It’s been 40 years since the song “Africa” unexpectedly became a worldwide sensation.
It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
Toto, the band that gave “Africa” life, did not think they had a hit. They nearly left it off the album.
Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz asked Steve Lukather, one of Toto’s founding members, “Did you say that if ‘Africa’ is a hit, you’ll run down Hollywood Boulevard naked?”
“I did say that!” he smiled. “I really did say that.”
“Sunday Morning” met up with Lukather and David Paich, another of Toto’s founding members, along with longtime singer Joseph Williams – serious musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously.
Williams said, “There was always several lead singers in the group. Dave was always singing lead vocals.”
Paich said, “We finally got a lead singer, or a high singer.”
Lukather interjected: “What are you talking about? We were all high!”
But the critics weren’t high on them. Lukather recalled, “They said our music sounded like a tangerine leisure suit.”
These guys are getting the last laugh. With packed shows, 40 million albums sold, and a string of hits spanning decades, Toto may be the coolest “uncool” band in history.
“Just wouldn’t give up, man,” Lukather said. “Didn’t want to give it up.”
It began in Los Angeles, with high school-age pals Paich, Lukather, and brothers Jeff and Steve Porcaro sending demos out to record companies.
They needed a name.
One of them was watching “The Wizard of Oz” late one night, and Dorothy’s dog became a temporary solution … or so they thought. “When we got our contract, it said ‘Toto,'” Paich said. “We didn’t have any more time to change our name!”
“The name didn’t help, I don’t think,” added Lukather. “It’s easy to pick on a band called Toto.”
No matter the name, that band had talent. One of the first songs they recorded, “Hold the Line,” went to the Top 5 in 1978.
Toto was on the map, but four years and three albums later, pressure from the record company was mounting. Lukather said, “They came right out with it. Like, ‘If you guys don’t pull one out now, you’re done.'”
“‘You’re one-hit wonders,’ or something like that,” said Paich.
“We said, ‘Well, we should just go back to doing what we do, and just write good songs and record ’em,'” Lukather said.
So, they did, with “Toto IV,” in 1982, recording nine songs for the album. They just needed one more. The last one added: “Africa.”
To watch the official music video of “Africa,” click on the player below:
All these years later, “Africa,” streamed more than a billion times on Spotify, is as popular as ever.
Williams said, “That song has had so many different lives over the years, and been covered and played on TV and films. And newer generations find it all the time.”
Some have questioned how white musicians could possibly capture the spirit of a continent they’d never visited. Paich, though, calls the song totally aspirational. “I just wanted to see the world,” he said. “That was just kind of me writing, ‘What if? What if?'”
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say
“Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”
In ’83, “Africa” hit #1, surpassing the album’s first single, “Rosanna” – the title inspired in part by an unknown actress at the time, Rosanna Arquette.
While listening to the song, Arquette said, “It really does take me way back in the ’80s!
“I was dating and I was with for quite a while Steve Porcaro, keyboard player of Toto,” she said. “And the first time I heard it, David Paich sat me down at the piano bench and he asked me to sit next to him, and then he started to play the song and he looked at me for my reaction. I was very shy. I was like, ‘Oh, wow. Like, thanks!'”
Paich recalled: “I had just met Rosanna Arquette at my house when I was working on this song, and I didn’t have a title for it. And I just plucked her name out because she was very adorable at the time –and still is! – and it just stuck with me.”
“You needed a three-syllable name?” asked Mankiewicz.
“I did. And it was perfect!”
Toto has released 14 studio albums, but that just scratches the surface. As session players, producers and writers, Toto’s members have worked with hundreds of artists, from Olivia Newton John and Cheryl Lynn to Michael McDonald. They are all over Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” When you hear “Beat It,” Eddie Van Halen has the solo, but every other guitar part is by Lukather, who has played on, by his accounts, between 1,500 and 2,000 albums.
Toto has moved past those snarky reviews. What matters to them is connection, to their fans, and to each other.
Williams said, “Being able to play with my friends, believe it or not, you’re better at your playing and your singing, and you’re looser, all at the same time.”
Paich said, “It’s a testament to the commitment, I think, of the band. And the integrity of the music that keeps propelling everybody forward.”
Lukather said, “Never thought it would be this long of a ride, and then still have it continue to be doing so well.”
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Steven Tyler.