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THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT
MONDAY, 30 AUGUST 2010

Song of the Week by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George David Weiss, Paul Campbell, Albert Stanton and Solomon Linda
In the jungle, the mighty jungle The Lion Sleeps Tonight... - but don't be surprised if it in the wee small hours he wakes up and gives a plaintive howl through the mighty jungle for the man who wrote those words. George David Weiss died last week at the age of 89. He had a remarkable career that effortlessly embraced whatever fashions in pop music threw at him. He wrote hits for Sinatra ("Oh, What It Seemed To Be", a song Frank loved) and Elvis ("Can't Help Falling In Love"); he embraced jazz (the lyrics to George Shearing's "Lullaby Of Birdland"), Broadway (Mister Wonderful, a Sammy Davis vehicle that made a hit out of "Too Close To Comfort") and Philadelphia soul ("Let's Put It All Together" for the Stylistics); and at the end of the Sixties he wrote a Louis Armstrong hit that transcends category, "What A Wonderful World". But few songs have as convoluted a tale behind them as George Weiss' leonine hit of the early Sixties. Whether you've heard Pete Seeger singing it as "Wimoweh" or Tight Fit's 1982 British Number One of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", you know this tune. Tight Fit sounds like a vaguely parodic name for a boy band, but in fact they were a coed combo - one boy, two girls, a male model and two female dancers, hired as a photogenic front after the record had already been made. The girls had failed to make the cut at an audition for the more successfully contrived group, Bucks Fizz, and were shortly booted out of Tight Fit, too. But for a few weeks in 1982 on the BBC's "Top Of The Pops" they did well enough moving about in synchronized "Wimowehs" while the male model mouthed to a vocal track actually sung by a guy from the band City Boy. The bottom inevitably drops out of even the Tightest Fits of the music biz, but "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" roars on regardless. It's one of the biggest songs ever about a lion, apart from the Oscar-winning "Born Free" and the Eagles" "You can't hide those lion eyes". After Tight Fit, "The Lion Sleeps" was a hit all over the world on stage and screen, in Disney's The Lion King, and then on Broadway, in the stage version. Before Tight Fit, it was a Billboard Number Three for Robert John in the Seventies, a Number One for the Tokens in the Sixties; as "Wimoweh", it was a hit for Seeger's Weavers in the Fifties, and in the Forties, as "Mbube"... Ah, but that's where the story gets murkier. Who wrote those words about the mighty jungle? It was George Weiss, a reliable man about Manhattan in the music business for a good half-century. The title song for Mister Wonderful did very nicely for Peggy Lee and "Too Close For Comfort" did very nicely for Sammy Davis Jr, Eartha Kitt, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Steve and Eydie, and pretty much everybody else. And with the hot music-biz producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore he adapted "Can't Help Falling In Love" from the old chanson "Plaisir d'Amour" and gave Elvis, Andy Williams and the Stylistics a boffo smash. That was the brief for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". In 1961, the Tokens, a group from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, turned up to audition for Hugo and Luigi at RCA and sang "Wimoweh", a

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there were only three lines. I can't improve on the brilliant analysis by Ilonka David-Biluska. The Tokens had mentioned to Huge and Luge (as they called their pop biz honchos) that the South African consulate had told them the the song was something to do with a lion..new adjective: In the jungle. thought Weiss. who was briefly a Continental vedette in the Sixties and billed as "The Voice of South Africa".. beloved staple of the Weavers. presumably somewhere in a hut in the village. the peaceful village The Lion Sleeps Tonight.SteynOnline . The lyric's a masterful way of taking what's really little more than a wonderfully catchy hook and using it to hint at a whole world. The Dutch translation. who else is in the neighborhood? Near the village. the mighty jungle The Lion Sleeps Tonight. And it was fine. Sixty-two words. my darling. I refused to sing it. the village small and the night dark. but an eight-bar instrumental phrase at the end of all the zeudo-Zulu ululating caught his fancy. but Hugo and Luigi were in the market for something a little less folkie and turned to their pal George Weiss to see if he'd be interested in turning it into a more or less regular pop song... And then Weiss hints at just a wee bit of potential drama: Hush. And how about we reprise the hit adjective from the previous verselet? Near the village. Okay. Ilonka wasn't impressed: I looked at the lyrics and my heart sank. my darling The Lion Sleeps Tonight. the quiet jungle The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Okay. 2 of 6 8/30/10 6:48 AM . Oh yes. near a peaceful and quiet village and a darling... And that's pretty much it. Invited by EMI in Amsterdam to sing the Dutch version of the song. So it's a song about a lion.. despite her Hungarian name..com/index2. So he moved it up and made it the melodic center of the song and then figured out what the lyric ought to be about. Weiss didn't much care for the guys a-hootin' an' a-hollerin' "A-wimoweh a-wimoweh" bar after bar like a bunch of buttondown Brooklynite tribesmen.. I shall paraphrase: a lion is sleeping in a mighty but quiet jungle.1 ...steynonline.php?option. the Kingston Trio and other luminaries of the folk boom.. is told to hush and not to fear because the lion is asleep tonight. the quiet village The Lion Sleeps Tonight. now what? Well. After that first phrase. What's the lion doing? Not much: In the jungle. according to the sheet music (which was later published with my photograph on the cover) left out the fearful darling and noted merely that the jungle was big. Apart from a prodigious number of ‘Wimowehs'. don't fear. Weiss mulled it over and for the next couplet added one .THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT http://www. or (excluding repetitions) 16 words. the lion was still asleep.

steynonline. from their point of view. Back in New York. Jay Siegal's falsetto. very hard not to make a ton of dough from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Those words about "the jungle. the Tokens did as they were told but didn't care for it. they'd plagiarized it not from the non-existent "Campbell" and "Stanton" but from the same 19th century Zulu natives Campbell and Stanton had plagiarized it from. Huge and Luge had done it with "Can't Help Falling In Love". Bingo! There was no such "Paul" and no such "Albert". and then copyright your version as a full-blown composition in its own right. it's obvious. and he was standing in front of a microphone in 3 of 6 8/30/10 6:48 AM . "traditional . that is. It hit Number One at Christmas 1961. Pace Phil Margo and Ilonka. Messrs "Campbell" and "Stanton" were thus successful 20th century songwriters who apparently hadn't written anything since the mid-19th century. Everyone was doing it: in the Fifties. As the South African writer Rian Malan described it: Once upon a time. "De Leeuw Slaapt Vannacht". Ilonka DavidBiluska's version. And Mr "Stanton" was the name Al Brackman at the Richmond publishing house put on the music when he wanted to do the same for the publishing royalties.php?option. "We were embarrassed. to the third take on a recording session at Eric Gallo's studio in Johannesburg 68 years ago. They said it would be a big record and it was going out. So the first thing they wondered. "anonymous" . The trouble was.ie." said Phil Margo.com/index2. you're a fellow called Solomon Linda. but where did the tune come from? Well. reached Number One in the Netherlands. Which meant someone else could put it back in copyright.ie. It was the melodic inspiration of one man who. And. "and tried to convince Hugo and Luigi not to release it.." It had an orchestra. was where did this "Wimoweh" thing come from anyway? They looked at the song credits: "Paul Campbell" and "Albert Stanton". because Pete Seeger and the Richmond organization well understood that. out of copyright. isn't it? It was a "Zulu chant" . So the minute Huge and Luge saw those names on "Wimoweh" they knew it was a Pete Seeger cash-in job. Luge and George Weiss' defense would be yes. Huge. it is. Unless. a long time ago. in fact.ie. a plum just ripe for a second picking. "Frankie And Johnny". Much to her disgust. "Greensleeves" and a bunch of other things that had been around forever were being copyrighted as brand new songs. tweak it here and there. unlike "Paul Campbell" and "Albert Stanton". If it ever came to court. the mighty jungle" sit so perfectly and indivisibly on those notes they sound like they've belonged to each other for all time. In the Fifties and early Sixties. Henri Salvador's somewhat more final-sounding "Le lion est mort ce soir" was Number One in France. Carole King declared the record a bona fide "motherf---er". You take some half-forgotten folk dirge.THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT http://www. The first time the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson heard it he had to pull off the road he was so overawed. whether you call it "Wimoweh" or "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". it never did come to court. an opera singer with a spare half-hour who came in and did a bit of contrapuntal howling. a trio of Tokens doing the wimoweh-ing. ne "Plaisir d'Amour". public demand for "authentic" "traditional" music created a huge windfall for savvy Tin Pan Alleymen. Mr "Campbell" was the name Pete Seeger and the Weavers put on the sheet music when they'd recorded a folk tune and decided they'd like to cut themselves a piece of the songwriting action. actually existed. the tune that sits under those words wasn't a traditional Zulu work chant. We know the lyric is George Weiss'. It was 1939. and thus. when the Tokens showed up and began doing their Zulu impressions. a small miracle took place in the brain of a man named Solomon Linda.. And we can date the point of creation very precisely.SteynOnline . "Auld Lang Syne".

com/index2. the only recording studio in black Africa when it happened. But few made the splash Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds did: very snazzy in trilbys. many young men from the rural hinterland of Natal came to Jo'burg. He had been staying there since morning and he was hungry. Exasperated. pinstripes and two-tone shoes. when Solly took a deep breath. taking its cue from the injunction "Cothoza. The third take almost collapsed at the outset as the unrehearsed musicians dithered and fished for the key.php?option. dragooned a pianist. boys". Zulu stomping is fine in the bush. but once they started cooking. kiddie-pop (*NSync). He misheard "Mbube" and transcribed it as "Wimoweh". boys" is good advice for anyone in the music business. and the lion was happy.as big band (Jimmy Dorsey). "Mbube" became not just the name of a hit record but of an entire vocal style .'' In the Thirties. and Solomon Linda had been inspired by a childhood memory from his days herding cattle in the Zulu heartland. a haunting skein of fifteen notes that flowed down the wires and into a trembling stylus that cut tiny grooves into a spinning block of bees wax. ''The lion was going round and round. but there was something terribly compelling about the underlying chant.'' said his daughter Elisabeth. Indeed. "Tread carefully. They had to ship a lot of 78s from London to Jo'burg: it was the first African record to sell over 100. guitarist and banjo player. a smoother vocal style that descended to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and others. Seeger was chanting all the way to the bank. reggae (Eek-A-Mouse) military march (the New Zealand Army Band). as was the second. ‘Mbube' wasn't the most remarkable tune. "Mbube" was a three-chord chant with minimal lyrics . That's to say. if only for the sake of the floorboards. evolved into "isicathamiya". as they called it. with harmonies to match.steynonline. which was taken to England and turned into a record that became a very big hit in that part of Africa."Three lions score tonight"). in turn. A few years after Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds made their hit record. a dense meshing of low male voices above which Solomon yodelled and howled for two exhilarating minutes. occasionally making it up as he went along. country (Glen Campbell). but it achieved immortality only in its dying seconds. and Solly's falsetto soaring above it all..a high-voiced lead over four-part bass-heavy harmony. Euro-easy listening (Bert Kaempfert). Some of them sang in a capella groups. The third take was the great one. folk-rock (Nanci Griffith). That right there is a great insight into the "authenticity" of the folk-music boom: the most famous Zulu word on the planet was invented by a New York Communist in 1951. "Mbube". the mighty jungle. and tried again. "Wimoweh" is a tune that works in any form . on the prowl for yet more authentic traditional vernacular folk music for the Weavers. He hadn't composed the melody or written it down or anything. That.. but when you're singing in dancehalls and restaurants in Jo'burg you've got to be a little more choreographically restrained. the lion sleeps tonight. it came to the notice of Pete Seeger. exotica (Yma Sumac). Yiddish (Lipa Schmeltzer). means "the lion". the song was glory bound.or "tread carefully."mbube" and "zimba". Motsieloa looked into the corridor. opened his mouth and improvised the melody that the world now associates with these words: ‘In the jungle..SteynOnline .' In South Africa. And that's before we get to REM 4 of 6 8/30/10 6:48 AM . bafana" . Supervised by Eric Gallo and his sidekick Griffiths Motsieloa (South Africa's first black record producer). it was huge. ''But my father was not happy. wound up washing dishes or working factory shifts and living in the black shanty towns. football singalong (the official theme of the 1986 England World Cup Squad . He just opened his mouth and out it came.000 copies. which boils down to "Lion! Stop!" As Rian Malan tells it: The first take was a dud.THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT http://www. Still.

After Rian Malan drew attention to the plight of Solomon Linda's heirs. The Lion King. Having persuaded Linda to sign away his copyright. The child of wealthy New York radicals. And for all Mr Gruning's huffing about "cultural imperialism" above. and one of them is that the latter attempts to restrain the damage a foolish creator can do to himself. the musical development of the song in its different versions illustrates a highly charged symbolic field in which the violence done to Linda's original piece further reinscribes contested and inequitable power relations between the West and Africa. In 1962. and a Zulu chant. just as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was reaching Number One around the world.. supposedly a sin of omission. That is. He left his widow the equivalent of $22 in the bank and unable even to afford a headstone for his grave. Tread carefully. he died of kidney disease in Soweto.and chicken feet. the ownership in any intellectual property reverts to the author's heirs 25 years after his death regardless of what disadvantageous deals he may have signed. and They Might Be Giants and Baha Men. As Thomas R Gruning writes in Millennium Folk: American Folk Music Since The Sixties: Beyond the economic implications of ‘Mbube/Wimoweh'. and it's all the same: that week's job. on the edge of Johannesburg.steynonline. That argument works fine with the likes of Hugo and Luigi and George Weiss. on his part. Yet his publisher had a deal with Gallo Music: they snaffled up the rights to "Mbube" cheap and in return sub-licensed to Gallo the South African and Rhodesian rights to "Wimoweh". the relevant parties made sure to slide some forms in front of his illiterate widow in 1982 and his daughters some years later to make sure the appropriation paperwork was kept in order. His family lived on a diet of maize porridge .. They're Tin Pan Alley professionals. And Seeger knew all along that Solomon Linda was the composer. Give Weiss a Broadway score. of course.com/index2. the lawsuit slept for decades. a few music critics took the usual line on the subject. in the end. to check his royalty statements. until Solomon Linda's daughters were apprised of this significant 5 of 6 8/30/10 6:48 AM . and he was shocked. no less.. He says now that back in the Fifties he instructed his publishers to give his royalties from the song to Linda. It was. it was. boy. It's the most famous tune ever to have come out of Africa. his associates can't plead the same accidental oversight. Seeger has always been avowedly anti-capitalist. In the courtroom. it never occurred to him. Evidently. Under British Commonwealth law.THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT http://www. shocked to discover decades later that they hadn't in fact been doing so. a legacy of colonialism that ended the injustice.."pap" . an Elvis movie theme. Whatever one thinks of that. assignment men.SteynOnline . in a concrete hovel with a couple of bedrooms with dirt floors covered in cow dung. There are significant differences between US and British copyright law.php?option. the issue shifts from conventional notions of cultural imperialism to a more convoluted and complicated process in which ‘plundering and counterfeiting of black culture' denies the racial authenticities claimed by. the quiet courtroom. no more. right? Not exactly. as an unworldly anti-capitalist. Who knows what "authenticity" means to such a man? But the only reason the mighty-jungle boys were able to "re-inscribe" the song in the first place is because of Pete Seeger and the other leftie folkies. Linda sold it to the Gallo record company for ten shillings: that would be about 87 cents. For the last decade he'd swept floors and made the tea at the packing house of the Gallo company. Zzzzzzz. He and his family must be multi-multi-millionaires. Solomon Linda's song has penetrated every corner of the globe. and.

In 2006.SteynOnline . South Africa. CLOSE WINDOW 6 of 6 8/30/10 6:48 AM .php?option. which somehow manages to capture all three versions of the song. In America. Disney were only too keen to settle. India and other key markets. It took seven decades and a lawsuit. feature of Commonwealth copyright law.steynonline. and took action. the peaceful village. Australia. Listen to the Soweto Gospel Choir's recording from a couple of years ago. in the end they're what shine through. Fifteen improvised notes in 1939 powered Africa's biggest selling record.. Or go back to Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds' original.THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT http://www.. And. but in the village. faced with potentially catastrophic complications in Britain. the lion sleeps tonight. The sleeping lion also took on the Mouse . Solomon Linda finally received his due.com/index2. an entire genre of music.the Walt Disney corporation. whose film The Lion King had introduced the song to a new generation of children. Linda's family really had no legal leg to stand on. even though those 15 notes and the man who wrote them were buried under all the other names that encrusted to the work. Listen to that inspiration late in take three and hear a global phenomenon being born. which still sounds pretty good. but. and two separate hit songs on five continents.

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