Wednesday, June 11, 2008

...And Your Little Dog Too

There's only two reasons to pose in front of a map. The first is you are a Geography teacher. The second is your band is dorky. I think you can guess which one this is.

Last week Steve Lukather, guitarist and one of the founding members of the band Toto called it quits for the AOR giants. With that statement, I'm sure fans from Europe and Japan took pause but here in the United States it was met with resounding indifference. Most people in the US don't realize (or care) that Toto did anything past Toto IV. Actually, to most people Toto IV is the band's only record. So why is that? What do thousands of people from other cultures see in a band of fussy studio musicians playing their slick "yacht rock" with antiseptic precision that Americans cant? Why can they sell out Arenas in some countries but can barely cover a club tour here? To uncover this not so amazing mystery, I've made a list. And as my wife will tell you, I love lists. I have lists of my lists. In alphabetical order.

Reason #1: Studio musicians are not cool

The first reason is that a bunch of guys who look like they got lost on the way to Lab class are not cool, unless they really are cool and are posing that way to make an ironic point. Toto looked like a bunch of dudes who spent hours upon hours mastering their craft. Although I'm sure they all did drugs, dated actresses and what not, their image said "I read books about Macro Economics and Trigonometry". Outside of the after school library crowd, Toto was not cool.

Reason #2: Their music was generic

The main criticism leveled at the band is that their music was generic. As a fan, naturally I disagree, but part of what I liked about Toto was their professionalism. Until their last album, Falling In Between, Toto did not mix and match their genres. When they played soft rock, they played it perfectly, when they rocked out, it was well arranged to highlight the melody and solos, when they got their R&B groove on, it swung. There is a distinct Toto flava to the tunes, but in the end you knew their playing would be tight, clean and on the money. In American Rock N Roll, that's a crime.

Reason #3: They were inconsistent

That's actually my criticism in terms of their career, they were wildly inconsistent. It's ironic that a band known for a "bland" sound switched it up on every album. They've had a prog album, a stripped down Rock album, an Arena Rock album, a Soft Rock album and everything else too. Often these changes happened from one record to the next which caused a lot of churn in their audience, gain one set of fans and lose another.

Reason #4: No backing from their label except for Toto (first album) and Toto IV

Columbia often seemed confounded by what to do with Toto for reasons 1 thru 3. How do you sell a band that can't stick to one sound and gets no respect? The answer is, push the ballad and then stop. Wait for the contract to run out and in the meantime who knows, maybe they'll get lucky.

Reason #5: They lacked charisma

Well, yeah, they did. Toto was a band in the sense that they were all dependant on each other to make the sound happen, even though there were band leaders and David Paich wrote most of the songs there wasn't anyone who stood out from the rest of the group. They were equally talented musicians who performed as a unit. No Mick Jaggers or James Hetfields here.

And that was all she wrote for Toto here in the States. I'm just happy I got to see them perform live in 1999, that was a dream come true for me. Toto isn't the definitive band of anything, but I'll always enjoy their strong musicianship and great songs for years to come. Toto was awesome in their dogged commitment to "smooth music that rocks" and will be me anyway. To close, here's a few less famous but favorite tracks from the Grammy winning band. The last track, "Angel Don't Cry", is one of my all time favorite songs by anyone anywhere. Bye Bye Toto, it's been nice seeing ya!

Toto "Lea"

Toto "I'll Supply The Love"

Toto "Mad About You"

Toto "Angel Don't Cry"


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

My favorite Toto songs:
1. Hold the Line
2. I'll Be Over You
3. Ummm... I can't think of a number 3. Sorry. I do feel bad about the guy quitting the band. It's always sad when something like that happens. It's like... there goes another little piece of my childhood... another fine post, Mr. Mike.

Mr. Mike said...

Thanks Some Kinda Wonderful! I like that you picked "I'll Be Over You", I think that's one of their best.

Jeannie said...

No comment. :D

Frontrow said...

Sorry to hear Lukather make this announcement. The eclectic nature of their music was part of the whole Toto package. You have Lea on one end of the spectrum (great chill out song from my college years) to stuff like Home of the Brave on the rock side. Mr. Mike, you gotta have the Live in Amsterdam DVD, don't you?

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Frontrow! I haven't gotten the Live in Amsterdam DVD yet but will probably get it in the future. One of the live DVDs they have feature a bit of "Lion" in a medley, I want to see if Bobby Kimball sings it. I've always wanted to hear Kimball on that song, it just has him written all over it.

Your mentioning "Home of the Brave" reminds me that I heard it on my IPod the other day while exercising and it sounded great. Great song!

Frontrow said...

I ran across a video on the Tube with Jeff Porcaro giving drumming lessons and explaining how he came up with the beat for Rosanna. Gave me a new appreciation for the song.