Lewis was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and learned to play the piano by age six, despite very poor eyesight. Adopted at age twelve, he moved to a home in Detroit, Michigan. Growing up with the influences of the pioneer blues musicians until the advent of rock and roll, Lewis began to build a musical career in the 1950s. He moved to New York City. In July 1961, his recording of "Tossin' and Turnin'" on the Beltone label went to No.1 for seven weeks on the Billboard chart. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.
The original version of the song, as Lewis recorded it, included a slow, 13-second prelude: "Baby... bayyyy-beeee... you... did... something to me..." followed suddenly by the up-tempo vocal "I couldn't sleep at all last night." An alternate version, with the prelude chopped off, begins abruptly with the up-tempo vocal; this second edition was pressed in 1961 and has since become the standard version of the song. Later that year, Lewis had a second Top Ten song, "One Track Mind", his only other major hit record (again on Beltone), charting at No. 9.
"Tossin' And Turnin'", composed by Ritchie Adams and Malou Rene, was featured on the soundtrack for the 1978 film Animal House. The song was also covered by Steve Goodman, the Replacements, the Guess Who, Peter Criss, and Jimmy Sturr, among others. (The Ivy League's UK hit "Tossin' And Turnin", however, is a completely different song).
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