Never one of rock music's most critically acclaimed bands, Toto nonetheless achieved major success during its heyday from the late '70s through the mid '80s. And although the group's best music doesn't extend far beyond its biggest hits and most familiar tracks, that handful of eclectic pop songs continues to stand as some of the finest mainstream music of the early MTV era. Often considered one of rock's most faceless classic rock/soft rock bands, this group's highly talented roster of session musicians ultimately deserves to be remembered fondly, especially for these tunes, presented in chronological order.
Though the album on which this tune appeared, Hydra, was released during the latter part of 1979, the puzzlingly titled but lovely piano ballad "99" actually became a modest hit and continued to populate radio airwaves well into 1980. For that reason, I squeeze it in here as the first selection on this list, but I also do so because it is clearly one of Toto's most accomplished compositions. When it comes to this ensemble band made up of extremely accomplished L.A. session musicians, often listeners have primary songwriter David Paich to thank for any indelible pop songs the band produced. Featuring my personal favorite Toto member on lead vocals, guitarist Steve Lukather, this tune glides along Paich's elegant piano lines.
Aside from its peak at No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts in 1982, this inarguable '80s classic from the multi-platinum Toto IV has more than earned its ubiquitous place in permanent pop/rock history. Quite simply, it's a masterpiece from top to bottom, from the foundation of drummer Jeff Porcaro's inventive half-time rhythmic contributions (known legendarily as the "Rosanna Shuffle") to the sweeping and passionate melodic heft of Paich's impeccable song construction. The democratically shared vocals here are also nothing short of a marvel, with Lukather and Bobby Kimball trading verses and the entire band contributing to the slightly less infectious but still memorable bridge and chorus. A rare confluence of popularity and quality.
Exotic both lyrically and, most pleasingly, in its exquisite musical structure, this song deservingly claimed the No. 1 spot on the pop charts in early 1983. It's another wonderful ensemble effort from the band, as co-writer Paich handles lead vocals during the verses with a mellow if not quite stunningly beautiful baritone delivery. Meanwhile, in the exhilarating bridge, Kimball delivers perhaps his finest lead vocals since 1978's rocking hit "Hold the Line." All of this ultimately leads to nice harmonies during the chorus, which help maintain the balance of this classic example of pop craftsmanship. "Hurry, boy, she's waiting there for you," Paich sings, just before one of the most sublime melodic breaks of the '80s.
Toto's first foray into pure slow-dance balladry finds Lukather as the primary songwriter and lead vocalist, and the song's Top 10 showing on the pop charts in 1983 helped end a fantastic year for the band. Lyrically, the composition may have its awkward moments ("Time can erase the love we shared/But it gives me time to realize just how much you cared"), but the crisp, straightforward melodies throughout the verses, bridge and chorus more than make up for any poetic limitations. Lukather's guitar adds a touch of power ballad atmosphere through this tasteful use of power chords and a typically impressive solo. However, the soft piano flourishes of Paich also deserve credit for rounding out this top adult contemporary smash.
Toto's 1984 follow-up to its massively successful fourth studio release, aptly titled Isolation, did not come close to repeating the commercial impact of its predecessor, and the band's fortunes appeared to be in a slow decline. Despite that album's lone, paltry and highly mediocre modest pop single, "Stranger in Town," group members remained busy as session musicians and didn't seem to be suffering a crisis of confidence. So when 1986's Fahrenheit appeared, it was probably a welcome bonus when the pleasant, Lukather-helmed "I'll Be Over You" brought Toto to the edge of the Top 10 one last time. As the band's final great original tune, this is a respectable swan song, and certainly any band must see the Toto legacy as an enviable one.