|Remember when we mentioned the band formed by Neil Sedaka,
you can’t talk about The Tokens without bringing up brothers Mitch and
Phil Margo, who wrote the songs Like a Hero in the Movies and the
promo song Smilin’ Saturday Mornin’ together. Phil Margo also
contributed the songs Lullabye Girl and You’re Under My Spell.
The original members of The Tokens were Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin and Cynthia Zolotin. In 1956, Rabkin was replaced by Jay Siegel (another name which will be coming up again later!) Then in 1960, Jay and Hank brought in Mitch Margo (who was all of 13 years old but already a multi-instrumentalist and first tenor) and his brother Phil Margo (a baritone) as well as guitarist Joe Venneri (who is credited on the C.A.P.E.R. album as the sound engineer at Le Studio in New York.) Things really blossomed for the band when they recorded their cover of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which remains a fan favorite to this day!
Mitch Margo was responsible for a majority of The Tokens original songs, including I Hear Trumpets Blow, Animal, Some People Sleep, Cross Country, Just A Thought, 30 Years Of Rock & Roll and Only In My Dreams. He now performs the famous lead vocals on The Lion Sleeps Tonight when performing live and designed the artwork for some of The Tokens more recent album covers (Jay Siegel also continues performing under The Tokens name, but more about that later.) Mitch Margo has also composed underscoring and songs for several TV Movies.
Phil Margo is described by the official Tokens website as "Mitch’s older, cigar-chomping brother." As well as song writing, he has produced records for The Chiffons, The Happenings and Tony Orlando & Dawn. These days he divides his time between writing, producing and flying, and is even a bit of an inventor, having created the original adjustable "Spare Pocket."
Ron Dante and Jake Holmes were the ones who gave fans their very first impression of C.A.P.E.R, having composed the show’s unforgettable theme song, as well as the song Wrap Up All My Dreams. Ron Dante was inspired to make music when he was just a kid after seeing Elvis Presley perform on television. After breaking his wrist, he was told he could either squeeze a ball or take up the guitar as a means of exercise. Fortunately he chose the guitar and the music world has been the better for it ever since.
As he explained to DJ Johnson in an interview on his website: "I was lucky enough to live near Manhattan so I could get in there and visit the Brill Building area and visit publishers and managers and record companies. I’d walk in and say, ‘Listen, do you want to hear my song?’" He continued to keep plugging away until someone wanted to manage him and get him into the other offices. He had already been working as a session musician and sang backgrounds for groups like Gene Pitney, Bobby Vee, Johnny Mathis and Jay and the Americans. Ron Dante would become a noted producer, working with artists such as Barry Manilow, Cher, Dionne Warwick, Pat Benatar, Irene Cara, Ray Charles and John Denver.
But Ron Dante is probably best known as the voice of The Archies, having performed lead vocals on their songs, including their biggest hit, Sugar, Sugar. In the interview with DJ Johnson, Ron Dante explained how he came to work on the project: "I’d known Donny from the early days. He was the first publisher to sign a deal with me as a singer / songwriter, when I was about 15 or 16. So I had known him, and when he did The Archies project I heard about it because I had friends in the studio group playing on it. I called him up and said ‘can I come audition?’ and I went to the RCA studio in New York City and auditioned for Don and Jeff Barry, the line producer, and I did four or five variations on voices and they finally liked one sound I make that they used. After about an hour, I got the job."
In the same interview, Ron Dante was quick to defend Don Kirshner when his history with The Monkees was brought up. After being asked if Kirshner was ever present in the studio, Dante explains, "Oh, he was in the studio a lot with us. It was a pleasure to be in the studio with Don Kirshner. He was a gentleman; there was always food and drinks, relaxation, a great atmosphere, he was warm, always telling jokes . . . Kirshner’s like your best uncle. I understood that The Monkees were frustrated with their situation, but Donny was giving them number one records, selling a gazillion records for them, and they were just actors hired to play a singing group. They were not musicians hired to be musicians. They were actors. So he took four actors, gave them an image, a TV show, brought in the best producers like Boyce and Hart, Sedaka, Greenfield, Jeff Barry, tons of great people, and he had access to every great song in America through his publishing facilities. He was the number one publisher in the country. Nobody talks about that he was the number one music publisher in the country, but working at Screen Gems-Columbia as their president of the music division, he was not just a suit: he was a song man. I love this guy." This would explain why Dante was willing to work again with Kirshner, providing vocals for his other animated band, The Amazing Chan Clan, and then again, of course, on C.A.P.E.R. It’s interesting to note that Ron Dante is still the voice of the Archies, having recorded an album of Archies Christmas songs in 2008!
Ron Dante was also part of a "ghost group" called The Detergents which recorded the hilarious parody song "Leader of the Laundromat." He produced Ain’t Misbehavin’ on Broadway, which won the Tony Award for best musical, and Children of a Lesser God, which won the Tony for best drama. And you’ve heard him sing on literally dozens of radio and TV commercials. Remember the classic I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing? Coca Cola commercial with the crowd of people singing on a hillside? That was Ron Dante’s voice singing, "Coke is!" The same is true of the classic McDonald’s jingle, "You deserve a break today." Dante even developed a commercial production company whose commercials won a Clio Award for Volkswagen. He continues to work with Barry Manilow as well as writing and performing his own material, and somehow he still finds the time to head an organization which helps rescue Dalmatians!
It appears that Jake Holmes is another person who is known for his commercial work on the writing side. He is the man behind the jingles for the U.S. Army ("Be all that you can be") and Dr. Pepper ("Be a Pepper") as well as countless others (is it any wonder the C.A.P.E.R. theme song is so memorable?) He started out in show business in a folk pop parody group called Allen & Grier with his wife, then went on to become a noted folk and rock artist and has written a number of notable songs, including Dazed and Confused, which was commandeered by Led Zeppelin to become one of their biggest hits. He recorded the two solo albums A Letter to Katherine December and The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes for independent Tower Records. His song, So Close, continues to be a fan favorite to this day.
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