The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Originally Performed ByTraditional
Phish Debut2003-02-18
Last Played2003-02-18
Current Gap551
HistorianDavid Steinberg (zzyzx)
Last Update2015-09-12


“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” took a long journey to make it to the Phish stage. Originally it was a Zulu song, “Mbube.” This song about hunting a sleeping lion became a hit in Swaziland. This record was given to Pete Seeger who recorded a version titled “Wimoweh” with The Weavers. They didn't know what the words meant; rather they sung what they sounded like.

In 1961 a doo-wop band named The Tokens were recording a demo for RCA. They loved The Weaver's version of this song and decided to perform that. The suits were impressed but they decided that the song needed new lyrics. Completely by coincidence, they wrote lyrics that were thematically similar to the original song.

The Tokens – ”The Lion Sleeps Tonight”

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” has occasionally been teased in Phish's history (12/31/91Weekapaug,” 4/30/94 in various songs, 5/20/94Gin”) but only once has anything resembling a full version been played. On 2/18/03 the “You Enjoy Myself” vocal jam resolved into an appropriately a cappella version of this song.

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight” had been mistranslated and had a new set of lyrics grafted on top of it, but for a while it seemed that Phish's performance was going to be the most controversial thing that ever happened to it. Some players of the online Phantasy Phish game were furious the next morning. “You Enjoy Myself” is a popular choice for second set closer and the extra song played caused many people to lose points. Try as they did to argue that this really was just part of the Vocal Jam, this was a surprisingly faithful version of the song and deserves to be respected. As the saying goes, let sleeping lions lay.

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