This Brooklyn doo wop group was originally known as the Linc-Tones when they 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 the South African Zulu song “Wimoweh,” and reached number seven on the R&B chart while topping the pop surveys. The Tokens formed their own label in 1964, B.T. Puppy, but weren’t able to keep the hits coming very long, although “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” remains a standard.
– Ron Wynn
In New York City during the late 50s and early 60s, it was hardly extraordinary for a bunch of guys to get together on a street corner or in a high school bathroom to sing doo-wop. The history of Brooklyn alone testifies to the remarkable talent that called just that borough “home” back in those days. What is extraordinary,though, is the incredible feat that one of those groups has accomplished.
After having their music break onto the pop charts for the first time in 1961, The Tokens have been back on the charts!
It was more than 30 years after the debut of their first big hit, “Tonight I Fell In Love” when they re-emerged on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart in August of 1994, following the re-release of their chart topping single, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” With that re-entry comes the distinction of having the second-longest chart span in the rock era! Billboards archives also show that the South African folk song, “Wimoweh,” which inspired the song that went to number one worldwide first charted 42 1/2 years earlier. No other title can claim that longevity.
The release of the Disney motion picture “The Lion King” prompted RCA to re-release “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and a Compact Disc featuring a unique compilation of The Tokens earlier tunes. It gives their fans a rare opportunity to enjoy many of the songs The Tokens wrote more than 30 years ago, as well as songs popularized by other artists which The Tokens later recorded in their own distinctive style.
That style and sound, of course, is elegantly defined by Jay Siegel whose tenor lead and trademark falsetto have characterized all The Tokens music since the group began recording, and continues to do so as they perform around the country.
While dyed-in-the-wool. Tokens fans know that Jay Siegel had always sung lead on the group’s hits (including, among many others, “Portrait Of My Love”, “LaBamba”, “B’Wanina”, “He’s In Town”, “She Lets Her Hair Down”, and “I hear Trumpets Blow”), and know that he had a hand in writing them. Some may not be aware of the number of hats he wore.
The Tokens were one of the first independent , not to mention teams to produce recordings for a major lable, breaking into the really big in 1962, when they became the first vocal group to produce a number one record for another vocal group! Remember “He’s So Fine” by “The Chiffons? That was the first of many smash hits Jay and his group had a hand in producing. They became the production geniuses behind numerous other hits by The Chiffons, as well as the biggest hits by Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Happenings, Randy and The Rainbows, and Robert John. While many know that the group DAWN was named was named by Jay after one of his daughters, it is a lesser known fact that Jay and two session singers actually were the group on Orlando’s first album! Jay and The Tokens also sang backup vocals for such diverse artists as Del Shannon, Melissa Manchester, The Blues Project, Kieth, Mac Davis, and Bob Dylan.
Besides leaving their imprint on the pop music scene as singers, arrangers, producers, and record executives, Jay Siegel and The Tokens were successes as writers producers, and singers of commercials, reminding us that “Pan Am makes the going great”, Ban won’t wear off as the day…” and that Bensen and Hedges are a silly millimeter longer”. They were also the voices for Clairol, General Foods, Wrigley’s Gum, Sunkist, and Wendy’s.