Toto's Proggiest Moments

Toto have been one of the subjects of our Outer Limits feature, where we look at bands on the operating on the cusp of prog.

Not bona fide prog bands per se, but certainly bands with more than a smattering of prog influence throughout their music. “All of us grew up on 70s giants like Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd. And we got a lot of inspiration for our vocal from Gentle Giant,” reveals Toto guitarist Steve Lukather. Later in the feature keyboard player Steve Porcaro reveals, “I’m the keyboard nerd, so I’ve often felt we should do our version of Tales From Topographic Oceans…”. So Prog’s resident Toto expert Phil Ashcroft had a think about the prog influence on the hugely successful US rockers, and this is what he came up with…

HYDRA (from HYDRA, 1979)

After a debut that focussed more on the pop, funk and classic rock side of the band, Toto’s 1979 follow-up kicked off with this dramatic title track. Building from the atmospheric orchestration of the intro, the next seven minutes deliver offbeat verses and a stunning chorus, punctuated by Steve Lukather’s gritty guitar riffs, Steve Porcaro’s synths and an instrumental section that became the basis for both the late Jeff Porcaro and successor Simon Phillips to build their drum solos around. Throw in David Paich’s vocals and the big harmonies and you have a perfect blend of epic song writing and virtuoso musicianship.

DUNE (1984)

It may have seemed like an odd choice at the time, but when Toto were picked to write the soundtrack for David Lynch’s 1984 adaption of Frank Herbert’s Dune novel, few could have predicted the results. Equal parts dramatic and ambient, the esoteric music matched the strangeness of the film perfectly, garnering praise from even the most sceptical of critics. Whilst it’s something they haven’t tried again since, orchestral themes and arrangements are something they’ve incorporated into their own music on a regular basis, and to great effect.


Tucked away near the end of the otherwise mellow 1995 Tambu album, the instrumental Dave’s Gone Skiing is a lively fusion workout and one of Toto’s most adventurous tracks. As it was their first release since the tragic death of drummer Jeff Porcaro, the song heavily features Simon Phillips’ more progressive approach, with Lukather and Paich weaving off-kilter melodies and trading jazzy solos over Phillips’ and bassist Mike Porcaro’s jerky rhythms. Amusingly it was picked as the flip-side to the chart ballad I Will Remember, which must have confused their casual fans no end.


Following the reunion with original vocalist Bobby Kimball, 1999’s Mindfields was one of their most eclectic records, and Better World one of its highlights. A jazzy intro and David Paich’s Emerson-like piano runs give way to a lengthy atmospheric tune that Pink Floyd would have been proud of. Steve Lukather provides the emotional vocals and the stunning guitar solos, this accompanying video showing how easily the band make even their trickiest songs work in front of a live audience.


In the last fifteen years studio albums have been few and far between, but at least they’ve usually been worth the wait. Released in 2006, Falling In Between was another strong album, the progressive metal riffs of the title track a direct result of Lukather’s friendship with fellow Music Man endorsee John Petrucci. The staccato guitar parts drive a song that’s one of their most powerful statements, the tricky ensemble parts and eastern-tinged melodies are complemented by Bobby Kimball’s gutsy vocal. Suffice to say that it’s become a staple in their live set.


The plaudits have been flying around for XIV, an album that rolls back the years and can stand proudly amongst the best of their career. Containing two of their most progressive pieces, (the other is opener Running Out Of Time), it’s Great Expectations that has the most ambitious mix of styles and tempos, as well as that all-important longer running time. A simple piano and vocal intro, a lively bit of pomp, a jazzy instrumental section and three lead vocalists in Paich, Lukather and Joseph Williams, all fit together to make this song a winner.