In 1981, a band of six studio musicians from North Hollywood tried to record an album’s worth of hits to save their flailing relationship with their label, Columbia Records. It worked: Toto IV, released in April 1982, went triple-Platinum, generated the band’s first top 10 hits on the Hot 100 since their 1977 debut, and helped Toto win a stunning six awards at the 1983 Grammys. But while the band and label’s attentions were centered on the set’s funky lead single, “Rosanna,” it was a cut that barely made the final track list that ended up as its biggest hit, and eventually, the band’s signature song: the soft-prog ballad “Africa.”
Released as the album’s third single, “Africa” one-bettered the No. 2-peaking “Rosanna,” becoming the band’s first (and to date, only) song to top the Hot 100. But even more remarkable than its initial popularity has been how decades later, the song has re-emerged not only as a pop culture staple -- appearing on such hit TV shows as Scrubs, Community, South Park, Family Guy and Stranger Things, all within the last ten years -- but a millennial anthem, getting streamed nearly 270 million times on Spotify (far more than any song by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, U2 or Madonna), and inspiring memes ranging from the video-looping ibless.therains.downin.africa website to the lyric-spewing @africabytotobot Twitter account (37,500 followers!).
With Toto celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, and preparing to release the upcoming best-of compilation 40 Trips Around the Sun (out Feb. 9 on Columbia), Billboard spoke to three of the band’s original members -- as well as several collaborators, and younger artists keeping the song vital in pop culture -- about the makings of an unlikely classic, and about how “Africa” is arguably more popular with millennials today than it ever was among the MTV generation.