Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Tokens - It's A Happening World (1967)

 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 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.

The Tokens had a big hit in 1962 with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," a remake of the Weavers' "Wimoweh," itself a version of a '30s South African pop-folk song, and that's usually it for the The Tokens in most rock and pop history books. But there's more to the story, as there usually is. The Tokens formed their own record label in 1964, B.T. Puppy, and they got to be pretty good record producers, and by the time the band signed with Warner Bros Records in 1967, they knew their way around a studio. Their first album for the label, It's a Happening World, was a minor and woefully unsung gem, full of interesting psychedelic and Baroque touches that make it sound like the Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds, or the Beatles just as they stepped off into "I Am the Walrus" territory, all complete with those trademark vocal harmonies and inventive arrangements The Tokens were known for. The best tracks, like "Portrait of My Love," the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil-penned title tune, "It's a Happening World," and the delightful "Grey City Day" are all solid examples of intelligent late-'60s sunshine pop, and the album deserved to fare better than it did with both the critics and the market place. [Some reissues package the It's a Happening World LP with 11 singles the band released for Warner Bros between 1967 and 1969, including delightful re-imaginings of Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar," Harry Belafonte's "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)," and Skeeter Davis' "The End of the World." Oh, and the lead track is a Baroque re-rendering of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," here called "Wimoweh 5 1/2 Years Later," that should have been a big hit all over again in the heady summer of 1967.]


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