329. Dawn (Featuring Tony Orlando) – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (1973)

These number 1s of the early-to-mid-70s seem to fall roughly into three categories. You have the teen pop idols like the Osmonds and David Cassidy, the glam rock movement for older teenage boys and girls and young adults, and then the really odd or bad, often old-fashioned easy listening-styled light entertainers, who must have been bought in their droves by older parents and grandparents. The difference between the three resulted in very disparate chart-toppers, and trawling through does at times make me miss the often wall-to-wall classics of the mid-60s.

So here’s another weird one, and the biggest of 1973, to boot. Two years after Dawn were at number 1 with Knock Three Times, here they were again, with singer Tony Orlando getting a credit this time around. Which is fair enough, considering Dawn were now him and backing singers Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, settling on that line-up after the overwhelming sales of Knock Three Times required a stable act for live shows.

Their first, eponymous album under their new name was released in 1971, and What Are You Doing Sunday was another big hit in the UK, reaching number three. Somehow 1972 passed with no chart entries, but they certainly made up for it with this track.

So what the hell is a song with a title like Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree all about? US songwriters Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown were writing from the point of view of a convict whose sentence is up. He’s written to his woman and is wondering whether she wants him back or not after three years apart. If she does, he wants her to tie a yellow ribbon round a tree. Interestingly, they offered the song to Ringo Starr but Al Steckler of Apple Records found the idea ridiculous and told the duo they should be ashamed of themselves.

Is this song meant as a sequel to Knock Three Times? Let’s not forget that it concerned a guy seemingly stalking a woman who lived below her, who’d asked her to knock on the ceiling if she liked him. Perhaps he freaked her out and has been to jail over the situation? The punchline is, after asking the bus driver to check for him, as he’s too scared, the whole bus cheers, as there’s a hundred ribbons. So, either all is forgiven, and his old flame really loves him/really likes tying ribbons, or the dirty bugger has sent multiple letters to multiple women!

Weird as the premise is, it does have historical precedent, and has taken on new meaning since. A song, ‘Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon dates back hundreds of years, and in the 19th century, women would wear them in their hair as a sign to their partners serving in the US Cavalry. John Wayne starred in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in 1949. Arguments over the song’s origin nearly caused Levine and Brown to face a court battle, when newspaper columnist Peter Hamill claimed they stole the idea from an article he wrote for the New York Post in 1971, in which students met an ex-con who was waiting for a yellow ribbon to be tied to a tree for real. It was turned into a TV movie in 1972. The lawsuit was dropped when Levine and Brown could prove how far back the idea went.

It’s a very weird one, this. A happy, jolly ditty in which we’re meant to feel sympathetic towards a former prisoner, who may also be a serial shagger. Had they made him a solider, I might feel a bit more sympathy. Orlando’s performance is soulless. He doesn’t sound concerned in the slightest about this ribbon. Although, if he’s had a hundred women, I guess he thought the odds were in his favour he could look forward to more nookie. I’m hoping to never hear this again.

To say Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree was huge would be an understatement. It wasn’t just the UK that showed questionable taste – it was also number 1 in the US, Australia, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Norway… the list goes on.

Following their next top 20 hit, Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose, the trio became known as Tony Orlando and Dawn. Their final top 40 entry was Who’s In the Strawberry Patch with Sally, also in 1973. But their popularity remained in the US, to the extent they even had their own variety show in 1974 called Tony Orlando and Dawn. He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You) was their second US number 1, in 1975, but their fortunes faded from then on.

In 1977, Dawn split. Orlando had issues with cocaine, obesity and depression, and he had recently lost his sister and close friend Freddie Prinze, who had committed suicide. Following a brief spell in an institution, he went solo and had a few hits before beginning a residency in Las Vegas and occasionally acting. Vincent and Hopkins also continued alone in showbiz, performing in concerts and making film and TV appearances respectively. The trio have reformed as Tony Orlando and Dawn several times.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree has been covered by a multitude of artists, including Kay Starr, Dean Martin and even S Club 7. Connie Francis made an answer song in 1973 called The Answer (Should I Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?). The original became popular in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1981, and again during the People Power Revolution of the Phillipines in the early-80s. Yellow ribbons became popular during the Hong Kong protests of 2014, with pro-democracy protestors tying yellow ribbons to street railings and using them on social media. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this song subsequently became, surely, one of the most unlikely protest songs there’s ever been.

Written by: Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown

Producers: Hank Medress & Dave Appell

Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 April-18 May) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Radio host Geoff Lloyd – 26 April
Footballer Chris Perry – 26 April
Scottish race car driver Dario Franchitti – 10 May

Deaths:

Singer Owen Brannigan – 9 May
Cricketer Russell Everitt – 11 May
Philosopher AC Ewing –
14 May

Meanwhile…

28 April: Liverpool and Celtic were crowned football league champions in England and Scotland respectively.

1 May: 1.6 million workers went on strike over government pay restraints.

5 May: BBC Two aired the first edition of the landmark documentary series The Ascent of Man.

5 May: The FA Cup final stunned football fans when Sunderland AFC defeated Leeds United 1-0 at Wembley Stadium. It was the first time an FA Cup winning team had not contained a player to be capped at full international level, and the first postwar FA Cup to be won by a side outside the First Division.

10 May: Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal Party took control of Liverpool council in the local council elections. 

15 May: Prime Minister Edward Heath coined the phrase ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ to describe payments made by conglomerate Lonrho to Duncan Sandys through the tax haven of the Cayman Islands. Little did he know at the time how much further down that road his party would go.

312. The Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers & Greys) Bandmaster W.O.I.CI. Herbert. Pipe Major W.O.II. J. Pryde – Amazing Grace (1972)

There are many baffling number 1s scattered through the years of the singles chart. This must be one of the biggest mysteries. Not only did The Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards topple Without You from number 1 with their instrumental cover of the Christian hymn Amazing Grace – it became the biggest seller of 1972.

One of the oldest known songs to reach the top spot, Amazing Grace dates back to 1772, when the words were first written by English poet and clergyman John Newton. He grew up a wayward soul, narrowly avoiding death several times and each time hoping to repent and become closer to God, before reverting to his old ways. He was pressed into the Royal Navy, but would take advantage of chances to overstay his leave, and he deserted to visit a lover. Because of this, he was traded as crew to a slave ship, and began a career in slave trading. How very unholy. Newton had a taste of his own medicine however. After falling out with crew members and writing obscene poems about the ship’s captain, he would be chained up like the slaves on the ship.

In 1748, the ship Greyhound was hit by a terrible storm and nearly capsized. Newton, who had been reading religious texts beforehand, exclaimed ‘Lord have mercy upon us!’. When the Greyhound was finally safe, Newton pondered if, indeed, God had saved them. Not that this was enough to convert him instantly – Newton married his lover, but remained in the slave trade for a while.

In 1756 the Newtons were living in Liverpool, and he became obsessed with religion. Eight years later Newton was offered the curacy of the small village of Olney in Buckinghamshire. He befriended a gifted writer, William Cowper, and became interested in writing hymns. The duo decided to present a new poem or hymn at each weekly prayer meeting. Newton wrote the lyrics in late 1772 and they were likely first read on New Year’s Day 1773. A collection of their work, Olney Hymns, was bound and published anonymously in 1779. ‘1 Chronicles 17:16–17, Faith’s Review and Expectation’ was the name of the hymn that began with ‘Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)’.

Olney Hymns became very popular in Britain with evangelicals, although Amazing Grace wasn’t among the ones widely used. It was in the early-19th-century religious revival of communal singing in the US that it caught on. Nobody knows what, if any, music the hymn was set to initially, but the first known instance had it set to the tune Hephzibah by English composer John Husband in 1808. There were 20 differing versions until 1835 when American composer William Walker assigned Newton’s words to the song New Britain. His tunebook Southern Harmony, published in 1847, was a huge seller, and this became the definitive Amazing Grace, of which there are over a thousand recorded versions, including this one.

The first known recorded version was an a cappella performance by the Sacred Harp Choir in 1922. It was US gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s 1947 recording that revived Amazing Grace in the 20th century and turned it into, ironically, a song used by African Americans to express their joy at being delivered from slavery. From there it became ever more popular for political reasons during the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War.

Folk singer Judy Collins (strangely credited for the song on the original vinyl by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards) witnessed the song’s power on a civil rights march in 1964 and began performing it regularly. She recorded it a cappella for her 1970 album Whales & Nightingales and claimed it helped her through her alcohol dependency. It became a big hit, reaching number five in the UK.

And somehow this song that was used as a means of protest against war made its way to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. This cavalry regiment of the British Army was formed on 2 July at Holyrood, Edinburgh. Some time after, the pipes and drums recorded an LP, arranged by Stuart Fairbarn, based on Collins’ version. According to a 1972 article by The New York Times, late-night DJs picked this track from the album The Amazing Sound of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and it grew in popularity, which must surely have come as a surprise even at the time.

Clearly, there must have been a love for bagpipes in the UK in the 70s, as this number 1 can’t help but bring to mind the fact that Mull of Kintyre, five years later, became one of the biggest-sellers of all time. Why was this? I can find no point of reference upon investigation. This wasn’t the theme for a TV show or film, for example. I wonder if, in the light of The Troubles, the English felt closer to the Scottish? Was the news of all the violence in Northern Ireland making people turn to Scottish culture? Quite possibly – but if so, how do you explain the fact it also went to number 1 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa?

Personally speaking, I’m ok with bagpipes, which can be somewhat divisive. I like the droning quality they bring to music. My favourite use is when they appear unexpectedly on Parliament’s beautiful cover of Ruth Copeland’s The Silent Boatman. And who doesn’t love Amazing Grace? Difficult song to get wrong, and it’s tastefully done, with Pipe Major Tony Crease’s solo mirroring Collins’ voice. But after two listens, I’m no clearer to understanding just how this became the year’s biggest single.

The irony of reading how a song by a slave trader became so important to black people as the Black Lives Matter movement rages on around me hasn’t escaped me. I wonder if this song will soon be #cancelled along with the statues of racists, or whether it will escape the understandable anger due to its ubiquitous use in the black community.

Despite its huge success in 1972, the Pipe Major at the time was summoned to Edinburgh Castle for a telling off for demeaning the bagpipes. As the money rolled in, there must have been a softening of the rules as, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards have released many albums since, including a remake of this song.

Written by: Traditional

Producer: Pete Kerr

Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 April-19 May) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Motorcycle racer John McGuinness – 16 April
Racewalker Vicky Lupton – 17 April
Actress Sarah Patterson – 22 April
Footballer Paul Adcock – 2 May
Broadcast journalist Katya Adler – 3 May
Olympic rower James Cracknell – 5 May

Deaths:

Poet EV Rieu – 11 May

Meanwhile…

19 April: Lord Chief Justice Lord Widgery exonerated the British troops who opened fire on Bloody Sunday of blame, saying the demonstration had been illegal.

30 April: The Brighton Belle Pullman car train made its final journey from London to Brighton.

3 May: In the first ever UEFA Cup final, Tottenham Hotspur beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 in the first leg at the Molineux in Wolverhampton.

6 May: Leeds United won the FA Cup for first time, defeating 1971 winners Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley Stadium.

8 May: Derby County won the Football League’s First Division title for the first time.

12 May: The Crown Court, established by the Courts Act 1971, replaced the Assize and Quarter Sessions in England and Wales. Also this day, property qualifications requiring jurors to be householders were abolished.  

17 May: Spurs completed a 3-2 aggregate win over Wolverhampton Wanderers at White Hart Lane to win the first UEFA Cup.

18 May: Queen Elizabeth II met her ill uncle, Edward, Duke of Windsor for the last time, at his Paris home.

299. Dave and Ansil Collins – Double Barrel (1971)

‘I, AM THE MAGNIFICENT!’. After six weeks at the top, T. Rex’s Hot Love made way for the first reggae number 1 since Desmond Dekker & the Aces’ Israelites in 1969, and one of two to come from Trojan Records, Britain’s most famous label for reggae, dub and ska artists.

The label’s origins trace back to 1968, when Island records boss Chris Blackwell and Musicland’s Lee Gopthal pooled their resources and launched a devoted reggae sub-label. The name came from the Trojan truck used by Duke Reid as a sound system in Jamaica, which became known as ‘the Trojan sound’.

With the growing interest in reggae and ska in the UK and the rise of skinhead culture, by 1970 Trojan Records had scored several hits by artists including The Maytals, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Upsetters, and The Harry J All Stars. They did so by licensing Jamaican 7′ records by producers such as Reid and Leslie Kong. Dave and Ansell Collins were the lucky duo thrown together to record Double Barrel.

Dave, aka Dave Barker (my dad’s name) was a session vocalist, born David John Crooks on 10 October 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica. Crooks was raised by his grandmother and three uncles from the age of four. He developed a stammer as a result of beatings as a child, but by the time he was a teenager he was interested in singing, thanks to American radio stations playing James Brown.

Crook’s first group was The Two Tones, and from there he briefly joined The Techniques, led by his future producer Winston Riley. While one half of the duo Glen and Dave and working at Studio One, he was introduced to Perry, who took him on as a regular singer. It was Perry that told him to change his name to Dave Barker, and he also encouraged him to adopt his toasting style, in which he would shout over songs in the style of a US disc jockey and make grand pronouncements like the first line of this blog, which introduces Double Barrel. Which brings us to the other half of Dave and Ansil Collins – confusingly, musician Ansel Collins (his name was spelt differently on the record’s release).

Collins, born 1949, also in Kingston, began his career as a drummer before moving to keyboards in the mid-60s. At the end of the decade he was a member of The Invincibles alongside Sly Dunbar. Collins also played on two of The Maytals’ greatest tracks, Pressure Drop and Sweet and Dandy, both from 1969. He also began to work with Perry around this time, and it’s likely this is how Barker and Collins met.

Riley had written the instrumental Double Barrel and probably contacted his old colleague Barker to toast over the top while Collins provided organ and piano. Dunbar makes his recording debut on drums here, several years before becoming one half of Sly and Robbie with Robbie Shakespeare.

Double Barrel is essentially very similar to The Harry J All Stars’ excellent instrumental The Liquidator from 1969. It’s a charming, quirky reggae/rocksteady track led by Collins’ nimble work at the piano, with organ at times. What made it edge to the top when The Liquidator (which is a superior tune) didn’t is likely down to Dave. His showing off at the start really gets your attention, and makes it one of the most memorable intros since The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s Fire. Clearly, shouting before the music starts is the way to go, even if in Dave’s case, it’s not always clear what the hell he’s on about. He’s the Magnificent W-O-O-O, I get that, but the rest is vague due to the echo… something about soul, I think. Anyway, whatever it is, Dave’s enthusiasm is infectious, particularly ‘break’ (I think) over and over on the beat, and in a way you could see this as a forerunner of hip-hop thanks to his toasting. Double Barrel is short, sweet, and a nice taste of something different to mix things up a bit. 70s record buyers had their faults, but one look at 1971’s number 1s proves they were an eclectic bunch.

Dave and Collins also released an LP together called Double Barrel, and one of the tracks, Monkey Spanner, made it to number seven later that year. Dave’s intro this time ‘This is the heavy, heavy monster sound!’, combined with ‘Don’t watch that, watch this!’ from an earlier track he worked on, Funky Funky Reggae, were adopted by Chas Smash on the intro to Madness’s brilliant One Step Beyond in 1979.

The duo parted company after this, bar a short-lived reunion in 1981. Barker remained in England and joined the vocal group Chain Reaction. He’s appeared on stage with The Selecter and The Riffs.

Collins continued as a session musician and solo artist at times, working with some of the world’s foremost reggae and dub artists, including Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru, Prince Tubby, Augustus Pablo and Prince Far I. He also collaborated with fellow UK number 1 star Serge Gainsbourg.

Written & produced by: Winston Riley

Weeks at number 1: 2 (1-14 May)

Births:

Footballer Jason Lee – 9 May
Oasis bassist Paul McGuigan – 9 May

Deaths:

RMS Titanic survivor Violet Jessop – 1 May

Meanwhile…

1 May: Far-Left militants The Angry Brigade struck again when a bomb exploded in fashion company Biba’s Kensington store.
Also that day, the Daily Mail appeared as a broadsheet newspaper for the last time. It relaunched as a tabloid the day after.

8 May: Arsenal won the FA Cup final with a 2–1 win over Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal’s Eddie Kelly became the first substitute to score in an FA Cup final, and this was only the second time that century (and the fourth time ever) that an English team had completed the double of the Football League First Division and the FA Cup.

11 May: Britain’s oldest tabloid newspaper, the Daily Sketch, was withdrawn from circulation after 62 years. It was absorbed by the Daily Mail.