Original Song: The Tokens, etc. (1961 and before)
The Tokens' doo-wop version was a cover itself—the song dates back to at least 1939, when Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds recorded a version (then called “Mbube”) in South Africa. And all sorts of folk revivalists, from the Weavers to Miriam Makeba, did it as “Wimoweh” through the '50s before the Tokens topped the pop chart with it for three weeks.
But it was high-registered Brooklynite Robert John, who took it to No. 3 in 1972, and scrubbed every last speck of Africa out of it. By the end, the lion's not the only one sleeping. He had a thing for covering vocal-group oldies—“Hushabye,” “Hey There Lonely Girl,” “Sherry.” But this one deserves some prize for distance from the original source material. Plus, it paved the way for Graceland!