I guess most of us probably remember the Tokens’ big hit song from 1962, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” but what you might not remember is that it wasn’t the last time this particular lion made an appearance on the charts. It was also a Top Ten hit a number of years later for singer Robert John — but it wasn’t his biggest.
It all started in the early 1960s with a Brooklyn-based group that called itself the Tokens; one that had already undergone at least one name change and several personnel changes. (Neil Sedaka was once a member.) By 1962, the Tokens — now consisting of brothers Phil and Mitch Margo, Hank Medress, Jay Siegel, and Joe Veneri — had already cut a few records, but with mixed success. The guys decided to adapt and record a South African Zulu song called “Wimoweh,” and the rest is music history. It hit the top of the charts and became the group’s signature song — and would pretty much be the high point of the Tokens’ musical career.
During that same period, Bobby Pedrick — who would later perform as Robert John — was having his own ups and downs as a performer. He too was Brooklyn-born, and in the late 1950s had sold some records with pop songs like “White Bucks and Saddle Shoes,” and “Pajama Party,” but during the 1960s he seemed to stall a little.
However, he began to pick up speed by the end of the decade, and in 1971 he recorded his own version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” It sold a lot of records for the performer, and might have helped keep him going through the lean years that followed — right up until he hit the top of the charts with what would become his signature song, 1979’s “Sad Eyes.”