Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Toto – “Rosanna”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #2 in July 1982
OK, kids, listen: Toto were a world-class band whom I never wanted to hear perform in their own right. To drum my fingers on the table last week while the world goggled at Weezer covering “Africa” was like standing at my balcony watching my parking lot flood during Hurricane Irma. Weezer and Toto — the right combination. Weezer, as woven into my biography as bad dates and Reagan clips on YouTube but without the pleasure. At least I can hear the subtle modulations in the synthesizer chords and melodies and the low key batshittiness in “Africa” what besotted two generations of listeners. Ubiquitous like mediocre things tend to be, “Rosanna” is a terrible song that defiles whatever it touches. We are at least fortunate that sometime Rosanne Arquette paramour Peter Gabriel never covered it.
A valentine to the young actress whose performance in The Executioner’s Song wowed TV audiences in the early Reagan era (and remains her most impressive acting job), “Rosanna” expends an prodigious level of musicianship on piffle. Jeff Porcaro’s intro shuffle — revered by musicians, who’ve called it the Half-Time Shuffle Groove — and songwriter David Paich’s piano suggest something wicked’s coming. I wish guitarist Steve Lukather had stuck to the mike; when he cedes lead vocals to Bobby Kimball the track takes on the urgency of an Air Supply song. “Meet you all the way,” the band puts forward as a chorus, weak sauce. Expert bands can do excellent flourishes but require a songwriter whose bad taste can sell this shit: the same way Garbo did her silent films or Paul McCartney did at the time with Tug of War, to name an example of superb studio rock that also sold in the millions in 1982. But superb musicianship also produces the groovy piano solo at 4:40.
Toto didn’t stop after their Grammy wins in 1983, although I’ll be damned if I can hum or remember a single song after this peak. So many of their credits number among my favorites: Steely Dan’s Katy Lied Boz Scaggs’ Middle Man, and, uh, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. My respect for their prowess knows no bounds. But keep them away from their own songs — hell, let Boz and Michael sing them (and, uh, they did).