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Music Review: The Tokens – It’s A Happening World

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During its short existence, Real Gone Music, has established itself as one of the premier reissue labels in the United States. One of their recent releases is It’s A Happening World by The Tokens, complete with 12 bonus tracks.

My main question is not about The Tokens, as they were a vastly underrated vocal group. Their smooth brand of pop was of the same caliber, if not overall commercial success, of The Four Seasons. My main thought was why this particular album? It is probably the most unique album in their catalogue and not totally representative of their sound. The answer may be simply because it was available.

The origins of The Tokens lie in Brooklyn during the mid-1950s when the Linc-Tones were formed with Neil Sedaka as an original member. By 1960 their most famous lineup of Hank Medress, Mitch Margo, Phil Margo, Jay Siegel, and guitarist Jon Venneri had adopted the Tokens name. Today they are best remembered for the number one hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which underwent a modern day revival due to its association with The Lion King film and Broadway play.

The had a number of hits for RCA and their own label, B.T. Puppy, before moving on to Warner Brothers, which brings us back to 1967′s It’s A Happening World. One of the problems is that when I think of The Tokens, songs such as “Hear the Bells,” ”He’s in Town,” “I Hear Trumpets Blow,” and one of the best Beach Boys covers in existence, “Don’t Worry Baby,” come to mind. They not part of this release.

The popularity of vocal groups was in decline as the ’60s progressed. It’s A Happening World found The Tokens tight harmonies intact. Jay Siegal’s falsetto voice could soar at times and was the equal of Frankie Valli.

“Wimoweh 5 and ½ Years Later” was a re-working of their biggest hit and set the tone for the album. The group members were always able to write a number of their own songs and did not have to fill in with all cover material. They composed 13 of the 25 tracks contained on this release.

What made the original album unique was their attempt to modernize their sound with the changing music world of the late ’60s with varying results. It seems as if they were trying to fuse their brand of sunshine pop with the psychedelic sounds of the day. While it did not always work, songs such as “She Comes & Goes,” “Poor Man,” “Some People Sleep,” “The Purpose of a Circus,” and “Grandfather” are at least interesting.

There are also some tight harmonic pop songs as well, which returned them to familiar ground. The title track, “Go Away Little Girl/Young Girl,” and the hit single “Portrait of My Love” were all shining pop creations.

It’s a Happening World found The Tokens experimenting with their sound. If you want to hear group at their best, seek out a greatest hits compilation of their RCA and B.T. Puppy material. On the other hand, for aficionados of the Tokens and American vocal groups who want something with a slightly different twist, then this will be an album for you.

About David Bowling