329. ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’, by Dawn ft. Tony Orlando

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…

300. ‘Knock Three Times’, by Dawn

Three hundred number ones not out! Just… lots and lots more to go…! But oh, if only we had a better record to mark this milestone.

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Knock Three Times, by Dawn (their 1st of two #1s)

5 weeks, from 9th May – 13th June 1971

I have been trying to pinpoint the moment when the seventies would come into its own, when it would stop simply being the morning after the sixties. And the last couple of number ones have been such confident statements of intent, sounding very fresh and new, that I thought that moment had come…

But actually, this is the moment. Because has there ever been a more early-seventies sounding song than ‘Knock Three Times’? It sweeps in on horns and a soul-lite sway, and you can’t help picture tinted sunglasses, thick velvet, platform shoes and flared jeans aplenty. And the cheese. Cheese is oozing from the walls.

A man lies in his bed at night, listening to his neighbour dancing in the flat below. Hey girl, watcha doin’ down there? Dancing alone every night while I live right above you… He can’t sleep, but not because of the noise. One floor below me, You don’t even know me, I love you…

So he writes a note, and dangles it on a piece of string in front of her window below, with a proposition. Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me… Wo-oh, twice on the pipe, If the answer is no… Hmmm. It’s a cute concept, on paper, but the more you think about it, and the more you imagine yourself in the woman’s place, the creepier it seems. But hey, maybe this is just what people had to do before the Tinder. And there are sound effects, of course there are sound effects. Twice on the pipe… (Ting, ting)…

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I don’t hate it. It’s catchy. Corny, but catchy. One to enjoy in a cabaret bar with a Cinzano and lemonade. I will, despite myself, be humming it for the rest of the day. But five weeks at number one! Really? Can’t say I can see it as being that popular.

Dawn were basically lead singer Tony Orlando (Isn’t that just the perfect stage name for the singer of this nonsense?) plus a few backing singers. The two singers that he is most associated with, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Wilson, hadn’t joined yet – they were yet to knock. They will have by the time the band scores its second #1, with Orlando’s name front and centre… and for some reason they feature in the video below.

So, a bit of a damp squib on which to celebrate the big three zero zero. Back when I hit the double-century we celebrated with The Beatles’ ‘Help!’. Now it’s ‘Knock Three Times’… Bad luck? Or a symptom of the early-seventies slump? To be fair, we’ve had a great run recently: ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Baby Jump’, ‘Hot Love’, ‘Double Barrel’…. then this. Up next, though, a recap.

 

Catch up on all 300 #1s with my Spotify playlist.