Today’s POP RESCUE from a potentially loveless fate of obscurity, is the 1981 debut album Word Of Mouth from Toni Basil. Does this weave words with poetry, or does it take the Mickey? Read on…
This 9 track LP opens with second single Nobody, which arrives with a fading-in mysterious synth before the song really bursts in. This is a fantastic belter of a song. ‘don’t want nobody‘ Toni chants. There’s no arguing with her in this song. This is has an unmistakeable rocky 80s sound to it, and it is a very catchy. The perfect start to an album. Probably ANY album. Despite this, the song flopped at #52 in the UK chart, and Toni never bothered the UK charts again.
This is followed by Hanging Around, which roars in with a similar pace, with guitar and organ. This soon gives way to a gentler beat, with Toni reminding me briefly of a Gloria Estefan and Kim Wilde hybrid, and the music sounding a little bit Police.
Chugging guitar and synth usher in next song Thief On The Loose. This song sounds good, but the vocals are a little tough to hear, aside from in the chorus.
Side One closes with Time After Time, which is another great chugging song with synth and guitars, and is far catchier than the previous track. Toni’s vocals are strong here, and the it also contains some great little robotic vocal effects. This song was released as the third, and double-A side single with You Gotta Problem, but sadly failed to chart in the UK.
Side Two bursts open with that huge #2 UK hit Mickey. Its fantastic beats and chanting grabs the attention the deserves. This was the lead single, and gave Toni the attention she appears to crave in the slightly bonkers Kate Bush/Pantomine/Drag video that accompanies it (and here’s a second version). As with the other songs here, this song has chugging guitars down to a tee.
Little Red Red book is up, which comes complete with what sounds like Animal Muppet on drums, and one of his mates on chanting backing vocals. This is an okay track but it doesn’t really go far, despite it having being written by legendary composing duo Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
This is followed by the rockier sounding Be Stiff, courtesy of what is a cover of a Devo track, but with Devo performing the track. Toni belts out a ‘1-2-3‘ effortlessly, and some screeching guitar joins her throughout. There’s few lyrics here, with an emphasis on the guitar work. It feels like a filler, included simply because of it’s provocative title.
Space Girls is a great song, and reminds me of something that you might find lurking on a Kraftwerk album. It is robotic, repetitive, and Toni’s vocals are confined to short sharp bursts, helping to boost that machine-like sound.
Closing track You Gotta Problem starts with some bouncy synth before switching to some light pop sounds. Toni’s vocals sit perfectly on top. This song could credibly be released now and not feel out of place. This is a great electronic sounding track, and it was released as a double-A single with Time After Time, but sadly failed to chart in the UK (somehow!).
Where is Toni Basil now?
Having written, starred in, and co-directed two BBC specials (Toni Basil Tape 1, and Toni Basil Tape 2) at the time of the release of this album, her success was short-lived. She released an eponymous follow-up album in 1983, but it failed to reach the same level of commercial success as her debut in the UK, seeing only minor success in her native USA.
Despite this, her Word Of Mouth video album has earned her a nomination for a Grammy Award and an MTV Music Video Award.
Since then, she has found success as an actress, but more-so back to her career roots as a dancer and choreographer, which has garnered her with nominations and awards. In 2010 she choreographed Bette Midler’s farewell concerts.
Whoever played the drums really had a great time on this album, because they play a central role, thrashing out a defiant 80s beat. Toni appears to, unsurprisingly, have a great time too, and that together makes for what is actually a pretty damn good album. Interestingly, the US edition of this album, which came out the following year, featured two other songs – Rock On written by David Essex, and Shoppin’ From A to Z which became her fourth single (and final one in the US), but does sound like a contribution to a Sesame Street episode.
Sadly, I think that she was just a little ahead of things in 1981, and that if she’d held back about 2 or 3 years, then her album might have been more successful.
I couldn’t finish the review without including the image on the reverse of the sleeve. This is how to walk your dogs in Toni Basil style:
- POP RESCUE RATING: 5 / 5
- 1981 UK CHART POSITION: #15
- POP RESCUE COST: £2.00 from an Emmaus store.