The Tokens

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The Tokens
The Tokens in 1967
The Tokens in 1967
Background information
OriginBrooklyn, New York, United States
GenresDoo-wop, pop
Years active1955–1978, 1998, 2000
LabelsWarwick, RCA Victor, Victor Records, RCA Camden, JVC, HMV, B.T. Puppy Records
Associated actsRecord Production
The Chiffons
Randy and the Rainbows
The Happenings
MembersJay Siegel's Tokens: Jay Siegel (lead vocalist)
Bill Reid
Kurt Yahjian
The Margo's Tokens:
Philip Margo
Jay Leslie
Mike Johnson
Noah Margo
Ari Margo
Damien Margo
Past membersNeil Sedaka
Hank Medress
Eddie Rabkin
Cynthia Zolotin
Mitch Margo
Joe Venneri
Brute Force
Jay Traynor

The Tokens were an American male doo-wop-style vocal group and record production company group from Brooklyn, New York. They are known best for their chart-topping 1961 single, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".


The group was formed in 1955 at Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High School, and was known first as The Linc-Tones.[1] Originally featuring members Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin, and Cynthia Zolotin, Rabkin was replaced in 1956 by Jay Siegel (born in 1939), and the band recorded its first single, "While I Dream" that same year. Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote much of the group's early material; they were unusual among teen vocal groups of the time in that they were not a cover group.[2] In 1957, Zolotin left the band, leaving only Siegel and Medress to recruit two additional band members and record the single "Picture in My Wallet" as Darrell & the Oxfords.[1] Briefly recording as The Tokens and Coins, Sedaka left the group in 1958 to launch his solo career. Finally establishing its most famous name and crew, the band became known as the Tokens in 1960 after they recruited the 13-year-old multi-instrumentalist and first tenor Mitch Margo and his baritone brother Philip "Phil" Margo.[1]

In early 1961, the Tokens released a single for Warwick Records titled "Tonight I Fell In Love",[1] which scored No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and earned the group an opportunity to perform on the television program American Bandstand. The popularity that the band garnered as a result of this performance brought it new recording opportunities, culminating in its cover of Solomon Linda's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" for RCA Victor Records.[1] It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it remained for three weeks.[1] The same track peaked at No. 11 in the UK Singles Chart.[3] Both "Tonight I Fell in Love" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" sold more than one million copies, and were awarded gold discs.[4]

From 1962 to 1970, the group released nine more songs that scored the Top 100. Jay Siegel was the lead vocalist on all the Tokens' hits including "I Hear Trumpets Blow" (1966) and "Portrait of My Love" (1967).[1] Beginning in 1963, The Tokens also began serving as record producers for other artists, such as the Chiffons, Randy & the Rainbows and the Happenings. Their production company was called "Bright Tunes" and they also created their own record company, B.T. (Bright Tunes) Puppy Records.[1] In 1972, Jay Siegel did background vocals for a re-recording of the Lion Sleeps Tonight with Robert John as the lead vocalist. This version hit #3 on the charts, and was awarded a Gold disc.[1]

In 1970, Hank Medress began producing an act for Bell Records, Dawn, which featured the former teen-idol Tony Orlando.[1] It was as a favor to Medress that Orlando sang lead on the first record, "Candida", which became a Top 3 hit.

In 1973, Medress ended his relationship with the group and Siegel teamed with the Margo Brothers to form the group Cross Country, which would have some success with its cover version of "In the Midnight Hour".[1] The Tokens reunited during 1975 for occasional weeks as singing regulars on the Adam Wade hosted game show Musical Chairs and in 1978 recorded a song for ABC's Schoolhouse Rock: "A Victim of Gravity".[5]

Brothers Mitch and Philip Margo continued to perform with new members Jay Leslie, Mike Johnson, and Noah Margo (one of Phil Margo's sons) playing drums. Mitch Margo's sons, Damien Margo and Ari Margo, also make occasional guest performances with the band, exemplifying Phil Margo's saying: "If you hang around long enough you can grow your own band".[6]

Siegel continues to perform with his own version of The Tokens as well, featuring bass singer Bill Reid and, more recently, John "Jay" Traynor, the original lead singer (before Jay Black) of Jay & the Americans and the Mystics. Siegel's son is also part of the group as keyboardist and occasional vocalist.[7]

Jay Siegel's Tokens and the Margo brothers reunited in 2000 to perform on the PBS special, Doo Wop 51. At the time, Siegel's Tokens were Siegel, Reid and Eddy Rezzonico,[8] who had replaced Richie Grasso[9] during the 1990s.

John "Jay" Traynor died on January 2, 2014 of liver cancer at a hospital in Tampa, Florida, aged 70.

Mitch Margo died on November 24, 2017, at Studio City, California, aged 70.[10]

Legal controversies[edit]

Rights for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"[edit]

Decades after not receiving any publishing credit for their specific original musical composition part of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", the band began a lawsuit in order to regain some of these publishing rights. The case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. To this day, the Tokens claim that some of the original musical composition of the 1961 song was created by them, even though they have not been awarded this status by their record company.

Name of the band[edit]

On October 19, 2009, Phil and Mitch Margo filed suit in Manhattan for the rights to the Tokens name. They claim in their filing that Henry Medress suggested the name. In a competing suit filed in California by Siegel, he claims Siegel, Medress and Sedaka released an album named Neil Sedaka and the Tokens previously.[11] On Sedaka's own website, there is a listing in his discography catalog for a 1958 release of Neil Sedaka and the Tokens as well as a second album, also during 1958, named Neil Sedaka and the Tokens and Coins.[12] Sedaka and Siegel have remained close friends since Sedaka left the group.[2]



  • 1961: The Lion Sleeps Tonight (#54 US)
  • 1962: We the Tokens Sing Folk
  • 1964: Wheels
  • 1966: I Hear Trumpets Blow (#148 US)
  • 1966: The Tokens Again
  • 1967: Back to Back (#134 US)
  • 1967: It's a Happening World
  • 1970: Greatest Moments [In a Girl's Life]
  • 1971: Both Sides Now
  • 1971: December 5
  • 1971: Intercourse
  • 1973: Cross Country[A 1]
  • 1988: Re-Doo-Wopp
  • 1993: Oldies Are Now
  • 1994: Wimoweh!!! The Best of The Tokens
  • 1995: Merry Merry
  • 1996: Tonight the Lion Dances
  • 1999: Unscrewed
  1. ^ Cross Country was released by three members of the Tokens, using the band name Cross Country.


Year Titles (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
Chart positions Album
1956 "I Love My Baby"
b/w "While I Dream"
Non-album tracks
1961 "Tonight I Fell in Love"
b/w "I'll Always Love You"
"When I Go to Sleep at Night"
b/w "Dry Your Eyes" (from The Tokens Again)
Non-album tracks
b/w "When Summer Is Through"
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"A
b/w "Tina"
1 The Lion Sleeps Tonight
1962 "B'wa Nina (Pretty Girl)"
b/w "Weeping River"
55 We the Tokens Sing Folk
"Big Boat"
b/w "The Riddle"
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
"La Bamba"
b/w "A Token of Love" (Non-album track)
85 We the Tokens Sing Folk
"Dream Angel Goodnight"
b/w "I'll Do My Crying Tomorrow"
Non-album tracks
"A Bird Flies Out of Sight"
b/w "Wishing" (Non-album track)
We the Tokens Sing Folk
1963 "Tonight I Met an Angel"
b/w "Hindi Lullaby" (from The Lion Sleeps Tonight)
126 Non-album track
"Hear the Bells"
b/w "A-B-C 1-2-3"
94 The Tokens Again
"Please Write"
b/w "I'll Always Love You"
108 Non-album tracks
1964 "Let's Go to the Drag Strip"
b/w "Two Cars"
b/w "A Girl Named Arlene" (Non-album track)
105 I Hear Trumpets Blow
"Remember Last Summer"
b/w "Strange Strange Feeling"
Shown as by The Four Winds
Non-album tracks
"He's in Town"
b/w "Oh Kathy" (from The Greatest Moments with the Tokens)
43 20 I Hear Trumpets Blow
"You're My Girl"
b/w "Havin' Fun" (Non-album track)
The Greatest Moments with the Tokens
1965 "Nobody But You"
b/w "Mr. Cupid (Don't You Call On Me)" (Non-album track)
"Sylvie Sleepin'"
b/w "A Message to the World" (Non-album track)
I Hear Trumpets Blow
"Only My Friend"
b/w "Cattle Call"
Non-album tracks
"The Bells of St. Mary"
b/w "Just One Smile"
"The Three Bells"
b/w "A Message to the World" (Non-album track)
120 I Hear Trumpets Blow
1966 "I Hear Trumpets Blow"
b/w "Don't Cry, Sing Along with the Music"
30 86
"Great Moments in a Girl's Life"
b/w "Breezy" (Non-album track)
102 The Greatest Moments with the Tokens
1967 "Green Plant"
b/w "Saloogy" (from I Hear Trumpets Blow)
Non-album track
"Portrait of My Love"
b/w "She Comes and Goes"
36 Portrait of My Love
"It's a Happening World"
b/w "How Nice"
"Ain't That Peculiar"
b/w "Bye, Bye, Bye" (from It's a Happening World)
Non-album tracks
1968 "Till"
b/w "Poor Man" (from It's a Happening World)
"Needles of Evergreen"
b/w "Mister Snail"
b/w "Bathroom Wall"
"The Banana Boat Song"
b/w "Grandfather" (from It's a Happening World)
"Some People Sleep"
b/w "The World Is Full of Wonderful Things" (Non-album track)
Both Sides Now
1969 "Get a Job"
b/w "Please Say You Want Me"
Non-album tracks
"Go Away Little Girl"/"Young Girl"
b/w "I Want to Make Love to You"
"End of the World"
b/w "I Could Be"
"She Lets Her Hair Down (Early in the Morning)"B
b/w "Oh to Get Away" (Non-album track)
61 43 Both Sides Now
1970 "Let It Ride"
b/w "One Face in the Crowd"
Shown as by The Four Winds
Non-album tracks
"Don't Worry Baby"
b/w "Some People Sleep"
95 67 Both Sides Now
"Both Sides Now"
b/w "I Could See Me (Dancin' with You)" (from December 5)
"Groovin' on the Sunshine"/"Sesame Street"
b/w "Listen to the Words (Listen to the Music)"
Non-album tracks
1972 "I Like to Throw My Head Back and Sing (That Good Ole Rock and Roll)"
b/w "You and Me"
1973 "Rock and Roll Music"
b/w "Just a Thought" (from Cross Country)
Shown as by Cross Country
"In the Midnight Hour"
b/w "A Smile Song"
Shown as by Cross Country
30 Cross Country
"Tastes So Good to Me"
b/w "A Ball Song"
Shown as by Cross Country
1974 "Penny Whistle Band"
b/w "Lord Can't Sing a Solo"
Non-album tracks
1977 "Dear Judy"
b/w "Come Softly to Me"
Shown as by The 4 Winds
1988 "Re-Doo-Wopp"
b/w "I'm Through with You"
1994 "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (re-release) 51 The Lion Sleeps Tonight (1994 CD reissue)
1996 "Only in My Dreams" (CD single) Tonight, The Lion Dances
"Save the Last Dance for Me"
b/w "Suavito"
  • APeaked at #7 on US R&B charts and #11 on UK charts
  • BPeaked at #27 on RPM Adult Contemporary charts

Production work[edit]

As well as being performing and recording artists The Tokens were also record producers. Here are some of the records they produced:

Awards and recognition[edit]

The Tokens were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.

In 1998, The Tokens were mentioned by the Guinness World Records, for performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums in the United States and Canada.

Band members[edit]

Classic lineup[edit]

Original Tokens

Jay Siegel's Tokens[edit]

Current Members
  • Jay Siegel (original lead vocalist) - vocals
  • Bill Reid
  • Kurt “Frenchy” Yahjian - vocals
Former Members

The Margo Brothers' Tokens[edit]

Current Members
Former Members


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Colin Larkin (27 May 2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Omnibus Press. pp. 1981–1982. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 561. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  4. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 140. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  5. ^ DVD credits, Schoolhouse Rock!: Special 30th Anniversary Edition, 2002
  6. ^ "The Tokens Bio". Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
  7. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2015-08-18.
  8. ^ Preston, Tara; Esposito, Frank J. (2005). Manhattan's Musical Heritage - Tara Preston, Frank J. Esposito - Google Books. ISBN 9780738544502. Retrieved 2015-08-18.
  9. ^ "Featured Content on Myspace". Retrieved 2015-08-18.
  10. ^ "Passings: Mitch Margo of the Tokens (1947 - 2017)". VVN Music. November 26, 2017. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  11. ^ Golding, Bruce (2009-10-19). "The lion sues tonight | New York Post". Retrieved 2015-08-18.
  12. ^ [1] Archived January 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]