It’s all about the beat. It doesn’t take more than a moment after pressing play on one of the most famous songs of the 1980s before just about anyone who has even a toe in the pool of pop culture is able to recognize Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” But relatively few realize it had a former life under another name and that Basil played such a large role in its success.
The British band Racey were discovered by producer Mickie Most in 1978, and their second 45, “Lay Your Love On Me,” was their first hit. Written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, the Chapman-Chinn partnership had already proved extremely successful, and the duo were known for penning strong and winning material for a number of acts, most notably Sweet (“Ballroom Blitz,” “Blockbuster,” etc.). Racey’s debut LP, Smash and Grab, was released in 1979 and though the hits continued, they failed to crack the coveted U.S. market. Smash and Grab featured a number of Chapman-Chinn songs, including a catchy number called “Kitty,” which, for some reason, wasn’t released as single.
Toni Basil was a show biz veteran when “Mickey” began scaling the charts in the early 1980s. Her first single came out in 1966 and she appeared in a few movies, including Easy Rider and dancing with Davy Jones in the Monkees’ Head. She also had directed videos, but was primarily known in the industry as a choreographer.
“Mickey” appeared on her Word of Mouth LP and was released as a single in 1981. Though it took a while to take off, by late 1982 it was a smash, going all the way to #1 in the states. It was one of the first songs to benefit from having a popular video—which Basil choreographed, produced and directed—on MTV.
Basil changed the title of the track to fit her gender, and chose Mickey as it roughly rhymes with Kitty. She also wrote the “Oh Mickey you’re so fine/You’re so fine you blow my mind” hook—a hook so massive that it can’t be overlooked when considering the song’s popularity.
I was always a cheerleader and I remember the echoing in the basketball court of cheerleaders, of us, stomping, chanting. I said I would do it if I could put the cheerleader chant on it. The record company asked me not to put the chant on because they were concerned it would ruin the rest of the tune.
There has been much speculation over the years as to what “Mickey” is about. Some believe the song is about Micky Dolenz of the Monkees; others think the song alludes to anal sex! Here’s what Basil had to say on the matter:
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!
No matter what anyone might think regarding the lyrics, one thing is certain: Basil essentially took an already appealing pop song and turned it into a #1. It is now considered one of the most iconic songs (and videos) of the entire 1980s. But she received no writing credit, and after 30+ years she claimed she had only earned about $3,000 in royalties from “Mickey.”
Love it or hate it, Toni Basil’s colossal hit was a pop culture moment in 1982 and refuses to leave our collective consciousness. Long live the beat, I say!