KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

TOTO Part 1 – Thoughts On An Artist / Love Isn’t Always On Time

I’ve been excited at the prospect of revisiting the Toto catalog for a while but it took until last week to finally find enough time to properly devote to their music. They were staples on pop and rock radio stations in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s but, unlike their AOR contemporaries like Journey, Styx and Foreigner, they never had a late-career resurgence (at least not in the U.S., their home country) which would introduce their music to new generations of music lovers. I get the sense that, to most rock fans, Toto is a collection of slick studio musicians who record faceless rockers & sappy ballads, and they’re as far from “cool” as possible. Well, it’s true that they are all studio musicians…among the most in-demand players of the ‘70s, ‘80s & beyond…and they did write some sappy ballads (mostly good ones)…but they’re a hard-rock band at heart, mixing in elements of jazz, soul, funk & progressive rock unlike any other bands with whom they’re usually associated.

Toto Photo (circa 1978)

The original lineup, which lasted through the first four albums, consisted of keyboardist David Paich, guitarist Steve Lukather, lead vocalist Bobby Kimball, drummer Jeff Porcaro, keyboardist Steve Porcaro and bassist David Hungate (all but Jeff & David added lead &/or backing vocals as well). In addition to the hundreds of recording sessions they were part of, most of them were members of Boz Scaggs’ band during his mid-‘70s commercial peak, with Paich co-writing two of Scaggs’ biggest hits, “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.” Paich is the son of renowned jazz musician/arranger Marty Paich, and the Porcaro brothers are the sons of jazz percussion great Joe Porcaro, so there was clearly a lineage of musical giants behind Toto. Kimball possessed the same kind of soaring vocal range as Journey’s Steve Perry, Foreigner’s Lou Gramm and Boston’s Brad Delp but, unlike those singers, I don’t think he’s gotten the recognition he deserves.

Toto Photo (from Self-Titled Debut)

Then there’s Mr. Lukather, who is the equal of just about any guitar player you could name over the last 40 years. His combination of killer riffs and tasteful lead guitar work make even their lesser material worth hearing, and he’s a great songwriter & singer as well. Obviously there’s a ton of talent in this band, and they have a discography filled with major & minor hits, so why aren’t they more highly regarded? I’m not sure I’ll be able to answer that since I can’t speak for critics, radio programmers & close-minded fans, but as I revisit their catalog over the coming weeks (and get reacquainted with some albums I haven’t played in a long time) I hope my enthusiasm…and some well-chosen audio samples…will convince you to explore their music beyond the handful of hit singles you already know. Toto isn’t for everyone, but I think you’ll be surprised by the breadth of styles they cover (even veering into heavy metal at times) and the sheer number of melodic hooks throughout their discography. But enough of my preamble, let’s get to their albums.

Toto - TotoToto got off to an auspicious start with the double-platinum Top 10 album, Toto (1978). I didn’t get a copy until a few years later but I knew I would love these guys based on the strength of their debut single, “Hold The Line” (more on that below). They followed up with a couple of less-successful singles but domination of the pop charts was probably not on their list of priorities. Instead, Toto is a showcase for their diversity as musicians, arrangers and vocalists. More than any subsequent album, it was also a platform for Paich’s songwriting, with 8 of the 10 songs credited solely to him. They also included the first in a long line of song titles featuring a woman’s name with the album-closing “Angela,” to be followed by no fewer than 9 other such titles on their next 6 albums.

The Essentials:
♪ “I’ll Supply The Love” – A stomping melodic rocker that’s similar to “Do Ya” (The Move, Electric Light Orchestra) during the chorus. The verses are driving & funky, and overall it’s a great ‘70s AOR tune that establishes their unique group harmonies and Kimball as a powerful frontman. I love Lukather’s simple guitar riff as well as the cool, horn-driven instrumental section.
[Toto – “I’ll Supply The Love”] [audio http://k003.kiwi6.com/hotlink/c6qoveukx6/I_ll_Supply_the_Love.mp3]

“Georgy Porgy” – Lukather sings lead on this soul/jazz/pop hybrid, with Cheryl Lynn (who sang my favorite disco-era song, “Got To Be Real”) taking over for the chorus, repeating the nursery rhyme refrain, “Georgy Porgy puddin’ pie, kissed the girls and made them cry.” Sweet strings augment the tasteful and brief guitar solo. Hungate & Jeff Porcaro deserve credit for the subtly funky rhythm track.
♪ “Girl Goodbye”– It may run past the 6-minute mark but there’s not a wasted note, making it a uniquely tight epic. I love the chugging rhythm and Porcaro’s tasteful jazz/prog drumming elevates every section of the song. Kimball sounds a lot like Boz Scaggs here, and Lukather’s blistering solo proves that he was a force to be reckoned with.
♪ “Hold The Line” – The first time I heard this on the radio I was completely floored, and I can honestly say that I’ve been equally thrilled every time I’ve listened to it over the years. From the snare hit and bouncy piano melody in the intro to the combination of guitar riffs, loping-yet-driving drum pattern and Kimball’s crystal clear vocal performance, this is as good as it gets, with Lukather proving once again that he’s a guitar god (and he was only 20 when the album was recorded).

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Child’s Anthem” – A dramatic instrumental that opens the album, with stellar piano, tasty synth, staccato rhythms & an overall orchestral feel. Goes through various movements in under 3 minutes and in many ways it’s the album’s overture.
  • “Manuela Run” – A bouncy piano-led tune with Paich on lead vocals, a nice groove, tight harmonies and a memorable 4-note guitar hook. The chorus (“You better run, run Manuela, uela run”) is the strongest part.
  • “Takin’ It Back” – Steve Porcaro wrote & sang this one, which begins with off-kilter synth before leading into light piano & a jazzy pop rhythm. His voice is smooth, not dissimilar to Lukather’s but with less power. Speaking of Lukather, once again he shines on both nylon string and electric guitar.
  • “Rockmaker” – A straightforward 4/4 pop/rock song written & sung by Paich. His vocal line in the verses (“Don’t know quite what to saaaay”) reminds me of Tommy James & The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.” It remains super catchy throughout, and I love Kimball’s response vocals in the second half.

Toto - HydraAccountants at their record label couldn’t have been thrilled when they delivered sophomore album Hydra (1979), a collection of sometimes challenging and mostly non-commercial songs. With 7 of 8 tracks running 4:45 or longer this was not a mainstream pop album, but it did feature one single that cracked the Top 30. They obviously took advantage of the clout from having a hit record by expanding their sound, especially on the 7-1/2 minute title track. In many ways it’s not a big departure from the previous album, with all the elements of their sound still intact, but only a few songs have the same kind of immediate impact. It’s not quite as consistent as its predecessor but includes the same number of essential songs, and it’s the kind of album that keeps getting better each time you play it.

The Essentials:
♪ “Hydra” – The aforementioned opening track, with songwriting credit to all six band members, begins with a quiet 30-second intro followed by a jazzy piano groove with jazzy accents, then an insistent rhythm that’s capped off by a riff-heavy rock section (“Do you want your freedom? Do you want my love?”). It’s an early example of their prog-rock tendencies, with impeccable musicianship, great starts & stops, scat-type vocals and strong harmonies.
“St. George And The Dragon” – Rhythmically this one is similar to Hall & Oates’ “Kiss On My List” (which would be released the following year) with the bouncy electric piano & metronomic groove, but it’s beefed up with more instrumentation than that pop gem. The lyrics are fantasy-based, another nod to prog-rock or even Ronnie James Dio’s work with Rainbow and Dio (“Is it true that he’s a mighty warrior and a viper of the first degree, I’ve been sentenced here to slay the giant, geld this fear I cannot see”). Lukather provides some solid riffs and there are plenty of subtle rhythmic shifts. “I can tell by the look in your eye, you’d better watch yourself, St. George is on his way” is an excellent melodic hook.
♪ “99” – The only minor hit single from Hydra which I always assumed was about Barbara Feldon’s secret agent character on the brilliant ‘60s TV show Get Smart, but I’ve read differing stories about the subject matter. I love Lukather’s smooth vocals (“I never thought it would happen, I feel quite the same”) accompanying the midtempo light-funk groove with jazzy inflections. It would best be described as “soft rock” but don’t let that scare you away. The drumming of Jeff Porcaro & Lenny Castro’s added percussion give it a special vibe, and Lukather’s subdued soloing is another highlight.
♪ “Mama” – This could almost pass for a Steely Dan song, especially when the fast bouncy groove kicks in, and Kimball’s voice is astounding; high & powerful. I love the section with “Girl you’d better take my hand…and say what you mean to say,” and the instrumental break with Paich & Lukather trading off piano & guitar licks is wonderful. Simply an awesome song.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • Toto Photo (circa 1979)“Lorraine” – A pretty piano ballad during the verses that switches to a steadier groove (“It’s almost over Lorraine…it’s such a funny day”) for the choruses. Not a great song but I like the juxtaposition of the two sections.
  • “All Us Boys” – A driving rocker with a muted guitar sound that has a very enjoyable slow section (“Mothers tell your daughters…to stay away from rock & roll”) and nice harmonies, but it’s a bit generic otherwise and doesn’t need to be 5+ minutes.

Toto - Turn BackThird album Turn Back (1981) has a more commercial sheen and it’s a tighter collection than Hydra, but unfortunately it didn’t reverse the band’s fortunes, not even cracking the Top 100 Albums chart. It’s obvious that they were striving for a radio-friendly sound, or perhaps the label forced that on them but, in spite of the album’s lack of success, they still managed to deliver a number of noteworthy songs, including one should-have-been classic. Three songs were released as singles and all of them sank without a trace. Until this past week I never gave Turn Back more than a handful of listens and only a couple of songs made any lasting impact. I’m happy to report that I finally gained a new appreciation for it and, even though it’s not quite as strong as the two albums that came before it (or its massively successful follow-up), it’s no longer a dark horse in their catalog for me.

The Essentials:
♪ “Goodbye Elenore” – Their first truly great song with a female name, featuring an amazing groove, brilliant arrangement, incredible vocals from Kimball & Lukather and a driving groove that could only be the work of Jeff Porcaro. I’m not sure why it wasn’t a big hit…perhaps it came out a year or two too late…but it’s a natural follow-up to “Hold The Line.” I love the progressive middle section, especially the guitar & organ interplay.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • Toto Photo (Goodbye Elenore single)“Gift With A Golden Gun” – This could have played over the opening credits of an early-‘80s action movie. I like how the music pauses during parts of the chorus, and the hook at “I can find…peace of mind” (with call-and-response harmonies) is a strong one that has gotten stuck in my head several times this week.
  • “Live For Today” – The first Toto song to be written & sung by Lukather and it’s a good one. It’s got a tight rhythm & a stabbing guitar riff and could be mistaken for Rick Springfield or John Waite. It’s not a classic but I like it a lot, especially how it opens up during the chorus: “Let’s live for today…tomorrow may never come.”
  • “I Think I Could Stand You Forever” – Lukather sings this Paich song that begins as a ballad with strummed acoustic guitars before heavy riffing & a splashy midtempo rock rhythm kicks in. His voice is strong & expressive; a nice contrast to the stratosphere-straddling Kimball. The chorus is my favorite part: “I’ve been waiting such a long, long time, I think I could stand you forever.”
  • “If It’s The Last Night” – Another successful pairing of Paich’s songwriting & Lukather’s vocals, featuring light percussion with soft piano, pretty verses and a simple, catchy, harmony-laden chorus: “If it’s the last night it oughta be left for lovin’, girl.”

The dwindling commercial fortunes between albums number 1 & 3 would signal the end of the road for many artists, but Toto’s label (Columbia Records) stood by them and were rewarded with the biggest record of their career a year later. In my next post I’ll discuss that Grammy winning classic along with the rest of their albums from that decade. For now I’ll continue to bask in the glow of the first three records. Spending time with them this past week has been a pleasure, and I’m curious to find out if any of my readers feel the same way about them.

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38 comments on “TOTO Part 1 – Thoughts On An Artist / Love Isn’t Always On Time

  1. deKE
    January 10, 2015

    Great write up Rich! Too be honest In the early 80s I was a Toto snob as they drove me crazy with Africa and and there sound. When I finally grew up by the late 80s(haha) I could appreciate TotoI love how you do a full on history of everything with your artists and fill in the spots with your personal details of songs and albums!
    Great,great stuff…look forward to your reviews …..

    Like

    • Thanks, Derek. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I completely understand the snobbery about Toto, especially in the ’80s. I loved them back then but they’ve never been a fashionable band, and at their commercial peak no one really took them seriously (other than Grammy voters, which I’ll talk about in the next post). I appreciate you stopping by & sharing your thoughts on a band you don’t even know that well.

      Cheers.
      Rich

      Like

  2. J.
    January 10, 2015

    Great post. Can’t say I’ve ever really paid much attention to Toto … but another band to add to my list of artists and albums to check out at some point!

    Like

    • Thanks J. As I mentioned in the post, they won’t appeal to everyone, but if you enjoy catchy songs, great musicianship and strong vocals, you can’t do much better than Toto. I hope you find some pleasant surprises during this series.

      Best…
      Rich

      Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        January 10, 2015

        Always great to discover new music. Most o’ the stuff I’m discovering lately is older stuff I’ve either missed or ignored!

        Like

      • I would say my musical purchases are split evenly between (a) new artists, (b) newly discovered older artists, (c) new releases by artists I already like and (d) reissues, compilations & box sets. As long as you keep an open mind…and open ears…there’s a never-ending supply of inspiring music out there. If I live to 200 I’ll still only scratch the surface.

        Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        January 11, 2015

        my purchasing is mostly the newly discovered older artists, new releases by my favourites and buying the vinyl release of some of my favourite albums (replacing CD copies) – when it comes to releases from the last 30 years those tend to be reissues.

        Like

      • I find it amusing that the music industry has come full circle from people replacing their LPs with CDs in the ’80s & ’90s to replacing those same CDs with vinyl in the ’10s. I’ve only done that in a couple of instances because (a) I already have a sizable LP collection and (b) new pressings of classic LPs are ridiculously expensive. Are you getting used copies of the original LPs? Depending on the title that can be a much more affordable option.

        Like

      • J.
        January 11, 2015

        When I can, Rich. I’ve found getting hold of the originals to be more cost effective. Like you say, some of the reissues are ridiculously expensive – £30 for Little Feat albums is silly when I can pick them up used for about £4!

        Like

      • Great point. As nice as 180-gram vinyl reissues can be, the cost can be prohibitive. Sure, they probably sound better than the original vinyl pressing, but not $20-$25 better.

        Like

  3. ianbalentine
    January 10, 2015

    I loved this post, Rich, and I am looking forward to being educated! As a kid I would always get Toto and April Wine mixed up. Have to admit I have never delved too deeply in their waters, but maybe that’ll change. Glad to have you back.

    Like

    • Hi Ian. I never equated April Wine and Toto, but maybe because I didn’t hear much April Wine when I was younger. I have a compilation and a live album of theirs but other than “Just Between You And Me” I can’t think of any other songs they did off the top of my head. Just based on that song, though, I can understand your confusion. Thanks for bringing it up. I hope you make some new discoveries in this series. Maybe they’ll even earn a place on your list of reasons why the ’80s didn’t suck.

      Best…
      Rich

      Like

      • ianbalentine
        January 10, 2015

        I was thinking more along the lines of Say Hello, or I Like To Rock, or maybe even Sign Of The Gypsy Queen.

        Like

      • I’ll have to give those April Wine songs another listen to see if I hear the similarities that you do. Thanks for the suggestion.

        Like

  4. Daddydinorawk
    January 11, 2015

    I’ve almost always dismissed Toto as purveyors of AOR fluff, though clearly as a collective they are very good musicians and I’ve always loved the song Africa. I like the proggy middle 8th’s here, you know I love a good prog influenced pop tune as much as anyone (hello Ambrosia). Never heard the cut Mama before, I like it. Not too lightweight with very good musicianship and production value.

    I didn’t realize the factoids about David Paich. Lido and Lowdown are tunes that have been in my conscience since they came out, I had no idea he was behind them. Respect!

    Like

    • Toto definitely created their share of “AOR fluff” but that’s only one aspect of what they do. A few minutes ago I made a reference to Ambrosia in a comment on a music forum in a discussion about Toto, so you & I are on the same wavelength. Neither band gets the respect they deserve. Glad you have new-found respect for Toto based on the Boz Scaggs connection.

      Like

  5. 80smetalman
    January 11, 2015

    Great post! The problem I had with Toto was that because they put out the more hard rock “Hold the Line” first, I assumed they were going to be a hard rock band. Some of the later stuff was a bit of a let down for me at first. It was when I took the time to actually listen to them that I learned to appreciate what talented musicians these guys all were.

    Like

    • Thanks for checking in, metalman. If you’re not familiar with their albums after their commercial peak, especially some of their releases in the ’90s & ’00s, you’re in for a surprise regarding their hard rock credentials. They may have a reputation as a soft rock band but that’s only a part of the story. And as you mentioned, there’s no questioning their musical abilities.

      Cheers.
      Rich

      Like

  6. 1537
    January 11, 2015

    Enjoyed this Rich, I never heard an album of theirs but I did like all the big, cheesy singles – some of the videos on the other hand, haven’t quite stood the test of time so well…

    Like

    • Thanks, Mr. 1537. Glad you enjoyed this post in spite of not being a big fan. I see those singles as awesome as opposed to cheesy, but I understand why a lot of people feel the way you do. As for the videos, few artists made it out of the ’80s without a lot of terrible videos to their name. They may have been terrible but they also gave MTV something to play in the early days, which helped them sell millions of albums. Not a bad trade-off, right?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. stephen1001
    January 12, 2015

    I’m afraid before this post I only knew their song about the continent – glad to hear there’s much more worthy of exploration!

    Like

    • Hi Geoff. You weren’t familiar with “Hold The Line” or “Rosanna”? I figured there are a lot of people who don’t know much about Toto, but those songs along with “Africa” were pretty popular. They’re a great band that should have a better reputation, especially in the US.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  8. Daddydinorawk
    January 12, 2015
    • Thanks for sharing that link. Needless to say I was excited to read about their upcoming album last week, as I was preparing the first post in this series. I will likely be done with their current discography at least a month before it’s released, so I’ll probably move on to my next artist and hold off my “In Conclusion” post on Toto until sometime in April after I’ve had a chance to spend some time with the new record. It’s a good time to be a Toto fan.

      Like

      • Daddydinorawk
        January 12, 2015

        You have inspired me to check some more of the back catalog. Stranger In Town is a good song I had forgotten all about.

        Like

      • I’m thrilled that this post inspired you to check out more of their music. I was just listening to “Stranger In Town” along with the next batch of albums as I begin preparing for Post #2. That is a great song and has long been a favorite of mine.

        Like

  9. danicapiche
    January 12, 2015

    Hi Rich,
    I haven’t heard much Toto, with the exception of Hold the Line which is fantastic, and maybe a couple of other songs.
    I’ll give them a listen based on your discussion here.
    Thanks for another excellent post 🙂
    Danica

    Like

    • Hi Danica. I would be surprised if you’re not familiar with some of their subsequent songs, especially the hits from Toto IV, which I will be discussing in my next post. Toto doesn’t have the greatest reputation among rock & roll purists, but I think they’re vastly underrated. I’m listening to the next batch of albums as I type this, and even their dated-sounding mid-’80s output has a number of gems. Hope you discover some new favorites during this series. Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. galley99
    January 14, 2015

    “99” is one of my all-time favorite songs.

    Like

  11. Lewis Johnston
    January 19, 2015

    A very enjoyable and informative read, while I knew quite a lot about TOTO this has also shown me how much I did not know. I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at the variety they as a band have to offer. Certainly there is more to them than the hits I have heard on the radio. This is a very good introduction and I am looking forward to subsequent posts in this series and getting more acquainted with their body of work.

    Cheers.

    Lewis.

    Like

    • Thanks you, Lewis. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I think you’ll continue to be (hopefully pleasantly) surprised by the wide scope of music covered in their discography. I hope to have Part 2 completed in the next day or two, and I’m already listening to the batch of albums to be covered in Part 3. So much great music I’m re-discovering.

      Cheers!
      Rich

      Like

  12. Heavy Metal Overload
    January 23, 2015

    Hey Rich, these are great posts. Very interesting reading for me. I’ve had a 2CD comp of Toto (The Essential…) for years and I really enjoy it but I’ve never moved on to buying any individual albums. I’m at the “Compilation or Catalog?” stage with them!

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback. For most people a single- or double-CD collection would be more than enough Toto, but I’ve long been a completist when it comes to their discography. If you check back in later in this series you might be pleasantly surprised by the heaviness of some of their material. It probably won’t be enough for you to switch from “Compilation ” to “Catalog,” but maybe that’ll change somewhere down the road.

      Like

      • Heavy Metal Overload
        January 23, 2015

        I’m sure I will switch at some point when it feels right but the comp does scratch the itch at the moment. I have a notion about the later music from a song Caught in the Balance which is possibly my favourite Tototune. So I’ll be reading all these posts with huge interest and taking notes!

        Like

      • “Caught In The Balance” is on Mindfields, which I’ll be covering in Part 4. Glad your favorite Tototune (nice word, by the way) is one of their lesser-known songs.

        Like

  13. David Burian
    July 22, 2015

    Hey Rich…great job on this blog! I’ve been a TOTO fan since I was 16; I’m now 50. I’ve been revisiting their earlier albums and just have a few comments to toss into the mix. I’m a much bigger fan of these albums than ‘Kingdom, Tambu, and Mindfields’, for what it’s worth. Maybe that’s why they don’t play as many of those more recent songs in concert? I’m a huge fan of “Girl Goodbye”; it really aggravated me that they ‘tease’ the song on their latest DVD but then play it with a totally different arrangement! I’m surprised that you didn’t mention Jeff’s early rendition of the ‘Bernard Purdie shuffle’ on “Mama”; one that he would revisit to great success a couple albums later on “Rosanna”…he even plays similar fills! On “Turn Back”, I think you should give ‘English Eyes’ another listen…the central piece is actually pretty interesting with Luke wailing before transitioning back; and a fairly ominous but tasty solo closing it out. Speaking of, one of my favorite solos is on “I Think I Could Stand You Forever”, with Luke giving that slow build before hammering the pinnacle; unique in such an otherwise typically sedate ballad. I’d love to hear them revisit those 2 songs in particular on an upcoming tour. Anyway, glad to say that I agree pretty much with your assessments on the other selections. Concise, stylish, and on target. Way to go.

    Like

    • Hi David. Thanks so much for stopping by & sharing your thoughts on Toto. We’re about the same age and have liked them for nearly the same amount of time. Even though we might not share favorite songs their music has had a similar impact on both of us. As for your suggestion of giving “English Eyes” another listen, that won’t be necessary. I only write a post after listening to each album at least 3 or 4 times. It’s rare that I’ve gone back to an album I’ve written about at a later date & felt differently about them, but maybe that will happen in the distant future. I love all your comments about specific songs and Lukather’s brilliant soloing. Thanks again.

      Cheers!
      Rich

      Like

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