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In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every distinct #1 distinct in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and alive my way up into the present.
Toto – “Africa”
HIT #1: February 5, 1983
STAYED AT #1: 1 week
David Paich had never been to Africa back he wrote “Africa.” Instead, Paich, keyboardist and capital songwriter of Toto, based “Africa” on whatever impressions of the abstemious he’d gotten from UNICEF commercials, from National Geographic, from his old schoolteachers’ belief of accomplishing missionary assignment over there. Back Paich wrote the song, he had two accompanying inspirations: A late-night TV documentary he’d aloof apparent about animal ache in Africa, and the horn sounds that he could accomplish on the CS-80, the polyphonic keyboard he’d aloof bought. “Africa” is absolute abundant the array of song that addition ability address based on brief adventurous notions of a adopted acreage and on action over a adorned new synthesizer. This is not a complaint.
The Africa of “Africa” is not an absolute place. “I apperceive that I charge do what’s right/ As abiding as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus aloft the Serengeti,” Paich sings. But Paich doesn’t apperceive what he’s talking about. Kilimanjaro is added than a hundred afar from the Serengeti. Paich had a ambiguous anecdotal in mind: A amusing artisan is in adulation with a girl, but if he wants to be with her, he’ll accept to leave abaft this allegorical acreage that he loves. So again the Africa of “Africa” doesn’t alike accept to be a absolute place. It’s added a stand-in, a affair that you connected for alike afore you’ve said goodbye to it. Paich was at atomic partly autograph about his own bedrock distinction — about the adherence to his assignment that kept him afar from annihilation akin a accustomed life.
The actuality that Paich uses Africa as his connected allegory is a altogether antic act of hubris. Africa is, afterwards all, an absolute place, not a brainy state. It’s additionally a loaded abode aural the Western imagination. Black bodies ability not be too into the abstraction of a White guy application Africa as a array of mystical adventurous shorthand. Quite simply, “Africa,” at atomic in the way Paich wrote it, should not exist. But it does exist, and it additionally slaps. With “Africa,” Paich and his bandage fabricated a altogether antic hunk of ultra-dramatic synth-gloop to go forth with that altogether antic act of hubris.
It’s a bit amazing that Toto were anytime stars in the aboriginal place. They don’t attending like stars. They attending like shaggy, bearding ’70s session-musician types, which is absolutely what they were. Toto are affectionate of the late-’70s/early-’80s adjustment of the Wrecking Crew. The associates of Toto, abnormally the acutely active bagman and “Africa” co-writer Jeff Porcaro, played on a accomplished ton of #1 singles: Rhythm Heritage’s “Theme From S.W.A.T.,” Leo Sayer’s “When I Bare You,” Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic.” They played on Steely Dan annal and Seals & Crofts records. Back ambassador David Foster retooled Chicago’s complete on the 1982 anthology Chicago 16, he replaced best of the associates of Chicago with associates of Toto. Whenever addition bare glossy in-studio virtuosity, the associates of Toto were the guys to call. They kept accomplishing affair assignment alike afterwards they’d become badly popular.
David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the two busiest associates of Toto, were both built-in into the business, sons of affair musicians. In aerial school, they’d had a bandage alleged Rural Still Activity together, but they’d larboard it abaft to hunt that affair money. Paich and Porcaro hatched a plan to anatomy their own bandage back they were both alive on the 1976 Boz Scaggs anthology Silk Degrees. (Paich co-wrote Scaggs’ highest-charting single, 1976’s “Lowdown.” “Lowdown” ailing at #3; it’s a 6.) Paich and Porcaro brought in adept affair bassist David Hudgate, Boz Scaggs guitarist Steve Lukather, and Jeff’s brother Steve Porcaro.
Toto hit big with their aboriginal single, the expensive-sounding 1978 clue “Hold The Line.” (“Hold The Line” ailing at #5. It’s a 6.) But the band’s abutting few annal didn’t sell, and Toto were on the border of accident their Columbia Annal arrangement with they arise the 1982 anthology Toto IV. But Toto IV isn’t an afraid record. It’s affluent and comfortable in the way that alone early-’80s annal can be affluent and luxurious. Toto IV has bandage afterwards bandage of accord and keyboard twiddle and complicated drum-shuffle. It would all be too abundant if the bandage didn’t accept songs. But the songs are there.
“Africa” wasn’t declared to be a single. It’s the aftermost song on the LP, the awe-inspiring little agreement that added associates of the bandage accurately begin ridiculous. (Steve Lukather, talking to The Guardian years later: “I anticipation the song had a ablaze tune, but I bethink alert to the lyrics and going: ‘Dave, man, Africa? We’re from arctic Hollywood. What the fuck are you autograph about? I absolve the rains bottomward in Africa? Are you Jesus, Dave?’”) Instead, the big distinct was the absurdly affluent opener “Rosanna,” which sounds like Steely Dan attempting to accomplish power-pop. “Rosanna” absolutely worked, and it was the hit that Toto needed. (“Rosanna” ailing at #2. It’s a 7.)
So Toto IV was a big record, alike admitting the bandage wasn’t touring abaft it, opting instead to break in LA so that the bandage associates could assignment on albums like Chicago 16 and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. But clubs in New York started arena “Africa,” and bodies at the band’s characterization noticed. So “Africa” became a single, and again it became the better song that Toto would anytime make. Anybody in the bandage was abashed back “Africa” blew up.
The video was absolutely allotment of it. Director Steve Barron was a badly important amount in the aboriginal MTV days. He’d done the Animal League’s blow for “Don’t You Want Me?,” and he afterwards did a accomplished lot of videos for songs that will end up in this column. (Barron would additionally absolute the 1990 cine Boyish Mutant Ninja Turtles, which for a while was the highest-grossing absolute blur anytime made.) In Toto, Barron was alive with doofy session-musician types who didn’t attending like stars, and he fabricated that work.
The “Africa” video has a array of august Indiana Jones vibe. David Paich is in a library, accomplishing analysis on age-old arenaceous tomes, back some affectionate of alien African abracadabra causes a aborigine to bandy a extra that somehow goes out of the book, and into the library? And maybe makes Paich disappear? And some being catches on fire? It’s authentic cocaine-logic delirium. The “Africa” blow is additionally about shockingly racist, alike by early-MTV standards. But it succeeds at its ambition of authoritative Toto assume visually acute and advice the over-the-top ball of “Africa” into article cinematic.
That faculty of affected ball is additionally the acumen why “Africa” has lingered, why it charcoal meme-bait decades later. The song has a abounding and all-embracing groove, with its purring synth riff and its layered bang and its vaguely kalimba-sounding keyboard solo. The mix is overstuffed abundant that above Eagles affiliate Timothy B. Schmidt is in there, abacus acoustic guitar and articulate harmonies. (As a abandoned artist, Schmidt’s highest-charting single, 1987’s “Boys Night Out,” ailing at #25.)
Still, it’s not the canal that drives “Africa” home. It’s the allotment back the choir hits and the song swells up into article operatic. Paich sings advance on best of the song, but approved Toto advance accompanist Bobby Kimball takes over on the angle and assault it the fuck out. Paich’s lyrics are antiquated and overwritten in a fun array of way: “The agrarian dogs cry out in the night/ As they abound active anxious for some aloof company.” But both Paich and Kimball advertise the song, bringing batty levels of aplomb and calmness to their own soft-rock maximalism. If Toto had alike a atom of self-consciousness, “Africa” would’ve absolutely collapsed apart. Thank fuck they didn’t.
When “Africa” hit #1, it briefly disconnected the administration of Men At Work’s “Down Under,” addition song about a continent. (Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone: “The alone time in pop history two continents slugged it out for #1 — appropriate afterwards the bandage Asia had the acknowledged anthology of 1982.”) A few months later, Toto IV won Anthology Of The Year at the Grammys, while “Rosanna” won Almanac Of The Year. I aspect this absolutely to the session-musician vote. Those guys must’ve been psyched to see some of their own affectionate accomplishing so well. It doesn’t arise that often.
Toto alone had one added top-10 hit afterwards “Africa”; the Toto IV ability carol “I Won’t Hold You Back” ailing at #10 afterwards in 1983. (It’s a 5.) Afterwards that, Toto’s history gets checky and weird. Bassist David Hungate had already larboard the bandage to go become a ambassador in Nashville afterwards they’d gotten done recording Toto IV. Jeff and Steve Porcaro replaced him with their brother Mike, who mimed Hungate’s allotment in the “Africa” video. Back “Africa” hit #1, accompanist Bobby Kimball was apprehension balloon for affairs cocaine to an clandestine cop. The accuse were absolved afterwards that year, but Toto still accursed Kimball in 1984. For a while, they replaced him with Joseph Williams, son of acclaimed blur artisan John. (John Williams’ highest-charting single, the London Symphony Orchestra’s 1977 recording of the Brilliant Wars main-title theme, ailing at #10. It’s a 10.)
Toto themselves did some film-composing work, accomplishing the account for David Lynch’s beloved-among-weirdos 1984 Dune adaptation. They additionally recorded with Afar Davis and Eddie Van Halen, admitting acutely not at the aforementioned time. In 1992, Jeff Porcaro died of a affection advance — brought on, in part, by years of cocaine use — at the age of 38. Mike Porcaro died of ALS in 2015, back he was 59. The band’s calendar has kept shifting, and assorted altered bandage associates accept retired and unretired. But Toto accept connected to bout and record, and they’re still around.
“Africa” is still about too, and it ability be added assured now than it was in 1983. Back Nelson Mandela died in 2013 and CBS Account acclimated “Africa” to soundtrack the account of his death, people, including David Paich, got justifiably pissed off. Mostly, though, “Africa” does not abide as a austere song. It’s a meme, a funny ’80s affair that anybody recognizes instantly. There’s a accomplished Family Guy adventure congenital about the song, which is the affectionate of affair that should arresting that we, as a culture, accept run article into the ground. In the Namib desert, there’s a solar-powered accession that will allegedly comedy “Africa” for all eternity. And aloof aftermost week, Toto themselves acquaint a social-distanced adjustment of “Africa” on Facebook.
In 1983, Toto’s “Africa” distinct went platinum. Now, afterwards years of memes, it’s platinum four times over. Back songs become memes, those songs can never absolutely die.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Nas rapping over an “Africa” sample on the L.E.S.-produced 1999 anthology clue “New World”:
(Nas’ highest-charting single, 2003’s “I Can,” ailing at #12.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Ja Rule additionally rapped over an “Africa” sample on the 2003 clue “Murder Reigns.” Here’s the video:
(Ja Rule will eventually arise in this column. Patrick Swayze, co-star of the “Murder Reigns” video, fabricated it up to #3 with the 1987 Wendy Fraser collab “She’s Like The Wind.” It’s a 5.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Danny Pudi, Betty White, and Donald Glover interpolating “Africa” during an end-credits rap from a 2010 adventure of Community:
(Donald Glover will eventually arise in this column.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y rapping over an “Africa” sample on the 2010 mixtape clue “Huey Newton”:
(Curren$y’s highest-charting single, the 2015 Lil Wayne/August Alsina collab “Bottom Of The Bottle,” ailing at #97. Wiz Khalifa will eventualy arise in this column.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: And now the big one! In 2017, a boyish Weezer fan in Ohio started a Twitter attack to get Weezer to awning “Africa.” A few months later, Weezer, trolling that fan a bit, covered “Rosanna” instead. Then, anon afterwards that, Weezer caved to the burden and alone their “Africa” cover. “Africa” became Weezer’s better hit in years, peaking at #51. Weezer congenital a accomplished antic covers anthology about it. Steve Porcaro sat in with Weezer back they played “Africa” on Kimmel. Afterwards on, Toto, repaying the favor, covered Weezer’s song “Hash Pipe.” It was a accomplished thing. Here’s Weezer’s video for their “Africa” cover:
(Weezer’s highest-charting single, 2005’s “Beverly Hills,” ailing at #10. It’s a 7. “Africa” video brilliant “Weird Al” Yankovic’s highest-charting single, 2006’s “White & Nerdy,” ailing at #9. It’s additionally a 7.)
I about accumulate Bonus Beats to bristles selections, but “Africa” has been so goddamn all-knowing for the accomplished few years that it hasn’t been easy. I did not mention, for instance, the absurd “Africa”-sampling Pitbull song on the Aquaman soundtrack, or the time Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon sang it on The Tonight Show while dressed up as Boy Scouts. (Pitbull and Justin Timberlake will both be in this cavalcade eventually.)
My admired “Africa” ceremony doesn’t assume to be on YouTube. Few bodies anytime allocution about The World Is Yours, Romain Gavras’ 2018 French abomination movie, but I adulation that thing. I’d put it appropriate up there with The Irishman and The Night Comes For Us on the account of the best Netflix aboriginal films. In The World Is Yours, there’s a abundant arena involving Scottish and Moroccan biologic smugglers in a Spanish bank karaoke bar, and it’s set to “Africa.” I’ve watched this arena a lot of times, and I acclaim that you do the same. It starts about the 51-minute mark mark of the movie, and it works alike if you don’t apperceive the backstory.
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