringing other types of songs to the party," Lukather said in 2011. "It became more of a band-written record. That was when the band came into its own. After Turn Back wasn't much of a hit, everybody jumped on it. We wanted to make something great to prove that we could. That album [Toto IV] turned into a centerpiece of our career."