Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

TOTO Part 2 – Kilimanjaro Rises Like Olympus Above The Serengeti

Toto IV (1982), the final album recorded by the original Toto lineup of David Paich, Steve Lukather, Bobby Kimball, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Porcaro and David Hungate, reversed the commercial slide that followed their double-platinum debut, selling more than 3 million copies in the U.S. and winning multiple Grammy awards (including Album Of The Year). It remains their highest-charting record and includes their only #1 single plus three others that reached the Top 40. In spite of this mainstream success, they were never fully embraced by critics or rock fans. Sure, they were laughing all the Toto - Toto IVway to the bank, but it had to sting a little that they weren’t taken seriously beyond fellow musicians & more open-minded fans who appreciated their instrumental & songwriting prowess.

I remember reading a number of articles at the time about how all those awards & sales figures were merely a reflection of the sad state of the music industry, but the fact is that Toto delivered a nearly perfect album at just the right time. It has a slicker, more commercial sound than their prior releases, at times reminding me of David Foster’s production & arrangements on Chicago’s Chicago 16 (which was released a few months after Toto IV), but nearly every song is a winner, and there’s a harder edge to several tracks that you might not expect if you only know the radio hits. It probably won’t win over any punk or hardcore fans, but anyone who appreciates well-crafted melodic songs with incredible musicianship, multiple lead vocalists with distinctive voices and strong harmonies will find a lot to love on Toto IV. The record business recovered in a big way the following year thanks in large part to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and it should come as no surprise that four members of Toto, already some of the most in-demand studio musicians, were among Jackson’s collaborators on that game-changing record.

Toto Photo (Grammy Awards 1983)

The Essentials:
♪ “Rosanna” – A deserving Top 5 smash that’s carried along by Jeff Porcaro’s version of the “Purdie Shuffle,” the unique shuffle groove created by Bernard Purdie and most famously played on Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” and “Babylon Sisters.” John Bonham also played a variation of this rhythm on Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain.” Of course, there’s so much more to this song than just that infectious groove: a fantastic arrangement with subtle dynamic shifts, including that quiet finger-snapping section (“Not quite a year since she went away”); tasty horns; solos on synth, keyboard and guitar; and Lukather & Kimball sharing lead vocals. The 5-1/2 minute album version is preferable to the much shorter single version, with each musician given ample time to shine.
♪ “Make Believe” – This single reached the lower part of the Top 40 chart and should have gone much higher. It’s top-notch “soft rock” with Kimball singing that great chorus: “Why don’t we make believe we’re in love again?”

♪ “Africa” – Toto’s biggest hit and their only #1 single. Featuring one of Paich’s strongest lead vocal performances, Jeff Porcaro’s fantastic semi-exotic rhythm track and that 8-note keyboard refrain, there’s never been a time I haven’t been happy to hear this song. Some people refer to it as the reason they think of Toto as cheesy light-rock, and I suppose it’s hard to argue if this is your only exposure to their music, but I love its unique atmosphere and especially the vocal interplay between Paich and Kimball in the chorus. I give Paich extra credit for seamlessly including “Kilimanjaro,” “Olympus” and “Serengeti” in a single line, hence the title of this blog post.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • Toto Photo (collage from Toto IV)“I Won’t Hold You Back” – A power ballad by Lukather that cracked the Top 10 and hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. I suppose this would be considered essential if you’re putting together a Toto compilation but, although I enjoy the song, it’s a little too long (at 5+ minutes) and lightweight, giving rock fans another reason to think of them as a wimpy band. Eagle Timothy B. Schmit adds vocals during the chorus.
  • “Good For You” – I love the bouncy piano with dramatic accents. It could pass for a Chicago song, especially with those synth-horn blasts. The chorus is fantastic: “I could be good for you, you could be good for me too.”
  • “It’s A Feeling” – Steve Porcaro wrote & sang this one, and it features a slightly off-kilter keyboard sound and a muted rhythm that perfectly captures the lyrics (“It’s a feeling, I don’t belong here”). His voice is a cross between Lukather and Donald Fagen. This is a hidden treat in the middle of the album.
  • “Afraid Of Love” – Lukather is in aggressive vocal form on this one, along with the driving rhythm and rockin’ guitar sound. The verses have a snarling intensity with killer riffs, and there’s a great chorus: “I’ve never been afraid of love ‘til I met you.”
  • “Lovers In The Night” – The verses of this Paich song are generic but the chorus, featuring an awesome guitar sound, makes the song worth mentioning: “Oooh, you know we’re lovers in the night.” Not far removed from Rick Springfield; I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing (it is for me).
  • “Waiting For Your Love” – A slinky, funky little tune with a reggae-inspired bass line in the verses that could pass for a Michael McDonald song. I like how it opens up at the chorus: “I’ve been waitin’ for your love, and it’s been here all the time right in front of me.”

Several factors conspired to make the follow-up to Toto IV a commercial & artistic disappointment. They experienced the first of many lineup changes when bassist David Hungate left (he was replaced by Mike Porcaro, the brother of Toto founders Jeff and Steve) and lead vocalist Bobby Kimball was Toto - Isolationreplaced by Dennis “Fergie” Frederiksen. For a band that was already lacking a central figure, changing singers after such a hugely successful record was already going to pose challenges; the fact that Frederiksen didn’t possess the power or unique tone of his predecessor, even though he had a strong voice, made matters worse. When Isolation (1984) finally hit store shelves 2-1/2 years after Toto IV they had missed their opportunity to strike while the iron was still hot. The biggest problem, however, was the fact that they didn’t come up with many memorable songs (the notes I wrote while revisiting Isolation last week included the words “generic,” “decent” and “non-descript” multiple times), and the often dated mid-‘80s production didn’t do them any favors…even though it sounded good at the time. They did manage to score one hit single, which has long been a personal favorite, and there are a couple of other tracks worth discussing, but this was by far their least enjoyable album up to that point.

The Essential:
♪ “Stranger In Town” – A Top 30 hit written & sung by Paich, and an excellent follow-up to “Africa” that might have been more successful if it was released a year earlier. Those moody “oooh”s create a cool atmosphere, and the driving rhythm, tasty synths & programmed percussion effects neatly updated Toto’s unique sound: melodic pop with rock guitar and modern flourishes.

Toto Photo (from Isolation)Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Carmen” – The album opens with this jaunty pop/rock tune. Paich and Frederiksen share lead vocals (I love their back-and-forth in the verses) and Lukather delivers a typically impressive guitar solo.
  • “Holyanna” – A bouncy piano-driven pop/rocker that initially sounds like Elton John. Features a peppy chorus (“Holyanna, Holyanna, girl, what you do to me…”), nice harmonies and an acoustic guitar adding an organic feel to the slick modern production. It’s far from a classic but certainly a standout on this album and worth multiple listens. A Beatles influence, as well as Jeff Lynne/ELO, can be heard in the backing vocals.

Toto - Dune SoundtrackUntil last week I had never heard Dune (Original Soundtrack Recording) (1984), Toto’s score for David Lynch’s sci-fi film based on the classic Frank Herbert novel, so I borrowed a copy from a friend and gave it a few listens. Unlike Queen, who did a great job four years earlier writing music for the Flash Gordon soundtrack, the 17 tracks here (including one by Brian Eno) rarely sound anything like Toto, even though Paich wrote 15 of them. The Vienna Symphony Orchestra adds some heft to the music but it could be the score to any number of films. “Dune (Desert Theme),” which is the 10th song, is the first to sound anything like the band, with programmed percussion along with solid drum fills, Tubular Bells-type synths and dramatic piano-and-guitar interplay. Closing track “Take My Hand” sounds a little like Pink Floyd, with its slow pace, lilting piano, guitar accents and a steady programmed rhythm. I’m glad I finally heard this soundtrack but it’s not an essential addition to their discography.

I lost interest in Toto for a while after Isolation, so for many years Fahrenheit (1986) slipped below my radar. It wasn’t until I got back on board for their next album, which I will discuss below, that I went back to hear what I had missed. The lineup of Toto - Fahrenheitmusicians remained the same as the previous album but they parted ways with Fergie Frederiksen, replacing him with Joseph Williams, the son of influential film composer John Williams. This was a major step in the right direction, as Williams possessed a much stronger and more identifiable voice. The album didn’t chart as highly as its predecessor but it did include two Top 40 hits, and while there are no all-time classics here the hit-to-miss ratio is much greater this time. The overall sound of the record is softer and lighter than anything else they had done, but hidden under that production haze you’ll find some excellent melodies and a few musical surprises (including a guest appearance by one of the biggest jazz musicians of all time).

Notable Tracks:

  • “Till The End” – The album opens with this slick, funky pop/rock song that’s not far removed from Richard Marx. Williams quickly establishes that he has a distinctive voice. I love the quieter choruses with those hushed “till the end” harmonies. It’s date-stamped to the mid-‘80s but still a solid tune that has the classic Toto sound.
  • Toto Photo (from Fahrenheit)“Without Your Love” – A soft, deliberately-paced ballad with generic verses but a melodic pop chorus (“It’s not the saaaame without your love”) and a biting guitar solo.
  • “I’ll Be Over You” – Another #1 Adult Contemporary hit that also cracked the Pop Top 20. It’s light as air with soft keys/synths, sparse percussion (and echo-y rimshots) and Lukather’s warm lead vocals. He also delivers a Neal Schon-worthy guitar solo, and Michael McDonald adds his inimitable vocals. It’s not my favorite song here…the production doesn’t help…but it’s very nice and I really like the pretty chorus: “As soon as my heart…stops…breakin’, anti-ci-pa-ting.”
  • “Fahrenheit” – Has a dramatic intro, like the soundtrack to a spy movie, with orchestra swells, but quickly morphs into a Fairlight synth-led, Prince-inspired rhythm. The bridge opens up with horns and a great melody (“I don’t care what they say about me, I’ve heard it all before”). The chorus (“Promise me tonight, all the love I need for the rest of my life”) has a great driving modern funk feel, and Lukather shreds on the guitar.
  • “Somewhere Tonight” – Light jazzy pop with reggae-ish percussion accents, pretty verses and catchy choruses highlighted by the harmonized “Somewhere tonight” and the soft response of “Someone’s crying.” Williams’ vocals are strong & distinctive, occasionally hinting at George Michael.
  • “Could This Be Love” – Carried along by an insistent midtempo groove with a repeated 3-note bass line. The bridge (“There’s a bit of thunder poundin’ in my heart”) is solid and there are strong harmonies in the chorus at “looove” and “who-oah.”
  • “Don’t Stop Me Now” – The album closes with this lovely (and brief) instrumental featuring Miles Davis on trumpet, playing on top of Lukather’s jazzy guitar and David Sanborn’s sax. This track has that slick, digital mid-‘80s sound that would turn off jazz purists but I like it a lot.

Of their first six albums, Isolation was the only one I bought when it was released and, ironically, it’s my least favorite. I slowly picked up their back catalog during college but it wasn’t until album #7, The Seventh One (1988), that I bought a new Toto album I couldn’t stop playing. All these years later it remains the album of theirs that I’m most familiar with, and revisiting it last week confirmed its status as one of their strongest releases. Toto - The Seventh OneUnlike previous albums which they produced themselves with assistance from various engineers, production for The Seventh One is credited to the band as well as George Massenburg and Bill Payne. Massenburg was a well-known engineer for many artists, including Little Feat and Linda Ronstadt (who guests here on “Stay Away,” which is a decent song but didn’t make the cut for the lists below), and Payne is the longtime keyboardist for Little Feat. Having outside influences was a smart move, as the album packs more of a punch than anything they had done since Hydra. It’s also their longest album up to that point, at more than 54 minutes, but it never overstays its welcome. Steve Porcaro was no longer a band member but he did contribute synths & programming, while the rest of the lineup from Fahrenheit returned. Unfortunately they were a band out of time, and even with a hit single that just missed the Top 20 it became their lowest charting album in the U.S. (a trend that has continued ever since). Don’t let its commercial failure scare you away; if you already like their music you will likely find several new favorites among The Seventh One’s eleven songs.

The Essentials:
♪ “Pamela” – A perfect combination of Jeff Porcaro’s funky & loping drum track, Williams’ powerful vocals, a great horn chart, an inventive arrangement, killer harmonies and insanely catchy melodies. It was a Top 30 hit but should have been much bigger, and has long been one of my favorite Toto songs.
♪ “Anna” – A great Lukather ballad; sappy, yes, but absolutely gorgeous. The melody at “Even if you turn and walk away, love will bring you back somehow” is stunning, as is the bridge (“‘Cause weeee almost touched the sky…”). It’s nice to see them tackle two songs with female names and both are instant classics.
♪ “Stop Loving You” – A nice soft intro leads into a bouncy rhythm with funky bass and a stabbing guitar line. The tight verses are extremely catchy with strong vocals from Williams, then it opens up for the pre-chorus: “Dance beneath the light with that look in your eyes.” That’s followed by an incredible chorus: “I can’t stop loving you, time passes quickly and chances are few.” Yes’ Jon Anderson adds some harmony vocals. This is a solid pop song with rock elements, the latter coming through even more during the instrumental section.
♪ “Mushanga” – A very creative “world music” rhythm track, exotic but still accessible, is the foundation for this standout track. The chorus is wonderful, with harmonies at “You broke into my heart” followed by Williams’ solo responses, i.e. “I saw your eyes and then I knew,” and Lukather delivers an awesome nylon string guitar solo.
♪ “Home Of The Brave” – This nearly 7-minute closing track is the longest song on the album, and it’s a cross between the progressive inclinations of Hydra and the slicker, more commercial sound of Toto IV. Beginning with a moody, atmospheric intro featuring Paich’s strong vocal performance, Williams enters in his higher register as the rhythm section kicks in. There are multiple distinct sections here yet they all flow effortlessly together. An epic way to wrap up a stellar album.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • Toto Photo (from The Seventh One)“You Got Me” – A steady beat with a funky groove on top is the setting for Williams’ authoritative lead vocal performance, which is especially strong in the verses (“Momma said be careful what you do…”). There’s also a super peppy melodic-pop chorus with synths & horns: “If you want me, you got me…and if you love me, you got me all night long.”
  • “Only The Children” – The anthemic chorus with big harmonies is my favorite part of this song: “Only the children…yeah…only the children cry.” The rest of the song is decent, with Lukather’s guitar riffs and Williams’ vocal performance being particular highlights.
  • “These Chains” – Jeff Porcaro plays a subtler version of the Purdie Shuffle that I mentioned in my notes about “Rosanna,” and Lukather delivers another strong vocal performance: “Is it gonna get easier, then try to break these chains around my heart.” Yes, it’s MOR adult-contemporary pop, but I love the groove, Lukather’s guitar blasts, the subdued arrangement and the jazzy breakdown in the middle section.

I finished revisiting these five albums a week ago before going out of town for several days, when I wasn’t able to listen to any music, and many of these songs played multiple times in my cranial jukebox during that time. Fortunately they’re all great and I was happy to keep those earworms in my head. Hopefully the songs I’ve chosen to highlight in this post have a similar positive impact on you, and there are plenty more to be found if you dive into these records. I’ve already begun listening to the next batch of albums in their discography and, even though there are many big changes ahead, the high quality of music continues. I can’t wait to play each of them a few more times and share my thoughts on them by early next week.

13 comments on “TOTO Part 2 – Kilimanjaro Rises Like Olympus Above The Serengeti

  1. Ian Balentine
    January 22, 2015

    IV is really the only Toto I am vaguely familiar with. I think I’ll stick to sampling their earlier work, skip those couple after IV. A weird note: I always got IV and King Crimson’s Disclipline (released a year earlier, right?) mixed up in my teenage head back then, maybe due to the similar covers?


    • Hi Ian. I see what you mean about Toto IV and KC’s Discipline. Both red covers released within a year of each other. I think that’s where the similarity ends, though, yet I love both albums equally. Unless you become a big Toto fan you can probably skip the two after IV, but The Seventh One is really fantastic. There are some great albums coming up in my next couple of posts which rock a lot harder than anything they did earlier in their career.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. 80smetalman
    January 22, 2015

    I think you’re spot on about Toto not appealing to punk and hardcore fans. That was my problem, I was such a metal head back then that I didn’t appreciate them like I should have. It’s only now that I’ve mellowed a bit with age that I can see what great musicians they are.


    • Glad to hear you’ve mellowed with age and come to appreciate their musicianship. I think you’ll be surprised by the heavier sounds to come on some of their later albums. They’ll never be mistaken for Slayer but fans expecting MOR soft-rock won’t recognize them. I hope you’ll check out some of that music.


  3. danicapiche
    January 22, 2015

    Hi Rich,

    A lot of this material is new to me, so thanks for that. I’ve heard Africa and Rosanna, of course, but haven’t sought out their music before.

    From Toto IV (skipping over Rosanna and Africa), my favorite is “Waiting For Your Love”. It must be that bass line. They do sound good bringing on the funk. Next, I like “Afraid of Love” and I’m wondering why exactly. It’s a good song, but not better than the rest. Maybe I’m expecting more of a rock edge from them? “Lovers in the Night”…I wouldn’t have come up with the Rick Springfield comparison but I see what you mean. That and the fist-pumping made me smile.

    I’m starting Isolation and already like “Stranger in Town”. I’ll comment on the different albums separately, for ease of reading :).


    • Hi Danica. I’m not surprised that a lot of this music is new to you. I get the feeling that most people who like Toto probably own a compilation and maybe a handful of individual albums, so they’re missing out on a lot of great songs. Even though I’ve owned their discography for a long time, I’m still learning a lot about them by revisiting each album and hopefully I’ve chosen some good songs to highlight in these posts. The Rick Springfield comparison for “Lovers In The Night” came to me when I was writing the post and wasn’t in the notes I took while listening to Toto IV. It applies more to the chorus than the rest of the song. I love Lukather’s guitar tone, and I could imagine Neil Giraldo (Pat Benatar’s husband & longtime collaborator, who also played on Springfield’s breakthrough album Working Class Dog) using a similar sound.

      I’m glad you like “Stranger In Town.” That one blew me away when I first heard it in 1984 and I think it still sounds great. Too bad the rest of the album didn’t live up to that single. I hope you find some more gems here. The Seventh One is full of them.

      Thanks, as always, for stopping by. I hope you’ve had a great week.


      Liked by 1 person

      • danicapiche
        January 23, 2015

        Hi Rich,

        Your selections and insights are great and I’m looking forward to more.

        I’m going to have to listen again and pay closer attention to the guitar. Neil Giraldo has got to be one of the best guitarists around. And Pat Benatar still sounds amazing. I saw their show not too long ago. It was my first time seeing them live and everyone sounded fantastic, no surprise there, they’re all pros. Neil, in particular, has an ease with the audience and a love of performing that makes the shows something special. He demonstrated how to play Guitar Hero to the raucous crowd and won everyone over even more.

        I didn’t know he also played on Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog. That could explain why that album is so good! Not that Springfield needs help, but you can’t go wrong with Giraldo!

        Thanks for another great post, Rich! I hope you’re enjoying the day.



      • Danica, that’s very cool about you seeing Pat Benatar recently, and good to know that she & Neil can still deliver in concert. I was a huge fan from the release of her debut album through the mid-’80s but haven’t kept track of her much since her 1991 “True Love” album. I only know that Neil has a lot more tattoos now. Glad I could make the Giraldo-Springfield connection for you. I didn’t think much of Springfield in the early-’80s (he wasn’t cool enough for me & my rock/metal loving friends) but I came around to him a few years later. I think a lot of those friends felt the same way about Toto.

        It’s almost weekend time. Have a great one.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Daddydinorawk
    January 29, 2015

    So far I’ve listened to Toto, IV and the Seventh One. I respect the hits and the overall productions, the musicality, the voals are mostly good.

    As of this very moment I am listening to the Seventh One and must say, this one take all of them. I really like Joseph Williams singing. He is close enough to Kimball with a tonality all his own, but different enough to not change the sound significantly. That’s a pretty cool feature. There is noticeable step down in that department.

    My fave tracks so far are Africa, Girl Goodbye, Good For You and every song I’ve heard from the Seventh One. A keeper.


    • That’s awesome. I’m so glad there’s another fan of The Seventh One out there now, and I’m pleased that you feel the same way about Williams’ vocals. He’s different enough from Kimball to have his own personality yet they’re both perfectly suited for Toto. None of the other vocalists they’ve used (including a short-lived singer I’ll mention in my next post) came close to those two. As always, I really appreciate the feedback.


  5. galley99
    February 12, 2015

    Although it does have a slightly different sound, I love Isolation!


    • It’s nice to know there’s at least one Isolation fan out there. I like the sound of the albums but I’ve always felt the songwriting wasn’t as strong as it was on their other albums. Thanks so much for your feedback.


  6. Pingback: Forty Year Friday – STEELY DAN “AJA” | KamerTunesBlog

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