“The #1 greatest record you probably haven’t already heard is Robert John‘s take on The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Which is immediately kind of a lie. All kinds of people heard it back in the day. It was the #21 biggest selling single of 1972 in the USA, #45 in Canada. Yet somehow or other the world seems to have mostly forgotten about it. It’s also not the greatest song you probably haven’t already heard. It just isn’t. But what is then? I don’t know. I’m just some guy sitting on a porch, making a list. What I do know is The Lion Sleeps Tonight isn’t just any song. Written in 1922 by a man named Solomon Linda, a South African of Zulu origin, finally released almost twenty years later under the title Mbube, a 78-rpm record that was mostly marketed to black audiences in South Africa.
But something clearly happened along the way, not all of it good. In fact the song’s back story includes one of the more notorious copyright crimes of all time. The upside of all that being the myriad cover versions that flooded forth– everybody from Miriam Makeba to Brian Eno to Chet Atkins to Roger Whittaker, Yma Sumac, The Weavers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sandra Bernhard, the Stylistics, even REM (sort of). But Robert John’s take is the one for me, and not just for nailing the yodeling, but also the doo-wop stylings, and there’s a tuba involved, some pedal steel as well. And so it captures the peace and joy and freedom from worry (if only for one night) that it’s all about. Because the lion is asleep. Which if you think about it, doesn’t really makes sense. If the lion’s asleep, isn’t a raucous party going to wake it up? Not if it’s been drugged. So whatever. It’s a party! We’re alive and we’re singing, and tomorrow and all of its troubles – that’s just a rumour. Tonight the LionSleeps.
The Final Countdown* is Randophonic’s longest and, if we’re doing it right, most relevant countdown yet – the end of result of a rather convoluted process that’s still evolving such is the existential nature of the project question: the 1297 Greatest Records of All Time right now right here. Whatever that means. What it means is dozens of radio programs if all goes to plan, and when has that ever happened?
Installment #22 went like this.
877. Brian Eno + David Byrne – help me somebody
876. Nico – I’m not saying
875. Wilco – heavy metal drummer
874. Severed Heads – advertisement + power circles
873. Sunroof – Hero
872. Monkees – porpoise song
871. Add N To X – plug me in
870. Brian Eno – The Lion Sleeps Tonight
869. Miriam Makeba – Mbube (The Lion Sleeps)
868. Osamu Kitajima – benzaiten [reprise]
867. Assembly – never never
866. Sonic Youth – Providence
865. Flying Burrito Brothers – sing me back home
864. Julie London – yummy yummy yummy
863. Madonna – justify my love [the beast within]
862. Bim Sherman & Dub Syndicate – Can I be free from crying?
861. Johnny Cash – don’t think twice, it’s alright
860. Lindstrom & Prins Thomas – Horseback
859. Arto Lindsay – light moves away
858. Leonard Cohen – there is a war
Tracks available on this Youtube playlist (not exactly accurate).