Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Tokens: The Lion Sleeps Tonight

The Tokens are an American male doo-wop-style vocal group from Brooklyn, New York. They are known best for their chart-topping 1961 single, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"

The group was formed in 1955 at Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High School, and was known first as the Linc-Tones. Originally featuring members Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin, and Cynthia Zolotin, Rabkin was replaced by Jay Siegel in 1956, and the band recorded its first single, "While I Dream" that same year. In 1957 Sedaka and Zolotin left the band, leaving only Siegel and Medress, who would recruit two additional band members and record the single "Picture in My Wallet" as Darrell & the Oxfords. Finally establishing its most famous name and crew, the band became known as the Tokens in 1960 after they recruited the 13-year-old multi-instrumentalist and first tenor Mitch Margo and his baritone brother Phil Margo.

In early 1961, the Tokens released a single for Warwick Records entitled "Tonight I Fell In Love," which scored #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and earned them an opportunity to perform on the television program American Bandstand. The popularity that the band garnered as a result of this performance brought them new recording opportunities, culminating in their cover of Solomon Linda's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" for RCA Victor Records. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it remained for three weeks. The same track peaked at #11 in the UK Singles Chart. Both "Tonight I Fell in Love" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" sold more than one million copies, and were awarded gold discs.

From 1962 to 1970, the group released nine more songs that scored the Top 100. Jay Siegel was the lead vocalist on all the Tokens' hits including "I Hear Trumpets Blow" (1966) and "Portrait of My Love" (1967). Beginning in 1963, the Tokens also began serving as record producers for other artists, such as the Chiffons, Randy & the Rainbows, and the Happenings. Their production company was called Bright Tunes and they also created their own record company, B.T. (Bright Tunes) Puppy Records. In 1972, Jay Siegel did background vocals for a re-recording of Lion Sleeps Tonight with Robert John as the lead vocalist.

In 1973, Medress ended his relationship with the group and Siegel teamed with the Margo Brothers to form the group Cross Country, which would have some success with its cover version of "In the Midnight Hour." The Tokens reunited during 1975 for occasional weeks as singing regulars on the Adam Wade hosted game show Musical Chairs and in 1978 recorded a song for ABC's Schoolhouse Rock named "A Victim of Gravity".

Nowadays, brothers Mitch and Philip Margo continue to perform with new members Jay Leslie, Mike Johnson and Noah Margo (one of Margo's sons) playing drums. Mitch Margo's sons, Damien Margo and Ari Margo also make occasional guest performances with the band, exemplifying Phil Margo's saying that "If you hang around long enough you can grow your own band."

Siegel continues to perform with his own version of the Tokens as well, featuring bass singer Bill Reid and, more recently, John "Jay" Traynor, the original lead singer (before Jay Black) of Jay & the Americans and the Mystics. Siegel's son is also part of the group as keyboardist and occasional vocalist. (John "Jay" Traynor died January 2, 2014 of liver cancer at a hospital in Tampa, Florida.)

Jay Siegel's Tokens and the Margo brothers reunited in 2000 to perform on the PBS special, Doo Wop 51. At the time, Siegel's Tokens were Siegel, Reid, and Eddy Rezzonico; Rezzonico had replaced Richie Grasso during the 1990s.

Decades after not receiving any publishing credit for their specific original musical composition part of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", the band began a lawsuit in order to regain some of these publishing rights. The case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. To this day, the Tokens claim that some of the original musical composition of the 1961 song was created by them, even though they have not been awarded this status by their record company.

On October 19, 2009, Phil and Mitch Margo filed suit in Manhattan for the rights to the Tokens name. They claim in their filing that Henry Medress suggested the name. In a competing suit filed in California by Siegel, he claims Siegel, Medress, and Sedaka released an album named Neil Sedaka and The Tokens previously. On Sedaka's own website, there is a listing in his discography catalog for a 1958 release of Neil Sedaka and The Tokens as well as a second album, also during 1958, named Neil Sedaka and The Tokens and Coins.

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