Toto, despite achieving fame as a ballads act, has consistently pushed itself to new heights in the studio.
That’s led to album-track moments that are far more challenging than better-known Toto hits like “I Won’t Hold You Back,” “99” or “I’ll be Over You” — moments that may initially prove too challenging for the casual listener, much less an unsuspecting newcomer. And yet these deep-cut songs ultimately help complete the story of who the always-underrated Toto really is.
As David Paich, Steve Lukather, Steve Porcaro and Joe Williams continue work on the band’s first new album since 2006, let’s take a look back at those times when … Toto Sounded Nothing Like Toto …
“BABY, HE’S YOUR MAN,” (TAMBU, 1995): This song comes from the first post-Jeff Porcaro album, and the first without an official lead singer. Guitar great Steve Lukather handles a majority of the vocals for these sessions, but on this track performs a duet with background singer Jenny Douglas-McRae. Additionally, new drummer Simon Phillips punches the keys on the drum machine and David Paich performs a growling vocal vamp. The result is a funky piece of rock ‘n’ roll which might sound very un-Toto-like to anyone who stopped listening after “Africa.” (By the way, the Japanese version of album features an honorable mention: A McRae-sung bonus track called “Blackeye” that’s a fantastic blues rocker. If you don’t own the bonus version of the album, get it!)
“GYPSY TRAIN,” (KINGDOM OF DESIRE, 1992): When I first put in this album, I was sure the record company has packaged the wrong disc in the case. Toto fans know that Jeff Porcaro can rock with the best of them, but the opening to “Gypsy Train” sounds like a mix of John Bonham and Carmen Appice. I was further confused when I heard David Lee Roth singing the first lines of the song. It took me an additional listen to realize Steve Lukather was capably handling the hard-rock lead vocal. Is this the same band that produced the lush ballad “Anna”?
“HYDRA,” (HYDRA, 1979): Weird and wonderful prog rock, with fantastic contributions from original bassist David Hungate, synth ace Steve Porcaro and a young Steve Lukather. David Paich’s lead vocal makes me hope that he gets more than a few chances to contribute same on the forthcoming studio effort they are working on with producer CJ Vanston. Jeff Porcaro is amazing throughout, as well … but what’s the song about again?
“CAN YOU HEAR WHAT I’M SAYING,” (PAST AND PRESENT: 1977-90, 1990): The track starts with a fantastic popping bass track from co-writer Mike Porcaro and a syncopated octoban and snare work out from Jeff Porcaro, before the Michael Jackson-like lead vocal comes in. The track is topped off by the inappropriately awesome wah wah-laden guitar track from Steve Lukather. Sure, it’s genre confused, but still fantastic.
“DAVE’S GONE SKIING,” (TAMBU, 1995): Damn you, Simon Phillips and your prog rock leanings! This song sounds like no other Toto instrumental and makes no effort to be pop, even though it appeared on a decidedly pop album. Hats off to David Paich, Steve Lukather and Mike Porcaro for not picking a drummer who has the same style as Jeff Porcaro. This song, which resulted from a studio jam while Mr. Paich was off on holiday, brings a smile to any musician — and inspires many an air drummer.
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