Introduction to the “Mickey” Original
Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, with its cheerleader video clip, is one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s. But the “Mickey” original wasn’t “Mickey” at all. It was “Kitty”, a song performed by English new wave band Racey in 1979.
“Mickey”, or rather “Kitty”, was written by songwriters Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. The duo wrote a string of hits in the 70s and 80s for performers like The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Mud, New World, Arrows, Smokie, Tina Turner, and Huey Lewis and the News.
Racey recorded “Kitty” in 1979 and it appeared on their debut album Smash and Grab. The album was quite successful, selling 500,000 copies. It was particularly popular in Australia, where it reached Treble Platinum status and outsold ABBA and Paul McCartney.
Clive Wilson and Phil Fursdon formed Racey in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England in 1976. Popular on the pub circuit in England’s west, they were spotted by record producer Mickie Most who signed them to his RAK label. Racey went on the have hits with “Lay Your Love On Me” and “Some Girls”. Incidentally, Chapman and Chinn initially wrote the 1950s revival hit “Some Girls” for Blondie.
Racey continues to have a loyal following, especially in the UK and Europe, and still play to large audiences.
Racey’s “Kitty” is a great tune, more new wave than pop. A clapping beat runs throughout the song, accompanied by a jangly guitar and an organ, which is more prominent than in Basil’s version.
Toni Basil and “Mickey”
American singer and choreographer Antonia Christina Basilotta (Toni Basil) was born in Philadelphia in 1943. She came from a talented family, her mother being a vaudevillian acrobatic comedian and her father an orchestra conductor.
Basil’s recording career began in 1966 with a cracking single called “Breakaway“. She was also an incredibly gifted choreographer, recognised for playing an important part in bringing street dance to the American public through her involvement with the Lockers dance group. Basil’s film choreography includes American Graffiti (1973), The Rose (1979), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Something to Talk About (1995), That Thing You Do (1996), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), Legally Blonde (2001), Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003), Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), The House Bunny (2008) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
In 1981, Basil recorded “Mickey” for her debut album Word of Mouth. She changed the song title from “Kitty” to “Mickey” to make it about a man. But perhaps the most important change she made was adding the chant “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine, you blow my mind, hey Mickey”. This now-famous hook massively added to the song’s success.
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.”Toni Basil
Those “Mickey” Rumours
There were rumours about “Mickey” that Basil put to rest in this interview.
The first being that the song was re-titled “Mickey” because Basil had a crush on Monkees vocalist and drummer, Micky Dolenz, who she met on the set of the Monkees’ 1968 psychedelic film Head.
Some guy decided that it would be funny to put that in my Wikipedia entry. He was adamant that ‘Mickey’ was about Micky Dolenz. I choreographed the Head movie but I didn’t really know Micky at all. I knew Davy Jones much better. We finally got it off [Wikipedia].”Toni Basil
Check out this awesome dance sequence from Head featuring Davy Jones and Basil. The choreography is fantastically surreal, with a hint of Austen Powers.
The second rumour was about Basil’s use of Chapman and Chinn’s original lyric that she left unaltered, “Anyway you want to do it, I’ll take it like a man”.
Everyone reads shit into everything. It’s not about anything dirty. You change the name from boy to girl — i.e., from “Kitty” to “Mickey” — 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 b*** f******! This is how the wrong foot gets cut off when the doc wheels you into the E.R.”Toni Basil
“Mickey” was first released as a single in 1981 but it didn’t chart. Re-issued in 1982 in the UK and America, it went on to become a hit, going Platinum in 1983.
Basil’s “Mickey” is as well known for its music video as it is for its catchy tune. Filmed in 1981, the cheerleader-inspired dance routine is said to be the first choreographed dance video and was one of the most popular clips on early MTV. Basil conceived, directed and choreographed the video herself. The cheerleader uniform she wore was a redesigned version of the one she wore at Las Vegas High School. You can see “LVH” on her uniform in the video clip.
Basil tried to follow up the success of “Mickey” with two singles released in 1983, “Over My Head” and “Shoppin’ From A To Z” but they didn’t chart above #70 on the mainstream charts. However, “Over My Head” did reach #4 on the US dance charts.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has recognised “Mickey” as a groundbreaking 1980s single. And Basil’s choreography achievements are recognised by a string of awards.
Check out these posts for other articles about songs originally recorded by men and then covered by women.