Another, yes another, well-trodden intro awaits us here. Note that I say ‘well-trodden’, rather than ‘memorable’, or ‘iconic’… or even ‘enjoyable’.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight, by Tight Fit (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, 28th February – 21st March 1982
I have several pre-conceptions about this song: that it is an old folk tune, that this is far from its first visit to the pop charts, that the band singing it – Tight Fit – were Australian (for surely only an Australian could come up with a song this aggressively annoying…) I’ll hold off for a moment on finding out if any of these pre-conceptions are true.
For first we have to listen to the thing. And at a very basic level, this is a catchy melody. Good for kids parties and animated movies, that sort of thing. It could have been a fairly decent pop song. Unfortunately, however, pretty much every artistic decision taken here has gone wrong. The lead singer’s voice is, at best, an acquired taste. The faux-tribal drums are jarring. The solo is horrible. The animal noise effects are cheap and nasty. The video is… well, see for yourself at the foot of the post.
It’s a novelty – the video makes that very clear – and I refuse to get too serious about #1s that were never actually meant to be taken seriously. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to come anywhere close to enjoying this irritating little record (even if I can’t help joining in on the wimowehs…) The fine head of steam that 1982 had worked up in its first four chart-toppers is dashed before March.
So what of my pre-conceptions? Well, yes this is an old, folk tune. Originally recorded in 1939 as ‘Mbube’ (Zulu for ‘lion’) it was a big hit in South Africa in 1939. (Since it was written by Africans, who must know much more about these things than me, I won’t point out that lions live in the savannah, not the jungle.) And yes, it had charted several times before, mostly in 1961, when Karl Denver took his version ‘Wimoweh’ to #4, and The Tokens made #11 (while topping the charts in the US).
And what of Tight Fit being Australian…? So. I apologise profusely to the good people of Oz, as they are from London. They were around for not much more than a year, but scored three Top 10s in that time, including this million-selling (!) hit. They reformed in 2008, and continue to play ‘eighties nights’ at clubs around the country. And I don’t know… In one sense it’s good that a song with such a long and varied history as ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ topped the charts eventually; it’s just a shame that it had to do so in such a tacky version…