On this day in 1983: Toto went to #1 on the U.S. singles chart with “Africa.”
“Africa” is the tenth and final track on Toto’s fourth studio album Toto IV. It was released as a single on October 30, 1982, the album’s third single overall and second in Europe. The song was written by band members David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, produced by the band, and mixed by Grammy-winning engineer Elliot Scheiner.
Critics praised its composition and Toto’s performances. The song reached #1 on the United States’ Billboard Hot 100 chart on February 5, 1983, the band’s only Billboard #1, and #1 on the Canadian charts. It also peaked in the top ten in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland.
The initial idea and lyrics for the song came from David Paich. Paich was playing around with a new keyboard, the CS-80, and found the brassy sound that became the opening riff. He completed the melody and lyrics for the chorus in about ten minutes, much to Paich’s surprise. “I sang the chorus out as you hear it. It was like God channeling it. I thought, ‘I’m talented, but I’m not that talented. Something just happened here!’ Paich recalls that he refined the lyrics for six months before showing the song to the rest of the band.
Paich explained that the song is about a man’s love of a continent, Africa, rather than just a personal romance. He based the lyrics off a late night documentary with depictions of African plight and suffering. The viewing experience made a lasting impact on Paich: “It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn’t leave my head. I tried to imagine how I’d feel about it if I was there and what I’d do.” Jeff Porcaro elaborated further, explaining: “A white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.”
Some additional lyrics relate to a person flying in to meet a lonely missionary, as Paich described in an interview. As a child, Paich attended a Catholic school; several of his teachers had done missionary work in Africa. Their missionary work became the inspiration behind the line: “I bless the rains down in Africa.” Paich, who at the time had never set foot in Africa, based the song’s landscape descriptions from an article in National Geographic magazine.
During an appearance on the radio station KROQ-FM, bandmates Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather described the song as “dumb” and “an experiment” and some of the lyrics as “goofy” that were just placeholders, particularly the line about the Serengeti. Engineer Al Schmitt stated that “Africa” was the second song written for Toto IV and had been worked on extensively in the studio. According to Steve Porcaro, it was the last song they recorded and barely made the cut. At one point, Jeff Porcaro considered saving “Africa” for a solo album because some members did not think the song sounded like Toto. The band was more focused on the album’s lead single “Rosanna” instead.
Musically, the song took some time to assemble. Steve Porcaro, the band’s synth player, introduced Paich to the Yamaha CS-80, a polyphonic analog synthesizer, and instructed him to write a song specifically with the keyboard in mind. Paich gravitated towards a brassy flute sound, which he found to be a unique alternative to the piano. Porcaro programmed six tracks of a Yamaha GS 1 digital piano to emulate the sound of a kalimba.
Jeff Porcaro also acknowledged that he was influenced by the sounds created by fellow Los Angeles session musicians Milt Holland and Emil Richards. He also described the significance of the African pavilion drummers at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and a National Geographic Special. To recreate those sounds, he and his father Joe Porcaro made percussion loops on bottle caps and marimba respectively.
“I was about 11 when the New York World’s Fair took place, and I went to the African pavilion with my family. I saw the real thing … It was the first time I witnessed somebody playing one beat and not straying from it, like a religious experience, where it gets loud, and everyone goes into a trance.”
Here’s a look at the complete Top 20 on the U.S. singles chart from this day back in 1983:
1 2 AFRICA –•– Toto (Columbia)-15 (1 week at #1) (1)
2 1 DOWN UNDER –•– Men At Work (Columbia)-14 (1)
3 3 SEXUAL HEALING –•– Marvin Gaye (Columbia)-15 (3)
4 7 BABY, COME TO ME –•– Patti Austin with James Ingram (Qwest)-21 (4)
5 9 SHAME ON THE MOON –•– Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (Capitol)-8 (5)
6 6 MANEATER –•– Daryl Hall & John Oates (RCA)-17 (1)
7 4 DIRTY LAUNDRY –•– Don Henley (Asylum)-15 (3)
8 8 ROCK THE CASBAH –•– The Clash (Epic)-19 (8)
9 10 YOU AND I –•– Eddie Rabbitt with Crystal Gayle (Elektra)-18 (9)
10 11 YOU CAN’T HURRY LOVE –•– Phil Collins (Atlantic)-14 (10)
11 12 THE OTHER GUY –•– Little River Band (Capitol)-12 (11)
12 16 STRAY CAT STRUT –•– The Stray Cats (EMI-America)-7 (12)
13 14 GOODY TWO SHOES –•– Adam Ant (Epic)-13 (13)
14 17 PASS THE DUTCHIE –•– Musical Youth (MCA)-9 (14)
15 15 HEART TO HEART –•– Kenny Loggins (Columbia)-11 (15)
16 5 THE GIRL IS MINE –•– Michael Jackson / Paul McCartney (Epic)-14 (2)
17 18 ALLENTOWN –•– Billy Joel (Columbia)-11 (17)
18 21 YOUR LOVE IS DRIVING ME CRAZY –•– Sammy Hagar (Geffen)-9 (18)
19 23 ALL RIGHT –•– Christopher Cross (Warner Brothers)-3 (19)
20 20 YOU GOT LUCKY –Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Backstreet)-13 (20)