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Toto - 'Toto' / 'Hydra' / 'Turn Back' http://rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/b3/12/b5/toto-toto-12-1445626727.jpg Hot

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For me the original line-up will always be about 'Toto' and 'Hydra' and their importance to the way AOR developed from there.

Formed in the late seventies by the crème-de-la-creme of experienced L.A. session musicians, Toto was the result of keyboardist David Paich and drummer Jeff Porcaro's plans to put together their own band whilst constantly crossing paths working with a who's who of platinum selling US artists. Having worked on Boz Scaggs' successful 'Silk Degrees' record together, they soon recruited fellow Scaggs sidemen David Hungate (bass) and Jeff's brother Steve on synthesizers, but with original guitarist Les Dudek unavailable they drafted in teenage session sensation Steve Lukather, along with vocalist Bobby Kimball. The aim was to infuse the mostly singer/song-writer direction they'd been mostly working in with the Rockier edge that had already paid dividends for Boston and Foreigner.

With their self-titled 1978 debut they managed to cover the bases of Rock, Funk, Soul, Jazz and Pop, mixing them all together in a unique style that would become the band's trademark. The keyboard-led arrangements and irresistible grooves made songs like 'Manuela Run', 'Georgy Porgy' and 'You Are The Flower' into perfect examples of what would come to be known as West Coast AOR, but it was the harder side of Lukather's guitar on the brilliant 'Girl Goodbye', 'I'll Supply The Love' and the mega-hit 'Hold The Line' that would put Toto firmly in the hearts of Rock fans. Kimball's soaring voice and Lukather's breathtaking solos influenced many bands to change their sound, but none would have the chops or arrangement expertise of Toto at their best, the instrumental 'Child's Anthem' and the wonderful 'Angela' being cases in point. A different re-mix of 'Georgy Porgy' is a cool bonus track to have but doesn't really add anything to the album.

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Despite the success of the eclectic 'Toto', the band changed direction on the following year's 'Hydra', leaning more towards their Rocky and Progressive sides. The lengthy title track and ensuing 'St. George And The Dragon' retained the impressive grooves of Jeff Porcaro and Hungate, as well as the mix of Steve Porcaro's synths and Paich's piano and organ, but a more aggressive arrangement and the mighty Lukather guitar riffs gave the band a more epic slant. Straight Rockers 'All Us Boys', the classic 'White Sister' and the lively chorus of 'Lorraine' give the album an even more upbeat vibe but unfortunately there wasn't a hit single to help it match the sales of the debut, even though the Funky '99' came close. For those who don't care much for commerciality or sales (Rock Candy founder Derek Oliver and my humble self are certainly in that group!), 'Hydra' is a classic despite its relative commercial failure, maybe even the best album they've ever made. However, it's ultimately the record companies who call the tune and by album number three the Progressive influences were gone, but the band almost ended their career with album number three.

'Turn Back' pretty much crept out unnoticed in 1980, at the time disappointing both the lovers of the smooth debut and the experimental second album. Hindsight shows it in a slightly better light as a straight-ahead Rock album with some good songs, although I doubt any of them will be seen as bona fide Toto classics. 'Gift With A Golden Gun', 'English Eyes' and 'Live For Today' all Rock in their own way, but with Journey alumni Geoff Workman at the helm they lacked the groove and punch of the previous albums and Jeff Porcaro's drums just didn't have the same percussive feel. Also, whilst Paich, Lukather and Steve Porcaro had previously chipped in with the odd lead vocal, this album was the one where even Kimball's voice didn't have the same warmth and power. Despite the high quality re-mastering even the high-energy 'Goodbye Elenore' – the best track here – still sounds thin and harsh. Personally I have a real soft spot for the title track with its swirling synths and gritty Lukather riff, and also the power ballad 'I Think I Could Stand You Forever' (goose-bump alert on the extended guitar solo!), both of which would have been classics with a 'Hydra' production. On the whole '...Back' is probably appreciated by diehards only, the casual fan would have played it once and filed it away. Surprisingly Columbia kept faith and the next album smashed it out of the park, but for me the original line-up will always be about 'Toto' and 'Hydra' and their importance to the way AOR developed from there.

Phil Ashcroft

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