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 in the New York City of the late 50’s and early 60’s. The history of Brooklyn alone testifies to the remarkable talent that called just that one 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 are back on the charts!
It was 33 years after the debut of their first big hit “Tonight I Fell In Love”, when they reemerged 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 reentry comes the distinction of having the second-longest chart span in the rock era! Billboard’s archives also show that the South African folk song “Wimoweh,” which inspired the song that went to #1 worldwide, first charted 42 1/2 years earlier! No other 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 CD featuring a unique compilation of twenty 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 continue to do so today as they perform around the country.
While dyed-in-the-wool Tokens fans know that Jay always sung lead on the group’s hits (including, among others, “Portrait Of My Love,” “La Bamba,” “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 many of them, some may not be aware if the number of hats he wore.
The Tokens were one of the first independent, not to mention youngest, teams to produce recordings for a major label, breaking into the really big-time in 1962, when they became the first vocal group to 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 the group Dawn was named by Jay after one of his daughters, it’s a lesser known fact that Jay and two session singers actually were the group on Orlando’s first album! He and The Tokens also sang backup vocals for such diverse artists as Del Shannon, Melissa Manchester, The Blues Project, Keith, Mac Davis, and Bob Dylan.
Besides leaving their imprint on the pop music scene as singers, songwriters, 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 “Benson and Hedges are a silly millimeter longer…” They were also the voices for Clairol, General Foods, Wrigley’s gum, Sunkist and Wendy’s.
Jay Siegel and The Tokens are truly one of the pop music scene’s most versatile, talented and enduring groups!
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