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The Tokens Greatest Hits (Re-Recorded Version)

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Album Review

The story of the Tokens is really the story of a song. Formed in the mid-'50s in Brooklyn with Neil Sedaka as the lead singer, the Tokens eventually settled on a lineup of Jay Siegel, Hank Medress, and brothers Phil and Mitch Margo. The group scored a massive international hit in 1961-1962 with the impossibly infectious "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," a song with a fascinating history. Originally called "Mbude," the song was written and recorded in Zulu by South African Solomon Linda in 1939 and was a big local hit in what is now Swaziland in the '40s. A copy of the original 78 found its way into folklorist Alan Lomax's hands, who, in turn, played it for Pete Seeger, then a member of the Weavers. Both men assumed it was a traditional African folk song. Seeger and the Weavers lifted the chorus and recorded it as "Wimoweh," which went to the top of the charts in 1952. The Weavers re-recorded it live in 1957 as part of their Carnegie Hall concert album, which is where Jay Siegel of the Tokens heard it. Since "Wimoweh" was simply a rhythmic vocal chorus as performed by the Weavers, the Tokens, still believing the song was an old traditional tune, added a verse melody line and lyrics and the song became "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," again soaring to the top of the charts in 1962. The new verse lyrics, in the most amazing of coincidences, actually echoed the original Zulu lyrics of "Mbude" (a song about hunting lions) as written and recorded by Solomon Linda way back in the '30s, a recording Siegel and the Tokens had never heard and didn't even know existed. Ten years later, a version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" produced by the Tokens and sung by Robert John hit the top of the charts once again, and a decade and a half after John's hit, South African Lebo M. recorded the song as part of Disney's The Lion King soundtrack, sending yet another hit version around the world. A royalties nightmare, "Wimoweh"/"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" ended up defining the Tokens' career. Three versions are included on this collection (in disco remixes), along with several covers and the group's only other significant hit, "Tonight I Fell in Love."


Formed: 1960 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '90s, '00s

This Brooklyn doo wop group was originally known as the Linc-Tones when it formed in 1955 at Lincoln High School. Hank Medress, Neil Sedaka, Eddie Rabkin, and Cynthia Zolitin didn't have much impact in their early days recording for Melba. They later disbanded, but Medress re-formed the group in 1960 as the Tokens. Brothers Phil and Mitch Margo and Jay Siegel were now the members. They recorded for Warwick in 1960, then had their one glorious hit in 1962, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." It was based on...
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The Tokens Greatest Hits (Re-Recorded Version), The Tokens
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