Tony Orlando and Dawn – “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree”

This song was written by Irwin Levine and Larry Brown (credited as L. Russell Brown), who wrote the previous #1 hit for the group, “Knock Three Times.” The song is based on a story called “Going Home” that Levine read in the January 1972 edition of the magazine Reader’s Digest. The story was originally published in the New York Post on October 14, 1971, appearing in a column called “The Eight Million” written by Pete Hamill.

In the story, six kids riding a bus from New York to Fort Lauderdale strike up a conversation with a man named Vingo, who tells them he was just released from prison after four years in jail. He told his wife, Martha, that she could start a new life without him, and for the last three-and-a-half years of his incarceration, he didn’t hear from her. In his last letter to her, he gave her instructions. The story reads:

We used to live in this town, Brunswick, just before Jacksonville, and there’s a big oak tree just as you come into town, a very famous tree, huge. I told her that if she’d take me back, she should put a yellow handkerchief on the tree and I’d get off and come home. If she didn’t want me, forget it – no handkerchief and I’d go through.

Everyone on the bus kept a lookout for the tree, and when they arrived, there were lots of handkerchiefs tied to it, giving the story a very happy ending.

It’s a folk story: different versions of it had been floating around for decades, often with White Oak, Georgia as the setting. Pete Hamill heard the story at a Greenwich Village bar called the Lion’s Head, where writers would congregate.

 

The single reached the top 10 in ten countries, in eight of which it topped the charts. It reached number one on both the US and UK charts for four weeks in April 1973, number one on the Australian charts for seven weeks from May to July 1973 and number one on the New Zealand charts for ten weeks from June to August 1973. It was the top-selling single in 1973 in both the US and UK.

In 2008, Billboard ranked the song as the 37th biggest song of all time in its issue celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Hot 100. For the 60th anniversary in 2018, the song still ranked in the top 50, at number 46.

Levine and Brown thought it would make a great song, so they used the story as the basis for the lyric, changing the handkerchief to a yellow ribbon, since “Tie A Yellow Handkerchief Round The Ole Oak Tree” would be awkward.

 
There really is a historic oak tree in Brunswick, as told in the New York Post story, but it’s in Georgia, nowhere near Fort Lauderdale.
 
A song of the same name was used in the 1949 John Wayne movie She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. This could be where Levine and Brown got the idea for the yellow ribbon.
Many associated this song with soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War; yellow ribbons began appearing on trees to welcome them home.

The yellow ribbons appeared again in 1980 when Americans put them on trees to remember the hostages being held in Iran. Ten years later, a group called Visual AIDS convinced people attending the Tony Awards to wear small red ribbons as a symbol of AIDS awareness. Soon, many causes produced ribbons with different colors to raise money and awareness. In 2004, the trend extended to rubber bracelets when cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong worked with Nike to promote yellow bracelets labeled “Livestrong” that raised money for cancer research.

 
The first Tony Orlando & Dawn album was released in 1970, but at the time Orlando was backed by various studio singers. Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson were chosen as “Dawn,” and sang on subsequent recordings.

Song Lyrics –

I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time
Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine
If you received my letter telling you I’d soon be free
Then you’ll know just what to do
If you still want me, if you still want me

Whoa, tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree
It’s been three long years, do you still want me?
If I don’t see a ribbon round the ole oak tree
I’ll stay on the bus, forget about us, put the blame on me
If I don’t see a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree

Bus driver, please look for me
‘Cause I couldn’t bear to see what I might see
I’m really still in prison and my love, she holds the key
A simple yellow ribbon’s what I need to set me free
And I wrote and told her please

Whoa, tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree
It’s been three long years, do you still want me?
If I don’t see a ribbon round the ole oak tree
I’ll stay on the bus, forget about us, put the blame on me
If I don’t see a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree

Now the whole damned bus is cheerin’
And I can’t believe I see

A hundred yellow ribbons round the ole oak tree
I’m comin’ home

Tie a ribbon ’round the ole oak tree
Tie a ribbon ’round the ole oak tree
Tie a ribbon ’round the ole oak tree
Tie a ribbon ’round the ole oak

Credit: Songfacts, YouTube & Yahoo.com/images

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