Toni Basil

Toni Basil is a “one-hit wonder,”* but what a hit “Mickey” was in 1982. And its fun cheerleading dance video helped define early MTV:

Greil Marcus’s latest “Real Life Rock Top 10” entry (his always fascinating monthly column is now hosted by Barnes & Noble) called my attention to an earlier, 1966 single by Basil, “Breakaway,” which apparently later became a hit on the U.K. Northern Soul scene which fetishizes obscure American R&B singles:

It, too, was accompanied by a distinctive video of Basil dancing, directed by artist and experimental filmmaker Bruce Conner:

In The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, Marcus (2006) claims this video “set out the vocabulary plundered by the first generation of music-video makers” (p. 118), presumably including Basil’s later video for “Mickey” (along with those for other songs on her Word of Mouth album).

Of course, Kenneth Anger‘s Scorpio Rising also shares a claim to this influence:

Trivia — I just found out while researched this post that “Mickey” was first recorded as “Kitty” by Racey:

Basil simply changed the gender, which in turn started rumors that the song was about Monkee Micky Dolenz, whom she met on the set of their movie Head — she claims she barely knew Micky, knew Davy Jones much better — and anal sex (“So come on and give it to me/Any way you can/Any way you want to do it/I’ll take it like a man”) — both of which she denies:

“NO! That’s ridiculous. Everyone reads shit into everything. It’s not about anything dirty. You change the name from boy to girl and they read anything they want into it! When it’s a guy singing about a girl, it’s a sweet line. But when a girl sings it, it must mean butt-fucking! This is how the wrong foot gets cut off when the doc wheels you into the E.R. Then it’s Micky Dolenz and butt-fucking.”

As for the claims that Basil somehow stole a hit from Racey, keep in mind that they did not write the song either. It was written by the very successful ’70s and ’80s songwriting team Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. And as catchy as the song is, it’s hard to imagine it would have been nearly as big a hit without that video, which was directed by Basil.

* Don’t feel sorry for Basil for her lack of follow-up hits. She has had a very successful career in choreography, especially in film and music videos. And her dance career goes back at least to 1964, when she and Teri Garr were both go-go dancers on the legendary T.A.M.I. Show.

 

References

Marcus, G. (2006). The shape of things to come: Prophecy and the American voice. New York: Farrar, Straus Giroux.

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