If you have spent even the briefest of times on the Interwebs in the past 6 months then you are fully aware of the rarefied place that Toto’s “Africa” has achieved in the zeitgeist. It’s the most meme’d song in the history of the World Wide Web. So…i’m not going to talk about it. Instead, on this episode of Hand Picked, i’ll be giving you the deets behind the Masterpiece that is “Rosanna.” And a Masterpiece it is!
Toto IV was released in 1984 and went on to win Grammys for Album Of The Year, Producer Of The Year (they produced it themselves), and “Rosanna“ was awarded Record Of The Year. One listen to the album and it’s clear why. It’s also the last album to feature the original line-up of:
Drums – Jeff Porcaro
Bass – David Hungate
Keys – David Paich (He also wrote the song and provided the back-up vocals)
Synths – Steve Porcaro
Gtrs – Steve Lukather (Also back-up vocals)
Vocals – Bobby Kimball
Lenny Castro, who’s resume is as long as your arm, provided the percussion tracks and the horn section was constructed out of some of the biggest in the biz. CHAMPIONS ALL!
Here’s how it breaks down, track by track:
Toto were so respected by musicians in the business in those days that when it came time for Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson to put the band together for the recording of Thriller it was members of Toto that they poached.
Most bands of this era were limited to 24 track recording devices. Toto were lucky enough to have been given a larger than usual production budget for IV that permitted them the luxury of “chaining” together 3 of the 24 track machines and they exploited this technology with zeal. It’s hard to beat the sound of IV.
THE DRUMS!! Holy sh*t. I mean…just listen to it. This track is a Master-Class. Porcaro was a MONSTER behind the kit. He passed-away in 1992 at the, much to early, age of 38. A very sad prologue. But i like to celebrate his life and work by playing just this track to people. It is perfect. Each grace-note is the same as the one prior and the one after. Each fill is flawlessly executed. The beat itself is based around Bernard Purdie’s “Purdie Shuffle” and Bonzo’s “Fool In The Rain” shuffle, which is HIS version of “The Purdie Shuffle.’ And it’s a GROOVE!! But, here’s the thing, also listen to how perfectly tuned this kit is. Each tom is ringing like a bell. Listen to the mic’ing used, the mixing, all of it is ridiculous! And, one should remember, that in order to get a kit to SOUND like this the drummer behind it must be hitting each drum with military precision. It doesn’t seem possible when listened to in its raw state. Absolutely gorgeous.
David Hungate is a bass player’s bass player. He had an extensive past playing for others including Boz Scaggs. His part on this song goes from rock to funk and back again as the song progresses and, similar to his co-hort in the rhythm section, each part is played EXACTLY the same. It’s ridiculous. And another example of the “Less Is More” ethic that proves a players mettle. You can’t imagine it being anything other than what it was. (Sidenote: It’s the THIRD Porcaro brother, Mike, “playing” the bass in the video)
Paich & Porcaro provide the varied keys on this thing. It’s like 6 minutes spent in the Guitar Center Keyboard Department. Synths. piano, Hammond, it’s all in there. And that SOLO! There were a bunch of other parts that didn’t make the cut and it ALREADY has 315 different bits happening. I asked Lukather for clarification as to who was playing each part…but he couldn’t recall. Paich credits Steve with the feel of the solo and with playing a majority of the parts. I personally LOVE the Dungeons & Dragons vibe that permeates the entire keyboard solo. Keith Emerson definitely approved! Another perfect part. And the whirly organ bit in the last chorus?!? Goose-bumps. While tracking the song Paich just started to jam the piano bit and the band followed, an unintentionally inspired piece of improv.
Steve Lukather has been a fixture of the LA studio scene for decades. It’s estimated that he has played on over 1500 songs, Good grief! He joined Toto as it was being formed when he was 19 years old and has been in it since. His chameleon-like playing on this song exhibits the varied skills he has exploited for his career. Subtle licks give way to power chords to the beautiful orchestration of the solo. Even his chordal choices belie the “simplicity” of the song. Another Musician’s Musician. He will be releasing a book in July of 2018 chronicling his life and career. Pretty sure that THAT will be an absurd tome. Stories for days.
Bobby Kimball’s vocal track is a Karaoke Champion Level work-out. From the quiet, subtle, pre-chorus, to the wide-open belt of the ad-lib bits, it ain’t for the faint-of-heart. Paiche has said that the inspiration for the lyrics was a NUMBER of his exes and it is, indeed, an Urban Legend that it is written about his girlfriend of the time Rosanna Arquette, one that she happily played along with. Kimball kills this lead vocal. But, you can’t over-look the genius arrangement of the back-ground harmonies provided by Lukather & Paich. Especially that LOOOOOW part, which i think is Paich. Awesome.
“Rosanna” peaked at Number 2 on the charts and has gone on to become one of the most recognisable of their canon. With good reason. It’s everything that they did brilliantly in one song. If you have anything even remotely resembling a Hi-Fi System, and if you’re reading this one would hope that u do, Toto’s IV will give it the Mr Universe level audio test needed to prove if it has the beans or not. A “Must Own” album. No joke. Give it a spin. You’ll not be disappointed…and, worst case, you can just listen tom “Africa” for 10 hours! Up to you.
Toto is heading out on an extensive tour starting in the Fall of this year. If you get the chance go and see them. Even though it’s not the OG line-up, it’s still evidence of the brilliance of these players.
Thanks for listening.
See you at the next one,