TOTO has made 40 trips around the sun, so it's fitting that the pop rock band titled its new collection of greatests hits going back to 1978 after their time spent making hits. The celebrate their musical journey — and encapsulate a platinum-selling discography — TOTO plans to release 40 Trips Around the Sun this month, a 17-track album with three unreleased tracks.
Band members David Paich and Steve Lukather speak with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about forming the band and their time as individual studio session musicians.
"The deepest, darkest secret is whether you listen to TOTO or not, you've probably heard us a million times on so many other things and so many different styles of music," says Lukather.
Aside from their past hits, the new album includes previously unreleased tracks, "Alone," "Struck By Lightning," and "Spanish Sea," a song, Lukather notes, was originally cut in 1985. "Spanish Sea" features two of the band's deceased members; drummer Jeff Porcaro who died of a heart attack in 1992, and Mike Porcaro who died of ALS in 2015.
As for TOTO's biggest claim to fame? The 1983 hit, "Africa," — a song that was an extra cut that almost didn't make it on Toto IV.
"I was the guy who said, 'I'll run naked down Hollywood Boulevard if this song's a hit record,'" Lukather says of arguably the band's most famous track.
Paich romanticized the love story of the song because of his own interest to travel to the continent. "He was looking for salvation and he found it in his companion," he says of the song's character.
Thirty-five years later, the guys are still surprised that the song gets streamed, meme'd and referenced in comedy skits featuring Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.
"To be a part of pop culture is a great honor and to think we'd be upset with that is ridiculous and unappreciative," Lukather says. "It's like, 'C'mon, we get the joke.'"
TOTO's 40 Trips Around the Sun is out Feb. 9 on Legacy Recordings. Listen to the entire interview at the audio link.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
They've made 40 trips around the sun. And that's the title of a new collection of greatest hits going back to 1978 by the pop superstars Toto.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD THE LINE")
TOTO: (Singing) Hold the line. Love isn't always on time...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSANNA")
TOTO: (Singing) Meet you all the way, Rosanna. Yeah...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRICA")
TOTO: (Singing) I bless the rains down in Africa.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Hold the Line," "Rosanna," "Africa" - the soundtrack of my childhood - those are just a handful of hits from albums that have sold tens of millions of copies. And joining us from our studios at NPR West are a couple of the original band members. David Paich, welcome to the program.
DAVID PAICH: Welcome.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Steve Lukather, welcome to you.
STEVE LUKATHER: Thank you very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did the band form? Take us back.
PAICH: Well, we met - my father was the musical director on "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour." And he hired Jeff's dad, Joe Porcaro, on percussion. And they were looking for a new keyboard player. I was about 14. And I auditioned for his band. And it was absolutely fabulous. And we started doing gigs at Grant High School shortly after that.
LUKATHER: Then we met. Actually, it's really ironic. This is Lukather right here. All the guys we went to school with ended up doing really well. Our bass player plays with Huey Lewis. And the other guitar player Michael Landou plays with James Taylor now and is a session guy. So all are a little clump of guys...
LUKATHER: ...Made something of ourselves in this music business. And they're still doing it after 40-some odd years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is something that we don't know about Toto?
LUKATHER: Well, the deepest, darkest secrets is, whether you listen to Toto or not, you've heard us play millions of times on so many other things in so many different styles of music. That's probably something people may not know.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because you were studio musicians. You were - you had serious chops as studio musicians.
LUKATHER: Yeah - last of the great era of session, I guess - is what we're told anyway.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Was it hard to be accepted at first as a rock band in your own right when you were coming out of being session musicians?
LUKATHER: Well, no. See that's - you got it backwards. We were a rock band in high school that studied music. And they figured out that we could play on other people's stuff. And then they started hiring us as a rhythm section. And we sort of took it from there and became successful for other people. And they started hiring us for everything.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then you guys decided to just come back together and make your own band. All right. So aside from all the hits, there are some unreleased tracks on the new album. Let's listen to the song "Alone."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALONE")
TOTO: (Singing) I woke up Sunday morning, another 20 years gone by. Pulled myself out of my bed. It's getting harder every time. Grabbed my phone, but there's no messages at all...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Our producer Ned is rocking out to this in the control room. I just want you to know. Steve, tell us about this song.
LUKATHER: Oh, we wrote four songs from scratch with David Paich, Joseph Williams, Steve Porcaro and myself - just the four of us. We just sat in a room and wrote. And we also have five tracks with our original drummer Jeff Porcaro and Mike Porcaro, our bass player on both, who are now in - sadly in heaven, looking down on us.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Drummer Jeff Porcaro died of a heart attack in 1992 - and Mike Porcaro who died of ALS in 2015.
LUKATHER: ALS - yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. So "Alone" - brand new song, but there's another extra on this new album, which you just referenced.
LUKATHER: There's three.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah - is an unreleased track called "Spanish Sea" - let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPANISH SEA")
TOTO: (Singing) If they could see the way you smile at me, how could I ever let you go? Oh. Your gypsy heart will set you free. Oh. Let's dance upon the Spanish sea. Yeah...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this is from the vaults.
LUKATHER: That was cut in 1980 - 90 - 85.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So on this track is, you know, Jeff and Mike - are sort of playing on it.
LUKATHER: Yeah. And me and David Paich and Steve Porcaro...
PAICH: Lenny Castro...
LUKATHER: ...Lenny Castro and Jeff - and Steve Porcaro.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it kind of bittersweet, considering what happened to your - playing again?
LUKATHER: But at the same time, very joyous because listen to how great they play.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPANISH SEA")
LUKATHER: (Singing) Dance across the Spanish sea. Yeah. Darling, close your eyes and come with me. Oh. Let's dance across the Spanish sea. Oh.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Because I am the host of the show, I get a few perks.
PAICH: Yes. We're getting love from you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. So I get to choose my favorite Toto song to ask you about. And, of course, here's "Africa."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRICA")
TOTO: (Singing) I hear the drums echoing tonight. But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you get bored being asked about "Africa?"
LUKATHER: It's intriguing. Bored isn't the right word. It's more like, really? I mean, I was the guy saying, I'll run naked down Hollywood Boulevard if this song's a hit record.
PAICH: Yeah. Yeah.
LUKATHER: Of course, I laughed at "Beat It" and "Let's Get Physical" and all these other songs I played on.
PAICH: The album was pretty much done. And this was, like, the extra cut that may or may not go on the record. You know, it was an afterthought we didn't...
LUKATHER: It was a great track. But I didn't get the lyrics, you know?
LUKATHER: We're from North Hollywood. So don't think that the irony is not - our humor is not lost on us, you know?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is this song about, though?
PAICH: No. I just - I had always wanted to go to Africa. And I just kind of wrote a romanticized story about a guy who was a social worker over there who realizes that he can't do it alone all of his life and needs companionship - and that he was looking for salvation and found it in his companion.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRICA")
TOTO: (Singing) It's going to take a lot to drag me away from you. There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I looked on YouTube. This video has been seen 259 million times.
LUKATHER: We made $5 from that, too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But - and there's so many memes that have been created off of this.
LUKATHER: We laugh. We're howling.
PAICH: It's so funny because I got real excited I got a chance to license "Africa" for the Jimmy Fallon show. And I thought, wow. Maybe someone's going to sing it. Or they usually do it as a play-on for the next guest. And him and Justin Timberlake did it as a skit...
LUKATHER: Oh, it was hilarious.
PAICH: ...An '80s skit, where they're Boy Scouts with braces on. And they're singing it after curfew.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON")
JIMMY FALLON AND JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) Going take some time to do the things we never had. Woohoo.
(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)
A.D. MILES: (As Mr. Fletcher) What in the Pete sake's going on in here?
JIMMY FALLON: (As himself) Sorry, Mr. Fletcher. We were just singing.
LUKATHER: To be a part of pop culture is a great honor. And to think that we would be upset with that would be not only ridiculous but unappreciative. I mean, now, come on. We get the joke. I mean, we never really thought 40 years later you'd be playing this, and we'd be having this conversation. You know, so we're very happy and humbled by it. But at the same time, we laugh at it, shaking our heads going, I can't even believe this is happening.
(SOUNDBITE OF TOTO SONG, "I'LL SUPPLY THE LOVE")
GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Paich, Steve Lukather from Toto. Their new album is "40 Trips Around The Sun." Thank you both so very much.
PAICH: Thank you.
LUKATHER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL SUPPLY THE LOVE")
TOTO: (Singing) You supply the night, baby. I'll supply the love. You supply the night, baby. I'll supply the love. I see a horseman in the sky. It makes me turn and wonder why... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.