In The Jungle
December 11, 2013 6:20 PM   Subscribe

"Mbube", a song that morphed into "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", illustrates the convoluted legalities surrounding music publishing rights and payments.
posted by reenum (19 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks to this link, I just listened to the three main iterations of the song in chronological order. Absolutely gorgeous.
posted by AbbyNormal at 6:58 PM on December 11, 2013

I saw The Nylons play at my middle school theater in Helena, MT back in the late 80s. It was a big night.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:22 PM on December 11, 2013

This article from 2000 is a pretty important piece. It was basically the catalyst that set into motion the events that allowed the Linda family to take back their royalty share from Disney in 2004. Any writer would have a right to be deeply proud of work that has that kind of impact, even if they weren't as talented and assiduous as Rian Malan clearly is.
posted by koeselitz at 9:22 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Man, that's a great article.
posted by empath at 9:51 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you'd like a few more versions, Coverville did an entire episode on this song.
posted by Shmuel510 at 9:55 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

PBS' Independent Lens aired A Lion's Trail, a documentary about Solomon Linda and "Mbube".
posted by dreaming in stereo at 10:16 PM on December 11, 2013

also ...
Robert John
Brian Eno
posted by philip-random at 10:20 PM on December 11, 2013

dreaming in stereo: “PBS' Independent Lens aired A Lion's Trail, a documentary about Solomon Linda and 'Mbube'.”

Yep - Wikipedia notes that that documentary was inspired by the Rian Malan essay in the main link, and the pressure brought by the essay and the documentary led to the lawsuit.
posted by koeselitz at 10:42 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

445supermag: “Here's the three versions...”

A note: the Weavers version discussed in the article is actually this one, the first recording they did of it, from 1952. It's pretty clear that Pete Seeger preferred it as a nice folk number, a few guys with guitars, and that's the version you'll generally hear (and the version that's in your link.) But that first 1952 record is quite interesting in being so very different and putting the thing together with a big, brassy orchestra.
posted by koeselitz at 10:48 PM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

As an aside, for another interesting set of convolutions in copyright, just look to George Gershwin and the rights to his solo work still asserted by his "heirs," while reflecting on the fact that George Gershwin had no children.
posted by rhizome at 1:18 AM on December 12, 2013

I don't think not having children prevents you from having heirs though. Heir means anyone who is going to inherit after someone's death, not just immediate offspring.
posted by Auz at 2:30 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite tracks growing up was Pete Seeger doing a solo version of "Wimoweh" in front of a live audience, where he go the audience to do the bass part. One of my favorite memories of the house I grew up in: sitting on the living room floor, playing with Star Wars figures while the album played in the background. I'd stop my dramatic play when the song came on and sing along with the audience.

The liner notes said it was a song from Africa, and that's all I knew about it. A few years ago I heard Solomon Linda's version for the first time, and it was pleasing to me that Pete Seeger had taken such pains to duplicate it so accurately-- the original is engrossing, kind of magical.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:41 AM on December 12, 2013

Seems there are several versions of Seeger's story. The one I know (from his autobiography, maybe?) was that it was transcribed from a wire recording of a shellac, so he mis-copied the main lyric.
posted by scruss at 6:39 AM on December 12, 2013

Previously, but I guess after a decade it's fair game for reposting. Great article; I still remember getting that issue of Rolling Stone just to read it.
posted by languagehat at 8:32 AM on December 12, 2013

Wonderful article, thank you for posting.
posted by capricorn at 10:45 AM on December 12, 2013

also ...
Robert John

Some copy from a recent radio show ...

Because it's been covered any number of times by everybody from Miriam Makeba to Brian Eno to Chet Atkins to Roger Whittaker, Sandra Bernhard, REM (sort of), but the essential version has to be Robert John's take from 1972 (a very good year). Because it's a song from out of Africa, but it also includes yodeling from out of Switzerland and obvious doo-wop stylings, and there's definitely a tuba in there as well, and some pedal steel. And because it's about peace and joy and freedom from worry, if only for one night, because the lion is asleep. Which if you think about it, doesn't really makes sense. If the lion's asleep, wouldn't a raucous party wake it up? But maybe the lion has been drugged by one of Marlin Perkins tranquilizer darts. Either way, it's a party because the Lion Sleeps Tonight by Robert John (who I know nothing about) sets even bankers free, because they were babies once, too.
posted by philip-random at 11:02 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two more takes on the song:

"City of Strangers," from the Tracey Ulmann Show, which I found after reading the thread from a decade ago, where it was apparently misremembered. My headcanon is that both versions exist.

A live "Scottish reggae" version, which shifts into overdrive around the 2:30 mark.
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:01 PM on December 13, 2013

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