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.

286. England World Cup Squad ’70 – Back Home (1970)

Seems rather fitting that on the day Brexit finally happens, that this blog covers an event from 50 years ago in which this country was embarrassed on the world stage, doesn’t it?

Three weeks before the England football team began their defense of the FIFA World Cup in Mexico, they had their first number 1 single. The jolly, charming anthem Back Home marked the start of a not-often-grand tradition, in which the squad recorded an official, FA-approved song to mark that year’s failed attempt at the World Cup or UEFA European Championship.

Football songs were not a new idea – UK clubs had been recording them for years, and in 1966 skiffle king Lonnie Donegan released World Cup Willie before England’s legendary win. But this was the first (and only time) we were the world champions, and they were going into the tournament with a supposedly superior line-up to 1966 and so it must have been felt we had momentum, and that this should be commemorated.

I’m assuming it was the FA who asked Bill Martin and Phil Coulter to write and produce Back Home. After all, with their two previous number 1s and Eurovision big-hitters, Puppet on a String and Congratulations (plus Coulter was involved in All Kinds of Everything), the duo were more than capable of getting the nation to sing along in a big competition.

And so Alf Ramsey’s boys were assembled to record their vocals. It’s unclear who out of the 22 men picked to represent the country made it on to the recording, but the biggest names in the squad included captain Bobby Moore, goalkeeper Gordon Banks, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Nobby Stiles and Emlyn Hughes. Also recorded was the bizarre B-side Cinnamon Stick. It’s not a weird song, it’s a typical mid-60s lightweight pop song about a pretty girl, but lots of footballers singing it together is weird.

I’ve never been a fan of footballers such. I tried, but I was terrible at school, and so I took no interest in clubs. However, I do get swept up in the World Cup and Euros, going right back to Mexico 86, where I can still remember being an upset seven-year-old, as angry as my dad at Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’. I have felt the dizzying highs and terrible lows intensely. I don’t think I have the nervous disposition to cope with the tension more than once every two years. So I do take notice of the official England songs, or at least I used to before they ceased to be. Obviously the best are World in Motion and Three Lions, but I have a soft spot for Back Home.

Opening with the familiar stadium clap-a-long bit (forgive the terrible terminology), Back Home is a lovely, charming postcard from more innocent times, set to a brass band backing, in which our proud, brave boys sing about how the fans will be watching their every move. Here are the world champions, at the top of their game, but rather than boast, they just hope they won’t let their country down. There’s no mention of them winning again (just as well), they just say they’ll give all they’ve got to give. Nice, isn’t it? I’m probably also fond of it because it became the theme tune to BBC2’s mid-90s comedy competition Fantasy Football League, presented by Three Lions singers Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.

The 1970 World Cup began on 31 May, while Back Home was still at number 1. Before England had even played a game they faced a setback when Moore was arrested and released on bail three days previous in Colombia on suspicion of stealing a bracelet.

England were in Group 3, along with Brazil, Romania and Czechoslovakia. They came second in their group, beating the latter two but losing to the mighty (and eventual winners) Brazil, one of the greatest teams of all time, featuring legends including Pelé.

The quarter-finals saw a repeat of the 1966 final, with England facing West Germany on 14 June. It looked like Moore and co would win once more, as they were up 2-0. But Banks was ill and out of the match, and substitute goalie Peter Bonetti let a goal by Frank Beckenbauer through in the 70th minute. And then Charlton was substituted, and Uwe Seeler made it 2-2 in the 81st minute. In extra time, Gerd Müller made it 3-2. It was all over for England.

There would be no more England World Cup songs for 12 years – we didn’t qualify in 1974 or 1978. And it would be 20 years before the England team would make it to number 1 again.

How many years before we’re back in the EU? Less than that, let’s hope.

Written & produced by: Bill Martin & Phil Coulter

Weeks at number 1: 3 (16 May-5 June)

Births:

Journalist Louis Theroux – 20 May
Field hockey player Jason Lee – 21 May
Model Naomi Campbell – 22 May

Meanwhile…

19 May: The government made a £20,000,000 loan available to help save the financially troubled car maker Rolls-Royce.

2 June: Cleddau Bridge, in Pembrokeshire, collapsed during erection. Four people died.

4 June: Tonga became independent from the UK.