The Tokens were a doo-wop/pop group from New York that became famous during the 1960s. Formed in 1955 at Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High School and first known as The Linc-Tones, the group's original members included Neil Sedaka who had left by the late 1950s. By 1960, the group had become known as The Tokens with a core lineup consisting of brothers Phil and Mitch Margo (May 25, 1947 - November 24, 2017), Hank Medress (November 19, 1938 - June 18, 2007), and lead singer Jay Siegel. Guitarist Joe Venneri (July 28, 1937 - June 28, 2019) and guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Stephen Friedland (a.k.a. Brute Force) also served as members at various times during the group's peak commercial fame. The Tokens released their first recordings on Warwick Records before establishing their own label (B.T. Puppy) in 1963 when they began producing for such acts as The Chiffons, The Happenings, and Randy & The Rainbows.
The Tokens made their debut on the Pop/Rock charts in early 1961 with "Tonight I Fell In Love," an upbeat, romantic doo-wop rocker co-written by Mitch Margo and Hank Medress which became a Top 20 hit. The group had its greatest success later that year with its cover of the beloved big cat classic, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," which topped the Pop/Rock charts and made the R&B Top 10. Jay Siegel also provided background vocals for Robert John's 1972 cover of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," which became a Top 5 hit and soon after went gold. The Tokens' version recharted many years later in 1994 due to the song's inclusion in the soundtrack to "The Lion King."
The Tokens' long string of hits, which continued through 1970, also included "I Hear Trumpets Blow" (1966) and "Portrait Of My Love" (1967), both of which made the Top 40. Other hits included "B'wa Nina (Pretty Girl)" (1962), "He's In Town" (1964), "It's A Happening World" (1967), and "She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)" (1969), the latter of which was based on a Miss Clairol commercial jingle. In 1973, Medress left The Tokens and the remaining members recorded as Cross Country. Under this name, the group had a Top 40 hit in 1973 with "In The Midnight Hour," a remake of the 1965 Wilson Pickett smash.
The Tokens' many honors and accolades include being inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. Since the group's founding, The Tokens have remained active through the present in various incarnations, with many personnel changes along the way. More recent members include John "Jay" Traynor (of Jay & The Americans) who toured with Jay Siegel's Tokens from 2006-2013.
- For more info about The Tokens, visit thetokens.com.
- Hank Medress describes the early history of The Tokens in an interview with Artie Wayne on spectropop.com (2006).
- Stephen Friedland (Brute Force) remembers his time as a member of The Tokens in an interview with Scram Magazine (2016).
- Legacy.com remembers Joe Venneri of The Tokens.
- The New York Times remembers Tokens members Mitch Margo and Hank Medress.
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- I Hear Trumpets Blow 1966
- The Lion Sleeps Tonight 1961
(This song, which topped the charts, is based on the ca. 1920s song, "Mbube," written by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu origin. It also became a hit for the Weavers (1952, as "Wimoweh") and Robert John (1972), and it recharted for the Tokens in 1994 when it was featured in "The Lion King.")
- Tonight I Fell In Love 1961
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