Back in the days before Tinder, US pop singer Tony Orlando of Dawn had a novel approach to dating. He proposed a system where, if the girl was game, all they had to do was knock three times on his ceiling. If they found his methods a little intense and sinister, they were to hit their pipe twice and he’d hopefully leave them alone, and not follow this up with a note attached to one of his vital organs. At least, I think that’s the message we should take from the first of this pop singer’s two number 1s.
Orlando was born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis on 3 April 1944 in New York City. The son of a Greek father and Puerto Rican mother, he spent his childhood in Hell’s Kitchen before they moved to New Jersey.
In 1959 at the age of 15 he formed doo-wop group The Five Gents. The demo tapes they recorded got the interest of Don Kirshner, who hired Cassavitis to write songs in a building across from New York’s Brill Building, with other future big names including Bobby Darin, Carole King and Neil Sedaka. He also began recording as Tony Orlando, and was only 16 when he had his first charting song in 1961, Halfway to Paradise, which did much better in the UK when it was covered by Billy Fury, reaching number three that year too.
Orlando would score a few more minor hits before Kirshner sold his company to Screen Gems. In 1967, the same year Kirshner’s new project The Monkees became a phenomenon, Orlando was hired by Clive Davis to work for Columbia Records, heading up subsidiary April-Blackwood Music. By the end of the 60s Orlando was vice president of CBS, where he signed co-wrote and produced Barry Manilow, and worked with artists including The Grateful Dead.
In 1970 Orlando found himself tempted back to singing when producers Hank Medress and Dave Appell were working on a track called Candida. Blues singer Frankie Paris had tried, but the producers wanted a more ‘ethnic’ feel, and contacted Orlando to help them out. The backing vocals had already been laid down by the song’s co-writer Toni Wine (who sang on Sugar Sugar) and Jay Siegel. Orlando was reluctant, as he was doing perfectly fine in his job and working for Bell Records probably wouldn’t go down well. Medress reassured him they wouldn’t use his name, and he relented. He was glad he did, as Candida, by Dawn, became a hit worldwide, and number 1 in several countries.
Medress and Appell were understandably keen to repeat the formula, and had a song written by Irwin Levine and L Russell Brown. Inspired by Up on the Roof, they cooked up this tale of a man in love with the woman living in the apartment directly below him. Afraid to be direct, he wants her to let him know either way by banging instead. Wine was back on backing vocals, alongside Linda November, who sang the famous Miaow Mix TV advert.
If it wasn’t for the weird lyrics, Knock Three Times wouldn’t make an impression at all. It’s an old-fashioned lightweight pop cheesefest, but the singer’s obsession gives it a sinister edge, at least, to a cynic like me.
It would appear Orlando has fallen for this woman after laying on the ground and listening to her dancing to music alone night after night, ‘One floor below me, you don’t even know me’… And yet he expects her to be interested in him? How does that work? By hitting her ceiling three times, apparently. The weirdest lines are ‘If you look out your window tonight/Pull in the string with the note that’s attached to my heart’.
It may be cheap to take these words so literally, but if I didn’t, I’d have hardly anything to say about Knock Three Times at all. I think there’s a cowbell in there, which is always nice I guess. Orlando’s vocal is far too serious and snarky for such a silly song. The Vic Reeves version from Shooting Stars, here, is pretty special though.
Nevertheless, it was even bigger than Candida, reaching number 1 in the US and UK. Orlando decided to quit the day job and go on tour, so he needed a permanent duo of singers to work with. Enter Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent, who had previously sang on Freda Payne’s Band of Gold. Upon learning there were six group touring under the name Dawn, they became Dawn featuring Tony Orlando.
Written by: Irwin Levine & L Russell Brown
Producers: Hank Medress & Dave Appell
Arranged by: Norman Bergen
Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 May-18 June)
Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – 23 May
Actor Paul Bettany – 27 May
Footballer Lee Sharpe – 27 May
Journalist Richard Gunn – 28 May
Conservative MP Julian Sturdy – 3 June
Northern Irish actress Susan Lynch – 5 June
Theatre director Sir Tyone Guthrie – 15 May
20 May: 1970 FA Cup winners Chelsea won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with a 2–1 win over Spain’s Real Madrid in Athens, Greece.
23 May: Jackie Stewart won the Monaco Grand Prix.
7 June: Long-running children’s show Blue Peter buried a time capsule in the grounds of BBC Television Centre, which was due to be opened on the first episode of the year 2000.
14 June: The first Hard Rock Cafe opened near Hyde Park Corner in London.
Also on this day, Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher became known as ‘Thatcher Thatcher milk snatcher’ when her proposals to end free school milk for children aged over seven years were backed by a majority of 33 MPs.
15 June: Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into liquidation.