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The Story Behind the Song "Rosanna" by Toto

Rockin’ before she could walk, Kaili is a vinyl hound who knows the words to every post-1960 song.

Toto in 1982, the year "Rosanna" was released.

Toto in 1982, the year "Rosanna" was released.

Released as a single on March 31, 1982, "Rosanna" reached the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100 after only 12 weeks on the charts. The song was rumored to have been written about American actress Rosanna Arquette, but there was a little more to the story, as we'll see.

A Brief History of Toto

Toto was the brainchild of keyboardist David Paich. He and drummer Jeff Porcaro were high school buddies who'd worked on many recording sessions together, so when Paich first introduced the idea of starting their own band, things gelled pretty quickly. They were both well connected in the LA music scene, Paich having written or co-written six of the ten songs on Boz Scaggs' multi-platinum Silk Degrees album (1976).

Paich and Porcaro tapped bass player and fellow session musician David Hungate, as well as two of their Grant High School alumni, Steve Lukather (guitar) and Jeff's brother Steve Porcaro (keyboards). The final addition was singer Bobby Kimball, who had previously worked with former members of Three Dog Night in a band called S.S. Fools.

When Columbia Records heard about the formation of Toto, they offered them a recording contract without even asking them to audition. In 1977, they began working on material for their self-titled first album. Toto was released on October 15, 1978, and earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

Critics savaged the LP, Rolling Stone saying that Paich's songs were "excuses for back-to-back instrumental solos." Never mind the critics. The LP was a huge hit, reaching the number nine spot in both Canada and the U.S.

Toto IV, 1982

Toto IV, 1982

Toto Records Their Smash LP, Toto IV

Toto went off the rails a bit with their second and third albums, one vying for a prog-rock sound, the other leaning toward heavier rock. Even with their industry connections and proven ability to create hit records, Toto was in danger of being dropped by Columbia.

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For Toto IV, the band returned to what worked so well on the first album. It spawned five singles, including the monster hits "Africa" and "Rosanna." It was also the final LP with all six original members, singer Bobby Kimball leaving the band in 1984.

Who Was The Song "Rosanna" Written About?

Keyboardist and principal songwriter David Paich was the driver behind the song. When he first played it for the other members of the band on the grand piano in his home, they knew it was a hit. Everyone contributed to the song and they managed to record it in only two takes.

Jeff Porcaro's drum intro is immediately recognizable. He based the opening shuffle on Steely Dan's "Babylon Sisters" and a lick Led Zeppelin's John Bonham played on "Fool In the Rain." The fat horn section in the song included two saxophones, two trumpets and featured James Pankow from Chicago on trombone.

Paich has admitted that the song was about his first love, a girl he knew in high school. American actress Rosanna Arquette was dating keyboardist Steve Porcaro, and Steve was keen to write a song for her. The name "Rosanna" fit the lyrics, so Paich used it.

"To me, our signature song was 'Rosanna.' That was the ultimate Toto track, where everybody had a chance to shine."

— Steve Lukather, lead vocailist

Life After Toto IV

Toto recorded ten albums after Toto IV, but none reached the same heights. Drummer Jeff Porcaro died in 1992 and his brother Mike, who replaced Hungate after Toto IV, died in 2015 after a battle with ALS. Like Kimball, Hungate and Steve Porcaro left the band, but then later returned for various tours. Founding member Steve Lukather fronts the current incarnation of Toto, but David Paich has made a few encore appearances in recent years.

Five Fun Facts

  1. At the same time that they were working on Toto IV, Lukather, the Porcaros and Paich were also working on Michael Jackson’s Thriller LP. They even delayed touring for Toto IV, so they could help finish the production on Jackson's album.
  2. Eddie Van Halen once called Toto "collectively the best musicians on the planet." In another Van Halen link to Toto, Eddie also appeared as a session musician on Jackson's Thriller album, playing the guitar solo on the tune "Beat It."
  3. The long-legged beauty in the "Rosanna" video is none other than Cynthia Rhodes, who played Penny in the movie Dirty Dancing. Jackson's "Beat It" video also used a West Side Story-like fight scene, but Toto did it first.
  4. If you look closely, you will also see another Dirty Dancing alumnus in the video. The fellow in the red jacket is Patrick Swayze.
  5. Though Peter Gabriel has never confirmed it, it is thought that the song "In Your Eyes" was inspired by Rosanna Arquette, with whom Gabriel was in a romantic relationship for several years.

David Paich Joins Toto On Stage for "Rosanna," February 2022

© 2022 Kaili Bisson

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