Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Don’t You Forget About Me: Toto – “Georgy Porgy”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 15, 2008

It’s really not confusing, I’m just the young illusion, can’t you see

Channel flipping on my XM the other day, I came across Toto’s “Georgy Porgy” for the very first time on The Groove, the smooth-oriented 70s/80s R&B station. This was shocking for a number of reasons. First, I had no idea that the version done by forgotten 90s crooner Eric Benet (famous for dating either Mariah Carey or Halle Berry, I can never remember which) was a cover–the song seemed too unremarkable (and too quintessentially 90s R&B) to be rooted elsewhere. Listening to Benet’s cover again, it’s almost stunning how faithful a cover it is, too–apparently the original made much more of an impression on Mr. Benet than it did the rest of the world.

Significantly more shocking, however, was the fact that this was Toto. ON A CLASSIC SOUL STATION. A lot of things come to mind when one thinks of Toto, but generally speaking, classic soul is not among them. But then again, how would one classify Toto, exactly? They tend to get grouped in with arena rockers and power balladeers of the time like Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and Styx, but looking at their biggest hits–“Hold the Line,” “Rosanna,” “Africa”–all they have in common with those guys is a member-wide tendency towards the hideous (the fact that “uggo-rock” never caught on as an acceptable genre demarcation during this time is severely unfortunate, it’s doubtful that the general median of male unattractiveness in rock music will ever be quite this low again).

Really, Toto’s hits don’t establish a consistent identity at all. “Hold the Line” was a grinding anthem, the closest the band got to chest-beating territory, but “Rosanna” was as jazzy a pop number as the 80s would see, and the #1 hit “Africa,” surely one of the most musically perplexing and lyrically obscure songs to ever top the charts (“But I know that I must do what’s right / As sure as Kilaminjaro rises like Olympus / Above the Serengheti”), is closer to the plodding, atmospheric pretentions of the Alan Parsons Preject and early-80s Peter Gabriel than anything else. The controversy over the fact that they won all those Grammys in 1982 probably doesn’t stem from the band being bad so much as it does from confusion over who the hell these guys were, getting so many hits and winning so many Grammys.

Plus, before finding success on their own, Toto had previously cut their teeth as the backing band for Boz Scaggs, establishing their diversity by playing on Scaggs hits such as the dorky white-boy stomp of “Lido Shuffle” (currently best known for soundtracking Chris Berman’s coverage of Eagles games prominently featuring cornerback Lito Sheppard) and, more importantly, the impossibly smooth soul of “Lowdown” (one of the best songs of the 70s, and one I could’ve sworn was done by someone like Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield for most of my life). Clearly, they had paid their blue-eyed soul dues, and could actually groove with the best of them (or with the Little River Band, at least).

Still, it’s surprising just how good this is. Aside from the title hook itself, which is kind of weak, it’s one of the most slithery, insiduously catchy things I’ve ever heard on the station–high praise indeed for one of the few non-rock XM stations I consider being preset-worthy. The playing is crisp and tight, as technically perfect as you’d expect from a band of studio pros like Toto, the production is shimmeringly immaculate (practically Steely Dan-worthy in its almost disconcerting spotlessness), and if lead singer Bobby Kimball (and you better believe I had to Wiki that name isn’t exactly a Barry White or even a Philip Bailey, he sounds convincing enough in the soul mold that the band never seems like posers–frankly, without seeing the XM artist info, I might’ve been fooled by this one for even longer than “Lowdown”.

Give it a listen, even if you don’t much care for Toto. And if you haven’t heard “Lowdown” yet…dear lord….

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3 Responses to “Don’t You Forget About Me: Toto – “Georgy Porgy””

  1. Jackson said

    That’s actually guitarist Steve Lukather singing lead.

  2. dan s. said

    Let’s not forget that large parts of toto played on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.

  3. Leslie E said

    Maybe this tune didn’t make an impression on the first submitter, but I remember this being a hit in heavy rotation on my local R&B stations back in Richmond, Virginia. I think the tune is great and with the assistance of the remarkable Cheryl Lynn (vocalist of huge hit “Too Be Real” and later “Encore” it was generally considered R&B song, not Rock.

    BTW, Eric Benet was actually married to Halle Barry. She divorced him after she found out he had a “sexual addiction”.

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