Two years after their first #1 single, Tony and his ‘tache are back on top!
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree, by Dawn ft. Tony Orlando (their 2nd and final #1)
4 weeks, from 15th April – 13th May 1973
Back in ’71, he was asking his girl to ‘Knock Three Times’ if she felt like hooking up, now he’s asking her to ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’ if she still loves him. He is evidently a man who needs things spelled out for him.
It starts with a tune that can certainly be described as ‘jaunty’. Yep, the dreaded ‘J’ word. It’s a melody that must be from something else, some old German schlager hit, so familiar does it sound. It sounds as if it’s been playing in the back of your mind for years and years and, now that you’ve brought it to the forefront, it’ll be going round and round in there for years to come.
I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time… Tony’s been in prison for crimes undefined… Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine… He’s written ahead, and given his girl instructions what to do if she’s still into him: Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree, It’s been three long years, Do you still want me…? If he doesn’t see a ribbon, he’ll stay on the bus and make a new life wherever he winds up.
Yes, it is utter cheese. But it’s a cute concept, and the melody – that melody – is undeniable. There’s a simple reason why this was a huge worldwide smash: it’s pretty darn catchy. It gets a bit much in places – the harmonica solo, for example – but, as with ‘Knock Three Times’, Tony and co. just about get away with it.
The bus draws close to his hometown. The tension is too much, he can’t look and begs the driver to check for him. It reminds me of Tom Jones’s ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ in that it’s about a convict returning home to those he loves. Except, in that song it was all just a dream and he’s about to get shot at dawn. This one has a much happier ending…
For in verse three, we slow down, Tony drags it out: Now the whole damn bus is cheerin’, And I can’t believe I see… A hundred yellow ribbons round the old oak tree! A hundred! She must have really missed him (and forgiven whatever crimes he may or may not have committed.) Hurrah!
As before, Tony O’s backing singers don’t have very much to do, but they are two different singers from the band’s earlier #1. The ‘classic’ Dawn line-up of Tony, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson was in place by the time they released ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ They had a few more hits to come on the Billboard chart, and around the world (seriously, this is a band with huge appeal in non-English speaking countries, with their traditional melodies and simple lyrics) but in the UK this was their last really big one.
And no, surprisingly, this wasn’t based on the melody of some old German hit… It was fresh off the press – written in 1973 – though the idea of a loved one wearing yellow for the return of as soldier (or a convict) had been around in American folklore since the 1800s. Apparently the track was offered to Ringo Starr, but – and I love this – an Apple Records Exec. told the writers that they ‘should be ashamed of their ridiculous song’. What wasn’t good enough for Ringo was good enough for Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby… basically any crooner worth their salt has covered it. It has, more seriously, been used as a protest anthem in the Philippines and Hong Kong, in which yellow ribbons have been symbols. So there! Dismiss this as fluff at your peril… Take it away, Tony, one last time…