Who Won the Weezer-Toto Cover Song Trade? Our Writers Answer Five Big Questions
What started as a tweet from a teenager has resulted in a newfound friendship between Toto and Weezer. We asked our writers to weigh in on Weezer's cover of "Africa" and Toto's repayment via a recording of the younger band's "Hash Pipe."
Our staff debates who did the better cover, the effects the songs have on both bands and what other songs in Toto's catalog should be covered. You can read our thoughts below.
1. Who covered whom better?
Nick DeRiso: The whole thing was more interesting as an idea than in practice. Toto, then and now a group of very accomplished studio aces, don't have quite as much fun with "Hash Pipe." Oddly, however, Weezer's by-the-numbers take on "Africa" probably should have been a little looser.
Rob Smith: I’m partial to the Weezer version of “Africa,” because I think the song and the performance are closer to what Weezer do best than “Hash Pipe” is to what Toto do best. It’s more plausible for Weezer to do a Weezer-like cover of a cheesy yacht rock song than it is for Toto to do a sorta-rock cover of a Weezer song.
Annie Zaleski: I like both versions, but I'm giving the edge to Toto's "Hash Pipe," mainly because of the extra sonic embellishment in the bridge, specifically the killer electric guitar solo and added keyboards. It shows how much thought Toto put into the cover; it's not just a rote re-creation.
Matthew Wilkening: They're both fun little larks, it seems clear they were never intended as anything else. This is a very cool display of musical open-mindedness and camaraderie. Obviously, you wouldn't expect either song to be improved, and neither really proves to be a natural fit for their new dance partners. I guess it's a little more fun seeing Toto cut loose a bit over watching Weezer try to button up.
Michael Gallucci: I'm not a fan of either, but I give the nod to Weezer's cover of "Africa." It's the more difficult song to play, and they pretty much nail it note-for-note. Toto's cover of "Hash Pipe," on the other hand, sounds clunky and awkward. They seem to be straining themselves on a song that's really pretty simple and straightforward.
2. Did Weezer just make Toto "cool” again?
DeRiso: As we've seen, nearly everyone it seems has covered "Africa." For whatever reason, though, this one rose to headline status, and that has to have raised Toto's profile with next-gen listeners.
Smith: Nope. I imagine maybe 12 percent of the people still buying Weezer songs would know of or have any interest in Toto. That number might jump to 15 percent, post-”Africa.” The overlap in this particular Venn diagram is, scientifically speaking, teensy-weensy.
Zaleski: Toto were already "cool" before Weezer! The old-school critical bias that dismissed the band back in the '80s has dissipated, in large part to younger generations who dig "Africa."
Wilkening: I live across from a family that has two teenagers. While I was eating lunch on the porch the other day, one of them got dropped off by her friends -- but wouldn't leave the car until they were all done singing along to the entirety of Toto's original 1982 version of "Africa." Will that get them to check out "Hold the Line" or "Rosanna" or go see their upcoming local concert? Given what we all do for a job, I hope so, but it's more likely to be a short-lived trend. Next summer they'll probably be singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" or some other 1983 smash instead.
Gallucci: Were Toto ever really cool? So many other artists have covered "Africa" over the years, it seems more like trend-jumping to me.
3. Have Weezer put themselves at risk of being viewed as a novelty act?
DeRiso: They've always been an impish group, so it fits.
Smith: If it hasn't happened by now, it probably won't. This is a band with 25 or so years of lyrics like those in “Beverly Hills” and “Thank God for Girls” and “Pork and Beans.” Inanity with distortion pedals. If they achieve novelty act status, it’ll be on the basis of their own songs and not because they covered a Toto tune.
Zaleski: I don't think so. "Africa" is an unstoppable pop culture trend, and Weezer have been tuned into these pop culture trends for their entire career. There's the Happy Days reference in the "Buddy Holly" video; the Muppets-referencing video for "Keep Fishin'"; and an abundance of clever covers, most recently a-ha's "Take on Me."
Wilkening: That would be my negative, paranoid fear if I were in their shoes. I wonder if the scale of the reaction to this cover surprised them. "Oh, jeez, is this goofy cover going to be in the first three sentences of our career bio now?" But rationally, all their work and success over the past 25 years is more than enough to have secured their deserved place in the hearts of their fans by now.
Gallucci: Weezer were always on the edge, but they became a novelty act when they released five albums in three years or whatever that stretch was not too long ago. Or maybe it was when they recorded a song called "Dope Nose" or "We Are All on Drugs" or "Pork and Beans." Or maybe it was when they put that guy from Lost on the cover of that one album.
4. What's your dream Toto cover -- which band and which song? And is there a song Toto can do in response?
DeRiso: Hard to believe the Foo Fighters haven't worked something from Toto into their set lists, considering how often they do that kind of thing. But I'd rather hear a cover from someone with an even heavier but still approachable sound. Metallica, maybe?
Smith: Not sure if it's a dream, but I think Foo Fighters could do a good take on “Afraid of Love” from Toto IV. That song gives them a cool riff to work around and a pretty straightforward melody to sing. They could stretch out the coda to solo over, if they felt so inclined, or keep it compact — get in, get done and get out. Toto covering the Foos? Well, if Steve Lukather is choosing, it'd be something like "Rope" or "Monkey Wrench," where he can turn up his amps and drown out the rest of the band. A better choice would be "Aurora" from There Is Nothing Left to Lose; it's a mid-tempo song (nothing too wild) and has nice pockets of space that can be filled with keyboards and guitars. I imagine Toto could do something with that.
Zaleski: I need to see Panic! at the Disco cover Toto's "Hold The Line." Brendon Urie is a huge classic rock fan, and has the vocal chops to pull off the song. (Plus, Panic! have been using "Africa" as pre-show music this summer.)
Wilkening: Since we've lost Prince, how about we turn Jack White loose on "Hold the Line"? In return, it would be interesting to see what kind of re-imagining Toto could bring to "Seven Nation Army."
Gallucci: I am so tired of this nonsense, so I'm hoping it all just stops right here.
5. Is "Africa" now Weezer’s "Free Bird"? Are they ever going to be able to play a concert without people screaming for it?
DeRiso: It's gonna take a lot to drag that song away from them.
Smith: For a while, it might be. If it’s a hit, it might have longer life, but over time, it will probably be more a curiosity — something they can roll out at the odd show, like a B-side or any of the other covers they perform. Right now, though, with the story behind it still fresh in people’s minds, I’d say, yes. Next year, maybe. Two summers from now, not necessarily.
Zaleski: I think "Africa" now is their "Free Bird," yup! But knowing Weezer, they won't have an issue playing it; they like to deliver fan-favorite set lists.
Wilkening: Oh yes, that guy or girl is going to make themselves heard early and often at each and every one of their shows from now on. It's a safe bet I'll be stuck right next to them too.
Gallucci: "Africa" is going to be expected just as "Buddy Holly" and "Say It Ain't So" are. They dug their own hole with "Africa."