DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Tokens Up)

“He’s in Town”
The Tokens (1964)
Billboard #43
Recommended source: Sound of the City: New York Area Doo Wop 1956-1966

They are not exactly what comes to mind when you think of the early faces of rock and roll. But, by the time their version of “Wimoweh,” an African pop song that had, by hook or crook found its way to the Weavers in the dearly fifties, hit the top of the charts,  their sound was the epitome of the changes Rock and Roll America had already wrought. In 1961, you could look like an accountant, wail your lungs out, and still lift hearts in a way that hadn’t been possible in the perfect pitch heydey of Frank and Doris.

Reportedly pronounced “a motherfucker” upon arrival by no less than Carole King (the quote is everywhere on the net, and, though I’ve never found a proper source for it, it sounds like a response a songwriter with an ear for arrangements–say Carole King–might have had), “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” rode to #1 and has never left America’s pop consciousness since.

Imagine my shock then, when, only a few years ago, I landed Time Life‘s response to the Jersey Boys’ stage phenomena, a hit and miss collection of white doo wop from the place, time and ethos which the Four Seasons came to epitomize, and found out the Tokens, who had pointed the way as early sixties’ doo wop became rock and roll’s first revivalist craze, and made plenty of fine records (and had a string of modest hits) throughout the early sixties, had made an even greater record–one that showed a new way to break hearts, and could compete with “Silence is Golden” as readily as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” could compete with “Walk Like a Man.”

Sure, the Seasons had dozens more in the same league, the Tokens only a handful more.

That’s why the Seasons are in the Hall of Fame and had a Broadway smash written about them and the Tokens didn’t.

But that doesn’t diminish the beauty of “He’s in Town.” Nothing could. It points toward places doo wop revivalism might have gone had the British Invasion not redirected the Future. There was, in fact, a fine version released by England’s Rockin’ Berries a bit later that went big in the UK. But the original’s still the greatest:

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