I hear the drums echoing today, which means it must be Music Monday!
I find it amazing how some songs just absolutely stick with us, so many years after their initial chart success. Whether its the sound, the lyrics, or just the feeling, there is always a reason for why a song sticks with us. Be it a good reason or a bad reason, some songs just never go away.
Today’s song is one of those “it sticks around for a good reason”-type songs. It’s a song that was a major hit for the group that put it forth in the early 1980s, and thirty years later, saw a resurgence with a newer generation. Nearly 40 years after its release, the legacy of this song is one that has transcended time, changing musical tastes, and has ensured that even though some of the band’s members may be gone, the song will never be forgotten.
I also had a misheard song lyric with this song. Perhaps you did too?
“Africa” is a single by the band Toto, released in 1982 as the third single from their fourth studio album, Toto IV (see, Chicago isn’t the only group that numbers their albums!!!!). The single found its way to being the tenth and final track on the album, but its place in both release and album order is deceiving when discussing this song’s impact and legacy.
Written by Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro, along with Toto keyboardist and principal songwriter David Paich, the lyrics and idea for “Africa” came from Paich, who was playing around with his newly-acquired Yamaha CS-80 keyboard. He found the brassy sound that would become the opening of the song during this moment of experimentation, completing the melody and lyrics for the chorus in less than 10 minutes. However, Paich worked on refining the lyrics for six months before introducing the song to the rest of the band. The song, Paich has said, is about the love of the continent, and not a personal love song, with the lyrics based off a late-night documentary with depictions of plight and suffering, which simultaneously moved and appalled him, and became the basis of the song. The lyrics “I bless the rains down in Africa” came from listening to stories of the missionary work his Catholic school teachers had described, with the landscape descriptions based on a National Geographic article.
“Africa” was released in October 1982, barely making the cut for the album. Passed off as “goofy” and “an experiment” (said in a 2018 KROX interview) by Toto members Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather, the song was an immediate commercial success, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1983 (#24 overall, 1983). It was the only Toto song to have this distinction. It has been featured in television shows, movies, and internet memes. Thirty years after its release, it had a resurgence on social media, and 2012 was listed on New Musical Express (NME) Magazine’s “50 Most Explosive Choruses,” finding itself at #32.
I find it incredible that the songs often believed to be of the “throwaway” nature, and the one the group or singer doesn’t have much hope for, is always the one that people latch on to, take in as their own, and still love long after the initial popularity. You hear this often of legendary songs – they become the signature songs, the ones that the band/singer has on their setlist, the one the audience always wants to hear. The Doobie Brothers has “Listen to the Music,” ABBA had “Dancing Queen,” Rick Astley has “Never Gonna Give You Up,” Bon Jovi has “Livin’ On a Prayer,” Chicago has “Beginnings” (I wouldn’t even have thought that, but I could totally see why), Eagles have “Hotel California,” Billy Joel has “Piano Man,” Kenny Rogers has “The Gambler,” and Vanilla Ice has “Ice Ice Baby.” I’m not saying all signature songs are particularly memorable because they’re good, but because listeners have a certain emotional tie to certain songs – first dance, wedding, divorce, loss, first car, first child born, or a special person.
I could have left out Vanilla Ice, but did you expect anything less of me?
I wanted to close out today’s Music Monday with the actual song, rather than having it within the article. I just felt like it was better that way.
The music video for this song uses the radio edit, and features band member David Paich as the researcher, attempting to match a scrap of a picture of a shield to the book it was torn from, as well as the group performing on top of a giant book.
It’s a pretty cool music video.
So, as for that misheard lyric…
When I was a kid, those commercials promoting 1980s/1990s compilation albums were all over daytime television (probably when advertising time was the least expensive, aside from late night), and this song was on a compilation called Cool Rock. The chorus for this song was featured on this commercial, and everytime they sing “I bless the rains down in Africa,” my 12-year-old brain always heard “I gots the brains down in Africa,” and later “I has the brains down in Africa.”
It took YEARS to unhear that version!
Also, how did I miss PO Box 1111-YO?
Ah, the 90s and everyone’s attempt to be Time Life Records.
I also checked coolmusic.com, and it redirects to coolgames.com, and HTML5 gaming website. A search of the Wayback Machine on archive.org…doesn’t reveal much about the site, except that it has been searched over 270 times since December 27, 1996 and today. And no, none of those times were from 14-year-old or 38-year-old me.
As for Toto, the group has been together on and off since their formation in 1977, taking a brief hiatus in 2008, reuniting in 2010 until 2019, and again last year. They’ve had some losses along the way, with two of the Porcaro brothers passing away – Jeff in 1992 from a heart attack, Mike in 2015 from ALS – his retirement was the reason for the group disbanding in 2008. Brother Steve remained with the group until 2019. The current lineup includes founding member Steve Lukather and longtime member Joseph Williams, but until 2019, the group was more or less still the original lineup, with a few changes.
Along with a song about dating Rosanna Arquette and holding the line, there will always be a song about National Geographic-style imagery to hang a legacy on.
So much for a “goofy” song.
Have a great Monday, and enjoy the music!