Toni Basil Talks One-Hit Wonder Status on “The Originals” Podcast

The latest episode of Los Angeles magazine’s podcast, ”The Originals,” should shatter that notion that the ”Mickey” singer is merely that iconic 80s song
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Owing to her 1982 smash hit song, “Mickey,” Toni Basil often finds herself included in lists of one-hit wonders, a term that carries a whiff of derision, suggesting an artist fell short of achieving a long and fruitful entertainment career. The latest episode of Los Angeles magazine’s podcast The Originals should shatter that notion about Basil, at last, while providing a fascinating tour of the triple threat’s still-thriving 50-plus year career. 

Basil had, in fact, enjoyed a substantial, eventful career in showbusiness for two decades before “Mickey,” which she recorded at the age of 39—pretty shocking in light of the fact that the song’s iconic video—which she conceived and directed and was a mainstay of early MTV—features Basil in a high school cheerleading outfit looking not a day over 22. 

Basil has been dubbed a show business Zelig, popping up among the icons and legendary projects and events of the 60s and 70s. Basil danced with Frank Sinatra in 1964’s Rat Pack vehicle, Robin and The Seven Hoods, and that same year performed in and helped choreograph Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas. She happened to be at Dennis Hopper’s dinner table when he and Peter Fonda first broached the idea of making Easy Rider and went on to play a prostitute in the 1969 film, which is credited with giving birth to the American independent cinema. 

A year later, Basil played a pixie-haired lesbian in Five Easy Pieces and sat in the diner booth as Jack Nicholson delivers his famous order to hold the chicken salad “between your knees” to a humorless waitress who refuses to sell him a side of toast. As co-founder of the Lockers, the L.A. street dance troupe launched in the early 70s, Basil is largely responsible for introducing hip-hop dance to the masses. As episode listeners will learn, these are but a small sample of the credits she chronicles, which include collaborations with Tina Turner, David Bowie, Bette Midler and Quentin Tarantino.  

Eyewitness to Music History

Basil, a choreographer on 1964’s legendary T.A.M.I. show in Santa Monica, which featured performances from Marvin Gaye, The Beach Boys, The Supremes and Chuck Berry, remembers standing backstage with the Rolling Stones while James Brown performed, as it dawned on them that they’d need to follow the Godfather of Soul, a decision Keith Richards once described as the biggest mistake the band ever made. 

We couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” Basil says. “The Stones all turned ashen white when they realized they had to follow him. And [choreographer] David Winters and I went, ‘Well, let’s sit on the side of the stage and watch this blood bath.’ 

But Mick Jagger jumped up in the air with a tambourine and started dancing down this ramp that they had made for him, and not one damned person thought of James Brown again. What we were seeing was history, the two greatest acts in show business still to this day.”

“Once in a Lifetime” Opportunity

Basil choreographed and co-directed The Talking Heads’ 1981 video for “Once In A Lifetime,” which not only landed on Time magazine’s list of 30 best videos of all time but also informed the style of dance that David Byrne has used all the way through his recent Broadway hit, American Utopia.

“I told David that we don’t work on steps, we work on concepts and acting pieces. David had the idea of the movement of people in trances, so we went to UCLA, we looked at a lot of footage of preachers, and people in trances, and we started to develop a movement based on that movement. When you create and develop, you create and develop ideas that have inspired you. Sometimes you use ideas that you saw a year ago. Or three years ago, but you compiled them all together, and that was that film.” Says Basil of the collaboration.

Making Peace With Being a “One Hit Wonder” 

I was grateful by the time the eighties came to have a record, to be able to do videos and have a hit record,” says Basil. “The ‘Mickey’ video is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the song has lasted like an anthem. My blood does not curdle when I hear one-hit-wonder. It really doesn’t.”

Listen to the latest episode of “The Originals” here or at Apple Podcasts.

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