Toto IV: Bless the sonic reign.
TOTO HAVE GOTTEN an undeserved bum rap over the years for embodying the adult contemporary vein. But their coolness factor went up a thousandfold recently when emo-rock icons Weezer covered both “Rosanna” and “Africa” live at the behest of a fierce Twitter campaign initiated by a 14-year-old female fan via @Weezercoverafrica.
Regardless, the fact remains that Toto’s original core four members— guitarist/vocalist Steve “Luke” Lukather, keyboardist/vocalist David Paich, keyboardist/vocalist Steve Porcaro, and late drumming icon Jeff Porcaro— are among the sharpest, most recording-studio savvy musicians of the modern rock era. And there’s no better example of their recording prowess to be found than within the grooves of their signature April 1982 release Toto IV, which subsequently nabbed six Grammys in 1983, including Album of the Year, Producer of the Year, and Record of the Year for “Rosanna.”
Why does Toto IV sound so good? You can thank the deft ear and masterful touch of legendary producer/engineer Al Schmitt (Frank Sinatra, George Benson) for the overall sound template, and Greg Ladanyi (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon) for the mixing magic.
Naturally, there are myriad Toto IV listening options. My personal favorite remains the 1999 SACD 5.1 mix done by the irrepressible Elliot Scheiner, best exemplified with the richness of the piano break in the back quarter of “Rosanna,” the fullness of the strings and vocal blends on “I Won’t Hold You Back,” and the percussive clarity on “Africa.” While the SACD has long been out of print, a Scheiner-helmed remaster of the 5.1 mix appears on the bonus Blu-ray included in the band’s exhaustively comprehensive 40th anniversary All In box set scheduled for an October 2018 release. As Steve Porcaro recounts, “When Elliot first auditioned the 5.1 for us, we dug it. I almost started crying a couple of times while listening to it. When you’re in a band with crunch guitar and all these other things flying around, there’s always a lot of stuff that gets buried in the mixes. But in the surround version, it felt like our overdubs finally got their own chance to breathe.”
If you’re going the CD route, the original 1988 Redbook standard disc is certainly serviceable, but the 1999 Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc II version as gleaned from the original master tapes better reflects the scope of Ladanyi’s initial, cleverly respectful mix. The more recent 2014 limited-edition Culture Factory 24-bit/96khz remastered CD offering opens the soundfield palette a good bit more— though the microscopic reproduction of the track and personnel info on the inner sleeve will challenge the depth perception of even the most eagle-eyed among us.
On the vinyl tip, the 180-gram options are clear winners. Music On Vinyl’s 2012 platter is unquestionably superior to the original vinyl, while the current 180g offering— mastered by Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen and supervised by Scheiner and Toto— is the best I’ve heard to date.
If you have enough bank in your music-buying till, I suggest you either track down the SACD or invest in the aforementioned All In mondo box set at totoofficial.com/all-in for both 180g LP and 5.1 BD options. Perhaps Cool Hand Luke assesses it best: “When you put music on a great-sounding system, you don’t want to do anything else. And Toto makes records to be listened to like that.” So true. Let us take a moment to bless the rains, and the uninterrupted reign, of Toto IV.