Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Toni Basil "Word of Mouth"

(1982, Chrysalis) I think this record is REALLY slept on. I went to Apple Music and they don't even have it, just a compilation. I really believe Basil is one of the most fascinating figures in American entertainment, certainly on screen: she's in a top tier Elvis film (in probably the most dazzling music number in any of them), attends an Annette beach party, meets the Rat Pack, is in Easy Rider, helped the Monkees go psyche, made Shindig swing, and appeared in a brilliant segment during the launch of Saturday Night Live, introducing proto-hip hop dancing to non-Soul Train viewers. Significantly, she was no Zelig/Forest Gump stumbling into iconic moments in pop culture history, she was a visionary choreographer, a thrilling dancer, and a radiant screen presence. As a musician she made two LPs, this debut being known for the smash "Mickey," a sly remake of a Brit hit which topped the charts around the globe and earned the ultimate accolade, a Weird Al parody. But unlike many so-called One Hit Wonders, her song was no fluke floating in the ether; Basil's keen sense of which exciting youth/underground cultural trends were Ready For Prime Time that she demonstrated in her 'ography was being applied to pop music, and this record is insanely good. I do not have the 1981 UK version which has a few different tracks, but the US version is thrilling. Most of it has a Devo vibe, and a lot of it just has Devo literally playing the music. She cover's Love's "Little Red Book" as a New Wave groover! She makes David Essex' "Rock On" more futuristic and less creepy! Every song was created with video and dancing in mind, and the kinetic energy is always sizzling, while also always being whimsical and fun in the way the best pop is serious about structure but not too serious about anything else. I am particularly enraptured with the single "Shoppin' From A to Z" (the picture sleeve looked like a shopping bag). This absolutely absurd alphabet song has Basil sexily buying matzo, liver, zippers, and other staples to a beat, because as you know, "good girls shop, bad girls shop," so what else can she do? And for "X" she pays tribute to Margaret Wise Brown's most intriguing "good night" recipient. As far as poppy New Wave albums I really don't feel like there are any that I love more than "Word of Mouth." 

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