No, don’t you dare click to the next blog. Seriously, you’re going to like this one a lot more than you think you will.
The quintessential one-hit wonder, Toni Basil seemingly came out of nowhere and blasted the charts with the still-irresistible “Mickey” (a remake of a song called “Kitty” by the UK band Racey), then seemed to vanish into vapor almost just as instantly. That’s a shame, because while Basil was not only a music video pioneer, she was an accomplished choreographer, actress (she was in Easy Rider!) and hip-hop pioneer – her breakdance troupe The Lockers (featuring Rerun from What’s Happening!) were featured on Saturday Night Live as early as 1975, just as that scene was beginning to bubble up in New York – Basil should have had a few more hits in her.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Her debut, Word of Mouth is a stone-cold New Wave classic, featuring enough songs and musical contributions from Devo, that it could almost be considered a lost Devo album (it comes as no surprise that Basil and Devo’s Jerry Casale were an item at the time). First off, you have a pretty faithful remake of “Be Stiff”, complete with a video featuring cross-dressing poppers and lockers and the anarchistic dance stylings of one Spazz Attack on “bass”, whom you may remember from the Devo “Satisfaction” video:
Word of Mouth also featured “Space Girls”, a re-imaging of an early Devo tune, “Space Girl Blues”. Here’s Toni and Spazz Attack yet again (Basil also released Word as a “Video LP”, featuring a music video for each song on the album):
Rounding out the Devo-ness is “You Gotta Problem”, a nearly straight-ahead remake of Devo’s “Pity You”, released just a year before on Devo’s New Traditionalists album – LOVE the pink French Poodles in the video:
When it came time to follow-up “Mickey’s” huge pop success, all the Devo tracks were sidelined in favor of “Shoppin’ A to Z”, a fun novelty track that just didn’t seem to catch the mass public imagination like “Mickey”. A few weeks in the Hot 100 and “Shoppin'” disappeared from view – but that won’t stop us all from shouting “X = NOTHING!” (and U=”undies”??? At the grocery store? Eww.):
By the way, Basil conceptualized, choreographed and directed every video from Word of Mouth. I love Word and it’s a shame that this seminal New Wave album that got all the way to #22 on the album charts has never been released on CD. You can grab up most of the tracks piecemeal from several Greatest Hits compilations, but I’d love to see the original album remastered and reissued someday. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny Basil’s debut’s place in pop history.
Her self-titled followup? Not so much. Toni Basil seemed to be one of those attempts to take a borderline novelty artist and make her more “mature”. That apparently included draining all the fun out of her, judging from the more “rock” sound of the album’s leadoff single, “Over My Head” (featured here in its extended club version). Where Basil once demanded “I want your mechanism!” in a Space Girl voice, we now find her singing more typical love songs over generic 80s pop/rock. Luckily, the videos stayed fun:
Basil’s label Chrysalis tried to breathe life into Toni Basil by working two more singles, “Street Beat” and “Suspense” (again, here in its rare club mix), but no one bit. Basil called it a day on her recording career and renewed her focus to choreography and directing. Fun fact: Basil did both those tasks for Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime” video.
For old time’s sake (which is the purpose of this blog, I suppose!) here’s Toni performing “Mickey”..with the SOLID GOLD DANCERS!!!!
“Shoppin’ A to Z” peaked at #77 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983.
“Over My Head” peaked at #81 on the same chart in 1984.
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