What I’ve Been Listening to: Toto/The Seventh One

I fully expect Toto is going to elicit different reactions from readers, ranging from excellent to rather mediocre. Let there be no doubt where I stand: While like every band some of Toto’s songs were more compelling than others, overall, I really dig these guys for their outstanding musicianship and, yes, many of their catchy and well executed pop-rock tunes. The Seventh One from March 1988 is probably my favorite album.

My initial introduction to Toto was Hold the Line, a track from their eponymous debut album from October 1978. It was included on a compilation titled The Rock Album – The Best of Today’s Rock Music, which came out in 1980. A friend gave it to me as a present on music cassette. Then came Toto IV from April 1982, and songs like Rosanna, Africa and I Won’t Hold You Back, which each received extensive radio play in Germany. I was hooked!

Toto’s next two albums, Isolation and Fahrenheit from October 1984 and August 1986, respectively, didn’t excite me as much. As a result, the band started fading a bit from my radar screen. And then The Seventh One was released. I dug this album right from the get-go.

Since Toto IV, the band’s line-up had changed. Lead vocalist Bobby Kimball and bassist David Hungate, who were both part of Toto’s initial members, had been replaced by Joseph Williams and Mike Porcaro, respectively. But frankly, I don’t feel this impacted the quality of the album at all. Let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the opener Pamela, co-written by David Paich (keyboards, backing vocals) and Joseph Williams. The tune was also released separately as the lead single in February 1988 ahead of the album. Apart from its catchy melody, I dig Jeff Pocaro’s drums part in particular including the cool breaks. To me, Pocaro was one of the best drummers in rock and pop. Of course, the caveat here is I don’t play the drums myself. But I suppose if you were good enough to pass the audition for perfectionists Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, you must have been a bloody good drummer! Not to mention countless other top-notch artists like Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few.

Here’s a tune guitarist Steve Lukather considers to be one of his best compositions: Anna. He co-wrote the ballad with Randy Goodrum, an American songwriter, pianist and producer. In August 1988, it also became the album’s third single.

Stop Loving You with its upbeat groove just is an infectious pop song. Co-written by Lukather and Paich, the track also appeared as the album’s fourth single. While it did well in Europe, hitting no. 2 in each The Netherlands and Belgium and reaching no. 37 in Italy, it didn’t chart in the U.S. Here’s the official video.

Ready for some rock? How about that and with a little help from Linda Ronstadt on vocals and some smoking lap steel guitar by David Lindley? Here’s Stay Away, another Paich-Lukather co-write. Perhaps, they should have released that one as a single!

And since it’s so much fun, how about another pop rocker: Only the Children, co-written by Paich, Lukather and Williams.

Let’s end things on a quieter note with another ballad: A Thousand Years. I actually would have bet that Lukather had a role in writing the tune. But nope, it was co-written by Williams, Paich and Mark Towner Williams.

While Toto and Columbia Records were confident The Seventh One was one of the band’s strongest albums to date, its chart performance remained far below expectations. In part, Wikipedia attributes this to upheaval at the record company with president Al Teller’s departure right in the wake of Pamela’s release. Apparently, this led to waning promotion of the song that ended up stalling at no. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 – not exactly terrible, but certainly a huge difference to Africa and Rosanna, which had peaked at no. 1 and no. 2 in the U.S., respectively. Of course, chart performance is a double-edged indicator to begin with. Just look at today’s charts!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Toto Delivers Top-Notch Musicianship at State Theatre New Jersey

40th anniversary tour gig features career-spanning set, including big hits, deeper cuts and covers

While I have listened to Toto for more than 30 years, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. But my wife really likes them, so when I mentioned to her a couple of months ago they would play in our neck of the woods as part of their 40th anniversary tour, she suggested that we see them. I’m glad we did Wednesday night at State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick, since the show was fun and definitely exceeded my expectations.

When I checked setlist.fm for the most recent gigs of the 40 Trips Around The Sun tour, initially, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see any songs from Toto’s second studio album Hydra, especially 99. I also found it interesting that they chose to include three somewhat random-looking covers in their set, though it turned out these selections weren’t coincidental. 

Toto
Core members of Toto (from left): Joseph Williams, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather

I’ve always appreciated Toto for their outstanding musicianship, which was on full display Wednesday night and a key reason why I enjoyed the show. Not only did they sound fantastic, but some of the music they played had pretty impressive complexity that nicely illustrated the band’s top-notch craftsmanship. Shockingly, to me the highlight in this context was Jake To The Bone, an instrumental from 1993. I say “shockingly” since I generally really like vocals and I’m less into instrumentals. With that, let’s get to some music.

The first time I heard about Toto must have been in the late ’70s when a friend gave me a rock compilation as a present, which included Hold The Line. I liked this tune right away and still do to this day, especially the keyboard and guitar parts. Written by keyboardist David Paich, the song first appeared on the band’s eponymous studio album from October 1978.

Next up is the above mentioned Jake To The Bone from the band’s eighth studio record Kingdom Of Desire, released in Europe in September 1992 and in the U.S. in May 1993. It was credited to all core members of the band at the time: Steve Lukather (guitar, lead and backing vocals), David Paich (piano, organ, synthesizer, backing vocals), Mike Porcaro (bass) and Jeff Porcaro (drums, percussion).  Unfortunately, I missed videotaping this great instrumental, so I’m relying on another clip I found on YouTube. Apparently, it was captured during the opening show of the tour’s European leg in Helsinki, Finland back in February.

Toto’s fourth studio album from April 1982, ingeniously called Toto IV, became their most successful record. Apart from top 10 chart placements in various countries, including Australia (no. 1), Canada (no. 1), U.S. (no. 4) and U.K. (no. 4), Toto IV also won a Grammy for Album Of The Year and five additional Grammy Awards in 1983. Here is the record’s lead single Rosanna, another Paich composition.

During the second half of the set, there was a sitdown section featuring shortened versions of various songs, including Holyanna, No Love, Stop Loving You and a cover of Human Nature, one of the tracks from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Originally, that tune was written by keyboardist Steve Porcaro. The tune I’d like to feature from this section is Stop Loving You. Toto first recorded it for The Seventh One, their seventh studio album from March 1988. Co-written by Paich and Lukather, the tune also became one of the record’s six singles.

Of course, no Toto gig would be complete without Africa, another track from Toto IV. Co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the song became Toto’s most successful single. It hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbed to no. 3 in the U.K., and scored top 20 positions in various other countries. Africa was the last song of the regular set, and the band stretched it into a close to 13-minute jam version that featured a cool percussion and drums solo.

There was only one encore: A cover of Hash Pipe, a 2001 song by American rock band Weezer. Toto decided to record and release the tune in August 2018, after Weezer had come out with cover versions of Africa and Rosanna. While it’s nice the bands recognize each other’s music with these covers, I still found it a bit of an odd choice for the encore, especially given that was the only additional song Toto performed. To me it would have made more sense to throw in an original tune like the above mentioned 99. That being said, the entire show lasted two hours, which I felt was pretty solid.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the band that performed on Wednesday night. Steve Lukather, Steve Pocaro and David Paich are still part of the core line-up. The fourth core member is Joseph Williams (lead vocals). Paich is sitting out the U.S. leg of the tour. According a previous announcement, the European gigs earlier this year took a toll on his health, but Lukather assured the audience his recovery is going well. Sitting in for Paich is Dominique “Xavier” Talpin, an excellent keyboardist who among others had played with Prince. The other touring members include Lenny Castro (percussion, congas), multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham (saxophone, harmonica, flute, backing vocals), Shannon Forrest (drums) and Shem von Schroeck (bass, backing vocals).

Upcoming tour dates include Brookville, N.Y. tonight and the closer of the American leg in Lynn, Mass. tomorrow night. The band resumes the tour at the end of December with a series of dates in Australia and New Zealand, before going to Japan in February. Then they take a break and return to Europe in June and July. The last currently posted date is Salem, Germany (Jul 18). The full schedule is here. This may not be the end of the tour. The dates in Australia and Japan were announced fairly recently, and I could see additional announcements, such as a second U.S. leg. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Toto website, YouTube

My Playlist: Toto

Even though their sound is pretty commercial pop, which to many music aficionados are bad words, I’ve always liked Toto for their great sound and outstanding musicianship. Here’s the thing: Yes, there are plenty of examples of terrible commercial pop music – just look at what’s currently dominating the charts. But just because something is selling well doesn’t mean it’s bad. Like it or not, a widely beloved and my all-time favorite band The Beatles made commercial pop music, at least during their earlier years. Or take Michael Jackson’s Thriller album: It probably doesn’t get more commercial than that, yet it’s one of the best records ever released, at least in my humble opinion. And there are countless other examples.

Toto was founded in Los Angeles in 1976 by David Paich (keyboards, vocals) and Jeff Porcaro (drums, percussion), who had known each other from high school and done studio session work together. They recruited four additional members: Jeff’s brother Steve Porcaro (keyboards), Steve Lukather (guitar, lead and backing vocals), David Hungate (bass) and Bobby Kimball (lead and backing vocals). Like Paich and Jeff Porcaro, each of the additional members had worked with other artists. In fact, according to the official Toto website, the band’s members have performed on a total of 5,000 records that together sold half a billion copies. Obviously, this includes both projects that predated Toto and side engagements after the band’s formation – still, these are astonishing numbers!

Toto
Toto in 1978

Paich co-wrote half of the songs for Boz Scaggs’ seventh studio album Silk Degrees from March 1976. Steve Porcaro, Hungate and Lukather also worked with Scaggs. Following the formation of Toto, Lukather became one of the most sought after session guitarists. Perhaps his most famous engagement in this context is his guitar work on Michael Jackson’s Beat It from the Thriller album. Jeff Porcaro, who at the time was a 20-year-old drummer, played on all except one Steely Dan tunes on their fourth studio record Katy Lied from March 1975 – anyone who could live up to the perfectionism of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker must have been top notch! Last but not least, Kimball before joining Toto had been a vocalist in various New Orleans bands and S.S. Fools, an unsuccessful short-lived venture with three former members of Three Dog Night.

After signing with Columbia Records, Toto began work on their eponymous debut album. Paich wrote all except two tracks for the record that appeared in October 1978. Though music critics weren’t impressed with Toto initially, the band soon got a significant following. The record reached the top 10 on the albums charts in various countries, including Australia (no. 2), Sweden (no. 5), Germany (no. 8), Canada and the U.S. ( both no. 9) – not shabby for a debut! Toto have since released 12 additional studio albums, six live records and numerous compilations. Between June 2008 and February 2010, the band was on hiatus. Last June, they announced their latest greatest hits collection 40 Trips Around The Sun and a 2018 tour to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Let’s get to some music!

The first time I recall hearing the name Toto was in connection with the song Hold The Line. Written by Paich, it was the lead single and most successful tune from their first album and remains one of my favorite Toto songs. In particular, I dig the keyboard part and the guitar riff.

Next up: The title track of Toto’s excellent sophomore album Hydra. Credited to all members of the band, it’s a pretty complex tune with all kinds of breaks and changes in tempo that nicely showcase top notch musicianship. You simply don’t play this stuff without plenty of experience!

Toto IV from April 1982 became the band’s most successful album, topping the charts in Australia, Canada and the Netherlands, and reaching the top 10 in many other countries, including the U.S. and U.K. (both no. 4) and Japan (no. 3). It also generated what became the band’s only no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100: Africa. Toto IV turned out to be Kimball’s last record with the band at the time. He was told to leave two years later after drug use had taken a toll on his voice. However, he would be back for Mindfields, the band’s 10th studio album from 1999, and stay on for the two albums thereafter. Toto IV’s lead single Rosanna, written by Paich, is yet another example of musical complexity the band seems to pull off effortlessly.

Since I suppose no Toto playlist would be complete without it, here’s Africa, which was co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro. Paich is sharing lead vocals with Kimball. Former Poco and Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit is among the guest musicians on the track, providing backing vocals and acoustic rhythm guitar.

In 1986, Toto released their sixth studio album Fahrenheit, the first with Joseph Williams as lead vocalist. It was also the last to feature three Porcaros: Jeff, Steve and their brother Mike Porcaro, who had replaced Hungate on bass shortly after Toto IV had come out. After Fahrenheit’s release, Steve left to focus on songwriting and music composing. While he continued to work with the band in a supporting capacity, it wouldn’t be until Toto XIV that he would be listed again as a core member. Here’s I’ll Be Over You, co-written by Lukather and American songwriter Randy Goodrum. Sung by Lukather, it’s perhaps Toto’s nicest ballad. The tune also features Michael McDonald on backing vocals. It became Toto’s highest charting single in the U.S. since Kimball’s departure, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Toto’s seventh study record, ingeniously titled The Seventh One, came out in March 1988. It’s one of my favorite Toto albums and the last to feature Williams until their most recent studio record Toto XIV from 2015. Similar to Kimball, Williams was let go after his voice had been impacted by drug use. One almost wonders whether Toto makes their lead vocalists take drugs, fire them thereafter, and eventually ask them to come back! Here’s a nice rocker, Stay Away, featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals and David Lindley on lap steel guitar.

By September 1992 when Kingdom Of Desire appeared, Toto had become a four-piece band, with Lukather performing all lead vocals. Their eighth studio album was also the last with Jeff Porcaro who passed away shortly after its release. Here’s the opener Gypsy Train, which like the majority of the record’s tracks is credited to the entire band. I hear a bit of an Aerosmith vibe in this one.

Tambu, released in May 1995 in Europe and in the U.S. the following month, is Toto’s ninth studio album and the first without Jeff Porcaro, who had been replaced by English drummer Simon Phillips. Similar to the band’s other members, Phillips had done plenty of session work. He also had been the drummer of The Who during their 1989 reunion tour in the U.S. Here’s The Turning Point, a groovy tune that’s credited to all members of the band plus Stan Lynch, the original drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Toto’s 10th studio record Mindfields appeared in Europe and the U.S. in March and November of 1999, respectively. Kimball’s return as a vocalist made Toto a five-piece band again. Here’s the title track, which is credited to all members of the band and features Kimball on lead vocals.

Since I’d like to keep playlists to no more than 10 songs while ideally spanning an artist’s recording career, I’m jumping to Toto’s most recent studio album, the previously noted Toto XIV. Released in March 2015, as mentioned above, the record once again featured Williams on lead vocals and Steve Porcaro as a core member. It also marked the return of original bassist Hungate; Mike Porcaro had been inactive since 2007 due to Lou Gehrig’s Disease and sadly succumbed to complications just days before the album came out. Keith Carlock had replaced Phillips on drums, who had decided to leave Toto in January 2014 and focus on his solo career. Here’s the haunting Burn, a Paich/Williams co-write that also became the album’s third single.

Toto’s current official core members include Williams, Paich, Porcaro and Lukather. Three weeks ago, the band announced that Paich won’t be part of the North American leg of their 40th anniversary tour and instead will focus on his health that took a hit during his recent appearances with Toto in Europe. In the statement Paich said: “To say this was a difficult decision would be a complete understatement. I hope you will all be understanding of my need to be home. I look forward to joining the boys again on stage ASAP.” In the meantime, Dominique Xavier Talpin, who among others played with Prince, will sit in on keyboards.

The band’s North American tour kicked off in Vancouver on July 30. Tonight the band is playing in Costa Mesa, Calif. before it’s on to Henderson, NV on Friday. The current schedule lists 32 additional North American dates all the way until mid-November at what mostly look like small and mid-size venues. One, State Theatre of New Jersey in New Brunswick, is right in my neck of the woods. I got two tickets today – if only more top notch bands would be as reasonable when it comes to ticket prices!

Sources: Wikipedia, Toto official website, YouTube