All you need to know about this record – and its relationship to the Tokens’ hit arrangement it’s based on – is on the sleeve. The Tokens’ single comes wrapped in a funny, almost suggestive picture of a girl and a stuffed lion, and its hints toward exotica are playful and gleeful. This lion sleeping tonight could be a sly metaphor, or just a bit of nonsense, the song a liberation tune or a nursery rhyme – and this nebula of possible meaning helps give the song an uncatchable, enchanting quality.
Tight Fit, on the other hand, allow no such subtlety: their sleeve has the group as a cross between Blitz kids and Play Away presenters, and their “Lion” is a panto season singalong. My suspicion is that Tim Friese-Greene saw the relative success of Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant, knew an opportunity when he saw one, and rushed an African-drums cash-in through the studio to be hung on the first borrowed band name he could find. Of course, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” flattens out its rhythms (compared to the addictive rumble of the Tokens’ rhythm track, at least). But not to worry – some African touches are present in the video with its warlike tribesmen ensnaring nubile white women in a great big net.
Luckily, what the Tokens and Tight Fit – and every other version of “Lion”, “Wimoweh” or “Mbube” I’ve heard – have in common is that it’s a great participatory song. Even in this farrago of a single there’s a glory in the reaching high notes and a deep satisfaction in the rolling “wim-o-weh-o-wim-o-weh” beneath.