Hooked On a Feeling: B.J. Thomas, Blue Swede, Jonathan King

Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song Hooked On a Feeling. This is an enjoyable 70s pop song, with an interesting twist. We will start with the original song by B.J. Thomas, and then we will review covers by Blue Swede and by Jonathan King.

B.J. Thomas and Hooked On a Feeling:

Billy Joe (B.J.) Thomas was a country-rock singer who grew up in the Houston area. He had some initial success with country music before moving to the country-rock scene.  Below is a publicity photo of B.J. Thomas from about 1970.

Embed from Getty Images

In 1968, B.J. Thomas had his first big pop hit with Hooked On a Feeling. That song reached #5 on the Billboard pop charts.

The song Hooked On a Feeling was written by Mark James. We have come across James in an earlier blog post, as he co-wrote the song Always On My Mind. That song was a big hit for Elvis Presley, becoming one of his most popular songs. However, Always On My Mind really hit the big time in 1982 when Willie Nelson’s version reached #1 on the country charts and won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Country Song in 1983.

The lyrics of Hooked On a Feeling describe a man who is completely infatuated with his girl. His emotions are just like an addiction – the satisfaction he gets is exactly like a high from drugs.

I can’t stop this feelin’
Deep inside of me
Girl you just don’t realize
What you do to me

When you hold me
In your arms so tight
You let me know
Everything’s alright

Hooked on a feelin’
I’m high on believin’
That you’re in love with me

Here is the audio of B.J. Thomas’ 1968 recording of Hooked On a Feeling.

B.J. Thomas has a terrific country voice, which he shows off to great effect here. The song also makes use of ‘double-tracking,’ overdubbing with Thomas singing both lead and harmony parts.  The instrumental backing features a string section.

One of the distinctive features of the song is the electric sitar, played by guitarist Reggie Young. The song begins with Young’s sitar, and there are a couple of sitar solos in the latter part of the song.  Below left we show a photo of Reggie Young.

Guitarist Reggie Young, one of the 'Memphis Boys.'

Guitarist Reggie Young, one of the ‘Memphis Boys.’

Songwriter Mark James worked with legendary producer Chips Moman at Moman’s Memphis-based American Sound Studios. Reggie Young was a session musician at American Sound, leading a group called the Memphis Boys.

I must admit, I’m not a big fan of the sitar in rock music, and I’m even less interested in electric sitar. However, throughout his career Reggie Young has been an exceptionally versatile musician.

Young has worked with an impressive number of musicians across several genres, including Elvis, Dionne Warwick, Herbie Mann, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

And here is a live performance of B.J. Thomas singing Hooked On a Feeling.

This took place at a 2009 concert at Levitt Pavilion in Fort Worth, TX. There are some weird features of this performance.  The video camera appears to be lying on its side at the start of the song; plus, a painter seems to be working onstage as B.J. Thomas sings.  However, Thomas still has a fine voice, and we get more of the electric sitar as well.

After his success with Hooked On a Feeling, B.J. Thomas had by far his biggest hit in 1970 with Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, the theme song from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

That song, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and in 2013 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

B.J. Thomas continued to have country-flavored pop hits until the mid-70s. He then began recording Christian music, and gained a following as a major artist in the field of contemporary Christian music.

Then in 1981, Thomas was named to the cast of Grand Ole Opry. As of fall 2015, Thomas was still touring. So we wish him all the best.

Blue Swede and Hooked On a Feeling:

Bjorn Skifs was one of the most popular vocalists in Sweden. In 1973, he put together a group to back up his performances. Skifs assembled a guitar, piano, bass, drums, saxophone and trumpet player, and called the group Blue Swede.

Below is a photo of Blue Swede performing, with lead singer Bjorn Skifs in the foreground.  Mmmm, love the cape!

Embed from Getty Images

With his band in place, Skifs looked around for potential hit songs. He focused particularly on covers of existing pop songs.

In 1973, Blue Swede released a cover of the song Hooked On a Feeling in Sweden. The song became extremely popular in Europe, and in February 1974 it was released in the U.S. The song rapidly shot up to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Here is the audio of the Blue Swede version of Hooked On a Feeling.

It’s no wonder that the song went to #1 on the pop charts, as the arrangement is extremely catchy. The song begins with the iconic “Ooga-chaka, Ooga-ooga-ooga chaka” chant. In fact, many people can’t remember the exact title of the tune, but will instantly recall it if you say “It’s the Ooga-chaka song.”

In the recording, as Bjorn Skifs begins to sing the title of the song, he dramatically stretches out the first word “I-i-i-i-i-i-i.”  At the end of that word, the song is punctuated with two big thumps of the bass drum, followed by a single bass note. The arrangement also features a prominent brass section, with the trumpet front and center.

I have to say I enjoyed this song enormously. And the “Ooga-chaka” riff was such an unusual and creative ‘hook,’ so to speak, that it propelled this tune right to the top of the charts.

One more bit of trivia: Blue Swede were worried that the tune’s references to addiction might cause radio stations to blacklist the song. So they made slight modifications to the lyrics.

The B.J. Thomas version contains the stanza “I got it bad for you, girl, but I don’t need no cure, I’ll just stay addicted and hope I can endure.”

In the Blue Swede version, this sentence becomes “Got a bug from you, girl, but I don’t need no cure, I just stay a victim if I can for sure.”  Clever, eh?  It converts a reference to addiction to one for an infection.

Next, here is Blue Swede in a live performance of their big hit. This is from 1974, the year their song was released in the U.S.

This is an enjoyable performance. Both Mr. Skifs and his mates are clearly having a good time, as is the audience.

Blue Swede followed the great success of Hooked On a Feeling by issuing an album of the same name. The only other song I can remember from that album was Never My Love, a cover of the original song by The Association.

The group issued one more album, that contained a cover of the song Hush by Deep Purple.

However, in 1976 Bjorn Skifs embarked on a solo career, and Blue Swede disbanded. They group lasted for less than three years, and scored only one, possibly two, hits during that period.

But the Blue Swede version of Hooked On a Feeling has become an iconic symbol of the 70s. As a result, it has been reprised many times in popular culture.

The first significant appearance of the song was as part of the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino has always had a knack for providing his movies with terrific soundtracks.

The song appeared a second time on the soundtrack for the 2014 Marvel comics superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, Hooked On a Feeling was included both in the movie and the theatrical trailer for the film.

Following the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, that film’s soundtrack reached #1 on the Billboard albums charts. As a result, the Blue Swede version of Hooked On a Feeling saw yet another spike in sales.

The song also surfaced on the Ally McBeal TV show in the late 90s. Singer Vonda Shepard, who regularly appeared on that show, performed a cover of Hooked On a Feeling in one episode. The tune also appeared as one of the soundtracks for the truly bizarre ‘dancing baby’ videos featured in that TV show.

In 2015, the Toronto Blue Jays [baseball team] began using the Blue Swede rendition …. The song is played at Rogers Centre before the bottom of the 8th inning.

For many years, I gave Blue Swede a great deal of credit for their originality. They started with a pop tune that was enjoyable, but nothing special. However, by adding inspired touches such as the “Ooga-chaka” chant, they converted the song into a truly memorable one. At least, that’s what I thought.

Jonathan King and Hooked On a Feeling:

Jonathan King is a British singer-songwriter and producer.  Below is a photo of Jonathan King circa 1972.

Embed from Getty Images

A few years ago, I listened to the Blue Swede cover of Hooked On a Feeling on an ‘oldies’ radio station. At the end of the song, the DJ noted that “the Blue Swede tune was based on Jonathan King’s version of the song.”

I had never heard of Jonathan King, and I was certainly not aware of his cover of Hooked On a Feeling. So I searched for the Jonathan King version of this tune. And here it is.

Upon listening to the song, I said “OMG – the iconic ‘Ooga-chaka’ chant originated with Jonathan King!” And it did – King’s version came out in 1971, while the Blue Swede version was first released in 1973.

In fact, the creativity and originality that I had associated with Blue Swede was completely misplaced. Blue Swede had simply produced a note-for-note copy of Jonathan King’s cover of the song!

Note that King even includes the thumps with bass drum after “I-i-i-i-i–i-i,” and the bass note that follows it. In fact, the only substantive difference between Jonathan King and Blue Swede is that Blue Swede has a prominent horn section, while King’s version features both horns and strings (B.J. Thomas’ original also highlighted a string section). Otherwise, the King and Blue Swede versions are more or less identical.

King described his ‘ooga-chaka’ chant on Hooked On a Feeling as
“a reggae rhythm by male voices”.
King’s version of the song never made the American pop charts, but made it to #23 on the British pop charts, and was also a big seller in Europe.

King has complained that he never received a penny of the royalties that Blue Swede garnered for Hooked On a Feeling, and I can understand his feelings.  Although King did not write the song, he certainly created the version that Blue Swede copied and cashed in on.

Jonathan King has an interesting history. He became a great fan of rock music in his youth, particularly while he was attending Charterhouse School, one of England’s premier private high schools.

King then attended Cambridge University. While he was still an undergraduate there, his song Everyone’s Gone To The Moon was released, and made it to #3 on the UK pop charts and to #17 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

After that, King was considered a ‘wunderkind.’ He spent the remainder of his undergraduate years commuting between Cambridge and London. He set up a music publishing company with a couple of associates, and wrote a column for a weekly music magazine.

On several occasions, King demonstrated keen instincts for discovering musical talent. In 1967 he returned to an ‘old boys reunion’ at Charterhouse School. There, a school band recorded a demo tape for him.

King thought that the group displayed real talent. He signed the group to his publishing company, got them a record deal with Decca, and persuaded them to change their name to Genesis.

King produced the first few singles for Genesis. However, none of those songs became hits. In addition, creative differences surfaced. King’s main interest was in straight pop music, while the band, and particularly lead singer Peter Gabriel, was more interested in complex art-rock music.  Eventually, Genesis left King for another record company, and shortly afterwards released their first big hit record.

King had a similar experience in 1973 with the band 10cc. He signed the group to his record label UK Records and released their first two albums. However, none of the group’s singles charted.

In 1975, 10cc left UK Records and signed with Mercury. The band then had a major hit in 1975 with the single I’m Not In Love. That song was a #1 hit in the UK and reached #2 on the US Billboard pop charts.

For several years, King was a major figure in the British pop music scene. He was one of the original investors in The Rocky Horror Music Show, produced the Brit Awards for the BBC, and worked with the Eurovision Song Contest.

Alas, Jonathan King’s story ends on a sour note.  In 2001 he was arrested, tried and convicted on six counts of indecent assault and sexual battery. King was sentenced to 7 years in prison, placed on the Sexual Offenders list, and assessed a fine.

King ended up serving 4 years of his sentence. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Also, he has argued that because the crimes he was accused of have no statute of limitations, he was unable to defend himself (the crimes were alleged to have taken place at the Walton Hop disco, 14-18 years earlier).

I have a bit of sympathy for King. It is difficult to devise a manifestly fair system for dealing with child sexual abuse. If the statute of limitations is short, this gives an advantage to pedophiles, since sexual abuse often goes unreported until long afterwards.

On the other hand, a long or indefinite statute of limitations makes it hard to prosecute offenses that occurred many years earlier. King makes the point that it is difficult to defend oneself against accusations of criminal behavior that occurred many years in the past.

However, after King was accused of child sexual abuse for assaulting youths between the ages of 14-15, a number of men came forward with similar allegations. At last count, at least 27 men alleged that King had sexually assaulted them during the period 1969-1989. The sheer number of these complaints makes it difficult to accept King’s protestations of innocence.

So there we have the story of the song Hooked On a Feeling and three artists who performed it — first, B.J. Thomas; secondly, Jonathan King; and finally, Blue Swede.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Hooked On a Feeling
Wikipedia, B.J. Thomas
Wikipedia, Reggie Young
Wikipedia, Blue Swede
Wikipedia, Jonathan King
Wikipedia, Jimmy Savile

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. From 2002 to 2018, he and his wife shared their college-town experiences with two delightful cats, siblings Lewis and Clark, who enormously enriched their lives. Together with his colleague Steven Vigdor, Tim is co-author of a blog "Debunking Denial," that discusses the difference between skepticism and denial as manifested in various current issues. He is also co-founder of "Concerned Scientists of Indiana University," a group that supports evidence-based science, funding for science research, and policies based on the best available scientific information. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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