Thirty years ago, in the fall of 1988, the Toll released The Price of Progression. It was the debut album for the Columbus, Ohio band, released on major label Geffen Records. Stirred partially by the advocacy of Psychedelic Furs bassist Tim Butler, the Toll had the opportunity to field multiple offers, eventually settling for the suitor offering a two-album deal. By some accounts, Geffen was so dazzled by the band’s live show that they made the offer strictly on the basis of that, without even needing to hear a demo.
I think of the nineteen-eighties as a time when any band that sounded even the slightest bit like R.E.M. could get a record deal and a concerted push on college radio. I tend to forget that the smash success of The Joshua Tree, released in 1987, rejiggered the algorithm, at least for a little bit. Any band that evoked the anthemic propulsion of U2 (even those that had been around for a bit) could get the brightest spotlight turned on them. The Toll made music that was earnest, political, guitar-driven, and, yes, a little pompous. Surely Geffen had visions of the band planting their boots squarely in the footprints laid out by Bono and the boys.
The label must have been incredibly confident in the Toll’s prospect for U2-level success. That’s the simplest explanation for the pure bravado of releasing “Jonathan Toledo” as an introductory single. It ran over ten minutes and included a lengthy spoken word interlude railing against historic and ongoing cruelty against Native Americans. Geffen didn’t really trim it down, either. Aside from the mini-epics Michael Jackson was allowed to deliver, the “Jonathan Toledo” music video evidently set a record for the longest clip added to the MTV rotation.
Evidently the teens who were flooding the Dial MTV phone lines to request Bon Jovi’s “Born to Be My Baby” were less enthused by a song that opened with the lyrics “Slavery under the government in America/ All funds for this proceed will go nowhere/ Maybe into your consciousness.” The single and the album made the softest of impressions with wider audiences, and Geffen started souring on the Toll almost right away. The band’s second album was rejected outright by the label. Songs we rerecorded and a sophomore release arrived in 1991, to little fanfare and less enthusiastic promotion. The Toll called it quits not much later.
Listen or download —> The Toll, “Jonathan Toledo”
(Disclaimer: Best as I can tell, the two albums from the Toll are entirely out of print as physical objects that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said shop and the original artist. This track is shared with that belief. I will gladly and promptly remove it from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)