From the Stacks

From The Stacks: Toto, “Africa” (Picture Disc)

I have a confession: I’ve always hated Toto’s “Africa.” Why it has grown into a classic over the past 35 years escapes me.

This isn’t music snob braggadocio. Nobody would know if I were to pretend that I loathed all top 40 music when Toto IV was released in April 1982, but that’s not true. Haircut 100’s Pelican West, The Motels’ All Four One, and Asia’s self-titled debut all spent time on my turntable that spring. Nor did I have any real objection to Toto as a band. I thought “Hold the Line” from their debut album was bad ass; granted, I was 11 years old when that single hit the airwaves, but still. Hydra, their sophomore effort, still pops up in my rotation now and then. All that being said, at age 15 my musical diet consisted primarily of the Guys In Black Tee Shirts Who Jam rock I’d always loved and the punk and post-punk that was rapidly becoming my obsession. I had no time for slick adult contemporary hits.

My loathing for Toto IV began with lead single “Rosanna,” David Paich’s sonic love letter to actress Rosanna Arquette. Every time singer Bobby Kimball bleated “Rosanna” like a lovelorn sheep I wanted to punch the radio. I may have hated the song, but I was in the minority: “Rosanna” climbed to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went gold in the U.S.

Follow up single “Make Believe” just barely cracked the top 30 and has long since faded from our collective musical memory. And no wonder: It sounds like the montage music from a bad ’80s rom-com.

“Africa” dropped about six months after Toto IV hit the shelves, and by then even the idea of turning on the radio and running into “Rosanna” was enough to throw me into a cold sweat. The new single didn’t do anything to change my opinion: Toto IV was music for old guys who drove sensible cars and called their significant others “my lady.” It simply wasn’t my music. Again, I was in the minority.  “Africa” became Toto’s first and only number one single, and like “Rosanna” it went gold. That means at least a half million people paid good money to buy the song as a 7-inch single on top of the three million who bought the full album.

I still hate it, and I’m still in the minority. If anything, “Africa” is more popular–and certainly more respected–than it was when it was originally released back in ’82. I have friends who swear it’s the most perfect song ever written. Even my own son digs it, so apparently whatever is defective about my musical taste is not genetic.

If I hate “Rosanna” and “Africa” so much, then what is this double A-sided picture disc doing in my stacks? Well, I like interesting vinyl, and any record shaped like a continent qualifies as interesting. We know from the hype sticker on the record’s sleeve that this one was a cash grab in the wake of Toto IV winning 1983 Grammy Awards for album of the year and record of the year for “Rosanna.” “Rosanna” also took home a trophy for “best vocal arrangement for two or more voices,” and the band shared a producer of the year Grammy. That’s an awful lot of hardware for an album I swore sucked.

We also know it couldn’t have been cheap to die cut a single to resemble Africa. It’s an interesting novelty, and it looks good next to my other die-cut picture discs, like this one from Tears For Fears.

This picture disc was reissued for Record Store Day 2017, the only significant difference being the red sticker on the sleeve (the reissue features a large Record Store Day logo vs. the “Double Feature” sticker pictured below). Both the original and the RSD version trade regularly in the $50 range, but come on — if you’re going to collect you have to go with the original, right? Happy hunting.

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