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Toni Basil

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Biography

Toni Basil was one of new wave's ultimate one-hit wonders, falling completely off the musical radar screen after topping the charts with the ubiquitous cheerleader-chant single "Mickey." Chiefly a choreographer, Basil was born Antonia Christina Basilotta in Philadelphia (sources listing her birth date range from 1943 to 1950) and attended high school in Las Vegas, where -- unsurprisingly -- she was a member of the cheerleading squad. After high school, she became a go-go dancer and quickly moved into choreography, working on '60s television shows like Shindig and The T.A.M.I. Show; in 1964, she appeared with Annette Funicello in the film Pajama Party, which she also choreographed. In 1966, Basil released her first single, the Graham Gouldman-penned "28"; the B-side was her recording of the title song from avant-garde filmmaker Bruce Conner's Breakaway, in which she also appeared as a dancer. Basil's acting career soon hit a peak with her role in 1969's landmark Easy Rider as a New Orleans hooker; she went on to appear with Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces and Dennis Hopper in The Last Movie. During the '70s, she choreographed films like American Graffiti and The Rose, and also worked on David Bowie's 1974 concert tour. In the late '70s, Basil formed her own urban-style dance troupe, the Lockers, and moved into music video directing as well, helming the groundbreaking Talking Heads clip for "Once in a Lifetime." In 1981, she signed to Chrysalis as a recording artist and cut her debut album, Word of Mouth. Among the tracks was "Mickey," a song penned by the Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn songwriting team (Sweet, Pat Benatar, etc.); it was originally titled "Kitty" and recorded by a group called Racey. Word of Mouth had been out for some time when "Mickey" finally began climbing the charts in Britain, eventually peaking at number two; a few months later, helped along by Basil's self-directed, cheerleader-themed video, "Mickey" hit number one in America and became an inescapable pop culture phenomenon. Basil wasn't so lucky with the follow-up singles, however; "Shoppin' From A to Z" and "Over My Head" only scraped the lower reaches of the charts, and her eponymously titled 1983 album stiffed. Basil returned to her earlier careers, taking occasional acting roles and choreographing for film, television, and commercials. Among her more notable assignments included the films Delirious, That Thing You Do, and My Best Friend's Wedding. ~ Steve Huey
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