Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Ubiquity Of Toto

The average man on the street may know Toto as a cheesy band that had several cheesy hit singles. What he probably doesn't know is that the musicians in Toto, apart and occasionally together, played on almost every single mainstream pop album ever.

If you were recording an album in LA in the late '70s and early '80s, Toto were your guys. Steely Dan? Call Toto. Don Henley? Call Toto. Lionel Richie? Jackson Browne? Stevie Nicks? George Benson? Call Toto.

Here's how omnipresent Toto were: they even played on parts of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Don't tell most Pink Floyd fans that.

Not only could Toto play on your album; they could help you write it. Witness Boz Scaggs' Silk Degrees, in which half the songs were co-written by David Paich. Check out this Yacht-tastic groove from drummer Jeff Porcaro on "Lowdown":

Most significantly, Toto performed on almost the entirety of Thriller, and Steve Porcaro co-wrote "Human Nature," my favorite Michael Jackson song ever. So even if nobody realized it, they were all listening to Toto, almost all the freaking time.

Around 1977, this loose collection of studio professionals, including a seemingly limitless number of Porcaro brothers, decided that, hey, if they were already playing together so much of the damn time, maybe they should just form a band and get it over with. A bland, faceless corporate band, but a band nonetheless. It's sort of like one of those opposite sex friendships where you're not really attracted to each other but you've gotten to know each other so well and the tension has been building for so long you just get lazy and say, "Why don't we just go out with each other so we don't have to keep looking for someone else?"

Toto scored right out of the box in 1978 with the very catchy and very meaningless "Hold The Line":

Although they continued to work as steadily as ever, the hits under their own name began to dry up. That's when Steve Porcaro decided to date Rosanna Arquette. Actually, despite the widely spread rumor, according to Wikipedia, "Rosanna" is not about Rosanna Arquette at all:
This song has been widely misunderstood to refer to the band member Steve Porcaro's defunct relationship with actress Rosanna Arquette. However, this was actually just a coincidence. The rest of the song had already been finished, and Paich needed a name that fit well into the chorus.
Well OK, but gee, I wonder how anybody ever got the impression it was about Rosanna Arquette. They could have picked another three-syllable name, right? And no, that is not her in the video.

Also, did you know that the drum pattern on "Rosanna" is called the "Rosanna Shuffle"? I didn't know that either.
This song is routinely referenced by drummers as being a perfect example of a "half-time shuffle" (Purdie shuffle) and shows, "definite jazz influence". Featuring ghost notes and derived from the combination of what Jeff Porcaro calls the "Bernard Purdie half time shuffle" and the "John Bonham beat" (from "Fool in the Rain") with the well-known Bo Diddley beat. The pattern is notoriously difficult and played by Jeff Porcaro on the recording.
"Ghost notes"? Toto, you're spooking me out more than Vincent Price's monologue on "Thriller."


Herr Zrbo said...

But why are they called 'Toto'? Are they Oz fans or something? It's gotta be one of the meekest names for a rock band.

Little Earl said...

The Wikipedia Gods can explain all:

"According to popular myth, at the first recording sessions, in order to distinguish their own demo tapes from other bands' in the studio, Jeff Porcaro wrote the word "Toto" on them. In the early 1980s, band members told the press that the band was named after the dog in The Wizard of Oz.[6] One popular rumor is that the name came from Bobby Kimball's "true" last name, Toteaux. This rumor was in fact only a joke popularized by former bassist David Hungate.[7] After the completion of the first album, the band and record were still unnamed. David Hungate, after viewing the name on the demo tapes, explained to the group that the word "Toto" in Latin translated to "all-encompassing." Because the band members played on so many different records and many different musical genres, they adopted the name Toto as their own."