#12: It’s A Happening World by the Tokens

City: Fredericton, NB
Radio Station: CFNB
Peak Month: August 1967
Peak Position in Fredericton #2
Peak position in Vancouver ~ did not chart
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #69
YouTube: “It’s A Happening World
Lyrics: “It’s A Happening World

In 1955 a doo-wop group called The Linc-Tones formed in Brooklyn, New York. Neil Sedaka was a founding member of the group but left in 1957. They renamed themselves in 1957 as The Tokens. That year they appeared on TV for the first time on The Ted Steele Dance Time. In 1959 the Tokens recorded “Picture In My Wallet” under the name of Darrell & The Oxfords, which became a Top Ten hit in San Bernardino. They had a #15 charting hit in the USA in 1959 titled “Tonight I Fell in Love”. The Tokens are known best for their number one 1961 hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The song was originally a Zulu folk song called “M’bube” and Anglicized to “Wimoweh”. The Tokens consisted of Jay Siegel, Hank Medress and brothers Mitch and Phil Margo. True rock pioneers, they were among the first to successfully use the falsetto lead voice, a sound that influenced groups such as the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys. The group had their first Top 20 hit in the USA billed as The Tokens with “Tonight I Fell In Love”, in 1961. The song peaked at #27 in Vancouver.

Hank Medress was born in Brooklyn in 1938. He joined the Linc-Tones in 1955. Jay Siegel was born in Brighton Beach, New York. He joined the Linc-Tones in 1956, before they changed their name in 1957. Mitch Margo was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1947. The youngest of the original founding members, Mitch, a multi-instumentalist, was only 13 years old when he joined The Tokens in 1960. He has been the creative force behind The Tokens since before he could drive. He has penned number of Tokens singles including “I Hear Trumpets Blow.” Phil Margo was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1942. Phil is an original founding member and Mitch’s older brother. He joined The Tokens in 1960.

From 1962 to 1970, the group released nine more songs that charted in the Billboard Hot 100. Jay Siegel was the lead vocalist on all the Tokens’ hits. Beginning in 1963, the Tokens also began serving as record producers for other artists, such as The Chiffons, Randy & The Rainbows, The Happenings, and Tony Orlando. Their company was called Bright Tunes Productions and they also had a record company named B. T. Puppy Records.

In 1963, the Tokens released “Hear The Bells” which climbed to #11 in Winnipeg (MB). The following year they recorded a Gerry Goffin-Carole King song titled “He’s In Town”. It was successfully covered by the Rockin’ Berries in the UK in 1964 where it climbed to #3.

In 1966 The Tokens were still looking for a Top 30 hit, as they hadn’t charted one since “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in 1961. Mitch Margo’s “I Hear Trumpets Blow” climbed to #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1966. The tune stalled at #12 on CFUN in Vancouver for three consecutive weeks. In America “I Hear Trumpets Blow” was the nineteenth single the group had released since their number one hit five years earlier. Of these, fourteen missed the Billboard Hot 100. Hopeful they were back on the radar, The Tokens next issued a single in 1966 called the “Greatest Moments in a Girls’ Life”. It was a Top Ten hit in Vancouver.

In early 1967, the group released a cover of a Steve Lawrence hit in 1960 titled “Portrait Of My Love”. The cover climbed to #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. The next release was “It’s A Happening World”.

It's A Happening World by the Tokens

“It’s A Happening World” was cowritten by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Barry Imberman was born in Manhattan in 1939. Raised in a Jewish family, he began his professional career as a songwriter in 1958 at Aldon Music in the Brill Building. His first songs, all credited to Barry Mann, included recordings by Sal Mineo, the Kalin Twins, the Pony-Tails, “Don’t Destroy Me” by Crash Craddock, and “She Say (Oom Dooby Doom)” by the Diamonds – a Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. That year Mann also wrote the B-side to the Top 20 hit “Here Comes Summer” by Jerry Keller, and “Footsteps” and “Come Back Silly Girl” for Steve Lawrence. In 1961, Barry Mann also recorded a Top Ten hit he wrote in 1961 titled “Who Put The Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)”.

Mann met Cynthia Weil in the Brill Building on Broadway. Their professional relationship became personal and they married. Mann and Weil cowrote many songs including “Don’t Know Much” for Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt, “Hungry” and “Kicks” for Paul Revere And The Raiders, “Somewhere Out There” for Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” for the Righteous Brothers, “On Broadway” for The Drifters, “Walking In The Rain” for the Ronettes and Jay and The Americans, “I’m Gonna Be Strong” for Gene Pitney, “Blame It On The Bossa Nova” for Eydie Gorme, “Here You Come Again” for Dolly Parton, “Make Your Own Kinds Of Music” and “It’s Getting Better” for Mama Cass, and “Rock ‘N Roll Lullaby” for B.J. Thomas. In addition, Barry Mann wrote (or co-wrote) “I Love How You Love Me” for the Paris Sisters, “Patches” for Dickey Lee, and “Sometimes When We Touch” with Dan Hill.

Cynthia Weil was born in 1940 in Manhattan and raised in a conservative Jewish family. In her teens she studied acting and dance but went on to develop her skills as a songwriter. Early in 1960 she landed a position with the Frank Music Company headed by Frank Loesser, writer of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and the musicals Guys And Dolls, Hans Christian Andersen and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Weil moved on to Aldon Music in the Brill Building late in 1960. She died in 2023 at the age of 82.

“It’s A Happening World” is another offering of ‘sunshine pop’ from the late 60s. Opportunity and possibility are everywhere. A list emerges depicting the happening world: a) kids are dancing everywhere, b) the sound of swinging music is in the air, c) you can be as young as you want to be, d) you can throw away conventions (of what is expected), e) you can “get out of yourself,” f) there are “happening things” to take part in, h) crazy clothes, i) you can “do something you’ve never done,” j) free speech is a given: you can “say what you wanna say,” k)  you can “have a ball.” Who wouldn’t want to live in this “happening world” free of anxiety and absent any dangers.

“It’s A Happening World” climbed to #2 in Fredericton (NB), and Kirkland Lake (ON), #5 in Geneva (NY), #6 in Simcoe (ON), #7 in Watertown (NY), Indianapolis (IN), and Key West (FL), and #10 in Little Rock (AR).

For the week of August 19, 1967, the top three songs on the CFNB chart in Fredericton were:
1) All You Need Is Love – Beatles
2) Carrie-Anne – Hollies
3) It’s A Happening World – Tokens

At the end of 1967, these songs had the following rankings on the CFNB Top 100 of the year:
#27 – All You Need Is Love – Beatles
#31 – It’s A Happening World – Tokens
#42 – Carrie-Anne – Hollies

Lesley Gore also recorded “It’s A Happening World” for her album, Magic Colors, which was released in November 1967. In 1968, the Australian band the Executives released a cover of “It’s A Happening World”. It peaked at #30 on the Australian pop chart.

On the album liner notes for It’s A Happening World, each member of the Tokens was introduced to their fans:
“Hank, the bearded one…dribbled through school on a basketball scholarship…. Among his prized possessions, a worn copy of the rare and valuable Kate Smith Cookbook…. His greatest ambition: to drive an eight-shift truck. Hank hankers to be a roller derby skater, and…run a camp for underprivileged kids.”
“Jay: three of his loves are Nashville, felt tip pens and making people laugh…. One of his hobbies: photography.”
“Phil, the most boisterous Token, is turned on by elves. His favorite things (include) flying, baseball, skiing, karate, guns, boating (and) scuba diving.”
“Mitch…has a Harpo Marxian head whose curls often quiver with sensitivity. (His various pursuits have included) judo, a men’s lodge, driving cars, fishing and hunting…. The perfect birthday present: an African thumb piano.”

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote other ‘sunshine pop’ tunes, notably “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” and “It’s Getting Better” for Mama Cass.

In the late 60s, the Tokens released a number of covers including “Till”, “Don’t Worry Baby”, “Banana Boat Song”, “Both Sides Now”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”  and “Go Away Little Girl” with little success.

In early 1970, the Tokens had a #11 hit in Victoria (BC) titled “She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)”.

The Tokens enjoyed success recording commercial jingles in the 1970s and 1980s for such products as Benson and Hedges cigarettes, Pan American Airlines and Clairol hair products. Over the years, The Tokens have shared the stage with other recording acts including The Beatles, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard.

Hank Medress left the Tokens in 1973. After that he co-produced many of Tony Orlando and Dawn’s hits as well as Melissa Manchester’s albums. Later, he worked with David Johansen, Rick Springfield, Dan Hill, and Richard Simmons. He was president of EMI Music Publishing Canada, from 1990 to 1992. Medress died of lung cancer in 2007.

In 1972 Jay Siegel did background vocals for a re-recording of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with Robert John as the lead vocalist. The cover version became at Top Ten hit across North America. Siegel, Mitch and Phil Margo have continued to tour as The Tokens with different additional members over the years. At times Siegel has had his own touring group called, The Tokens, while the Margo brothers have also and a Tokens group on tour. In 2003, Siegel received an honorary doctorate from Kean University.

While continuing to tour with The Tokens, Phil Margo managed Robert Guillaume while he starred on the TV series Soap and Benson. Phil has written and produced several television movies, hour dramas and half-hour sitcoms. He has invented the Spare Pocket, an adjustable waist –side, carrying device, on which he holds a patent. He has also published a science-fiction novel titled The Null Quotient.

Mitch Margo, was the lead vocalist for the Tokens into 2017 performing “Tonight I Fell In Love” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Margo died on December 1, 2017. He was 70.

In 1998 The Tokens became the first and only group to sing the American National Anthem in all major league ballparks in one season. This accomplishment landed them into the Guinness Book of World Records. On July 6th of 2005, The Tokens were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

January 24, 2024
Ray McGinnis

Jay Siegel’s Tokens – Biography, Jay Siegel and The Tokens.com.
Mark Vogler, “Jay Siegel of the Tokens Interview,” NJ.com, November 26, 2010.
Steve Marble, “Mitch Margo, who rode ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ to the Top of the Charts, Dies at 70,” Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2017.
Barry Mann bio,” mann-weil.com.
Cynthia Weil bio,” mann-weil.com.
Mama Cass, “Make Your Own Kind Of Music“, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, 1968.
Alex Williams, “Cynthia Weil who put words to ‘Lovin’ Feeling,’ Dies at 82,” New York Times, June 2, 2023.It's A Happening World by the TokensIt's A Happening World by the Tokens

CFNB | Fredericton (NB) | Top Ten | August 19, 1967

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