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.

227. Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass of Home (1966)

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And so, after such a stellar year of chart action, we’re back at the Christmas number 1. For the first time since 1962, it isn’t The Beatles, who were working on Strawberry Fields Forever. Holding court as the top of the pops for the whole month, and most of January, was 1966’s best-selling single – Tom Jones’s cover of Green, Green Grass of Home.

Since his last number 1, the storming It’s Not Unusual in 1965, Jones’s popularity had slipped somewhat. Granted, his theme to What’s New Pussycat?, by Bacharach and David, did well, but his theme to the James Bond movie Thunderball wasn’t so popular. His manager Gordon Mills decided a new approach was needed, and steered Jones towards using that deep voice to become a light entertainment-style crooner.

Green, Green Grass of Home had been written by Claude ‘Curly’ Puttman, Jr, and was first made popular by flamboyant country star Porter Wagoner in 1965. Later that year, controversial rock’n’roller Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version for his album Country Songs for Country Folks, and it was this version that made Tom Jones decide to give it a crack himself. His producer Peter Sullivan weren’t so sure – country wasn’t what they had in mind for Jones, so Les Reed, who had written It’s Not Unusual, arranged the track and took it in an easy listening direction.

Jones recalled in an interview for The Mail on Sunday in 2011 that Lewis was on a UK tour just before the single’s release, and met with Jones. He was bowled over by this new pop version, and told Jones he had a hit on his hands.

It’s an odd one, really. Green, Green Grass of Home is still considered one of Tom Jones’s best songs, and yet it leaves me rather cold. The arrangement is rather dated now, particularly when compared to the previous number 1, Good Vibrations. I think the Beach Boys classic would have made for a much more appropriate song to round the year off. But there’s no accounting for taste. Which leads me onto my next point.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m against the death penalty, but it’s hard to feel sorry for the singer once you know the twist – that he’s behind bars and reminiscing on his hometown before he is hanged. The likelihood here is that this man has done something terrible. An odd choice for Christmas number 1, all in all. I hate the ‘Mary/cherries’ rhyme as well.

Green, Green Grass of Home is a sign of what happens to the charts in 1967. After all this energy, vigour and innovation, things go somewhat downhill. 1967 was a great year for albums, and I used to think that once we got full-blown into the ‘flower power’ era, there would be some wonderful single number 1s. There’s far fewer than I hoped, and more often than not, the fashion sways back towards MOR.

Also that year, Tom Jones performed in Las Vegas for the first time. Like his friend Elvis Presley in the 1970s, his recording output suffered as his live act grew more flamboyant, and it was here he cultivated the sweaty, open shirt image that would make him a figure of fun over the years. There were still hits from time to time though, such as Delilah in 1968. From 1969 to 1971 he presented his own variety show on ITV called This Is Tom Jones. The year it ended he recorded one of my favourite Jones tracks, She’s a Lady, written by Paul Anka and later used to great effect in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998).

By the mid-70s his career had declined and he tried to get more film and TV work, but by the early 80s he was recording country material that failed to chart. The first of his many comebacks came in 1987 when A Boy From Nowhere made it to number two. Then the following year he teamed up with Art of Noise for a smash-hit cover of Prince’s Kiss. Unfortunately, someone missed the point of the original, and changed the lyrics from ‘Women, not girls rule my world’ to ‘Women and girls rule my world’, which sounds a bit seedy to me.

In 1992 he kickstarted the idea of ‘legends’ appearing at Glastonbury Festival, and had cameos on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Simpsons the following year. Also in 1993 he was back in the charts with If I Only Knew. I personally find this track hilarious for its opening, in which Jones’s bellow is used to headache-inducing levels. It’s hard not to enjoy it though. 1996 saw him cameo in Tim Burton’s sci-fi comedy movie Mars Attacks. He rounded off the millennium with Reload, an enormously successful collection of covers featuring the stars of the time.

It was around then I got a bit sick of Tom Jones. That bellow was everywhere, from the dodgy duet It’s Cold Outside with Matthews (which takes on new levels of meaning when you read he allegedly banged her over the mixing desk during the recording) to the especially irritating version of Mama Told Me Not to Come with Stereophonics. The biggest hit, Sex Bomb, with Mousse T, long outstayed its welcome. But the Queen loved him and he was given an OBE that year, before being knighted in 2006.

He’s never really gone away since the success of Reload, and is now a national treasure. There’s one more number 1 with which he’s involved, from 2009, so I’ll return to his story then.

Written by: Curly Putman

Producer: Peter Sullivan

Weeks at number 1: 7 (1 December 1966-18 January 1967) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Footballer Dennis Wise – 16 December
Rugby player Martin Bayfield – 21 December
Rugby league player Martin Offiah – 29 December
Comedian Mark Lamarr – 7 January
Actress Emily Watson – 14 January

Deaths:

Land and water speed record breaker Donald Campbell – 4 January 

Meanwhile…

12 December 1966: Harry Roberts, John Whitney and John Duddy are sentenced to life for killing three policemen in August.

20 December: Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith were in the news throughout the month as they attempted to negotiate the whole independence saga. On this day, Wilson withdrew all offers and announced that he will only consider independence when a black majority government is installed in Rhodesia.

22 December: A steadfast Smith announced he already considered the country a republic.

New Year’s Eve: Thieves stole millions of pounds worth of paintings from Dulwich Art Gallery in London.New Year’s Day 1967: The Queen decided to commemorate England’s World Cup achievement by making manager Alf Ramsey a Sir, and also awarded captain Bobby Moore with an OBE.

3 January: Stop-motion children’s TV favourite Trumpton began on BBC One.

4 January: Motorboat racer Donald Campbell was tragically killed while trying to break his own water speed record attempt on Coniston Water in the Lake District. Footage shows his Bluebird K7 and smash into the water. His body wasn’t found until 2001.

7 January: Another classic TV series began on BBC Two – The Forstyte Saga.

15 January: The UK entered the first round of negotiations for European Economic Community Membership.

18 January: The flamboyant Jeremy Thorpe replaced Jo Grimond as leader of the Liberal Party. He was a popular leader and increased the party’s voting stastics, but controversy would end his leadership early.

133. Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires – Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special)/Can’t Help Falling in Love (1962)

So far, the 60s had seen mixed fortunes for the King. When he was good, he was great (see (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame), and when he was bad, he was execrable (see Wooden Heart). He wasn’t always guaranteed to top the charts in the US anymore, but record buyers in the UK were still sending nearly every release to number 1. The problem, in part, was the fact he was stuck on the movie treadmill, forever churning out sugary musicals that also demanded soundtrack albums.

In 1960 he tried to wrestle control, starring in the straight drama Flaming Star. He insisted on cutting back on the songs, and it featured only two. However, it performed poorly, and when his next drama, Wild in the Country (1961) did the same, it was back to the light-hearted, song-packed romances that audiences loved.

Blue Hawaii was the first, and most famous, of three Elvis films shot on the island. He starred as former soldier Chadwick Gates (!), and his mother was played by Angela Lansbury. No, the Murder She Wrote actress hasn’t always been old – she was only 10 years older than he was, in reality. He arrived in Hawaii to record the soundtrack and shoot location filming in March 1961, and both Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special) and Can’t Help Falling in Love were considered the strongest material to release together as singles before the film’s release in late 1961. Eventually they toppled Cliff Richard and The Shadows’ The Young Ones after its six-week run at number 1 on 22 February. This single is perhaps the finest example of just how all-over-the-place quality control had become in the Presley camp.

Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special) was written by Ben Weisman, Fred Wise and Delores Fuller. Weisman was nicknamed ‘The Mad Professor’ by Elvis, and held the record for having had the most number of songs recorded by Presley – 57 in total. Fuller was once the girlfriend of cult low-budget film director Ed Wood, and had starred in his 1953 docu-drama Glen or Glenda and this was her first published song. Weisman was keen to combine Hawaiian music with the dance craze ‘the twist’, born via Chubby Checker’s cover of The Twist in 1960.

Hats off to Elvis again for trying different styles, but this is one of his poorer singles. I quite like the initial couplet ‘The way she moves her hips to her finger tips/I feel I’m heaven bound’, but it’s downhill from there. It probably works as a scene in Blue Hawaii (I’m not going to watch it to find out, I doubt I’ll ever watch an Elvis musical), but as a single, it’s ill-judged at best. Unlike the flip side.

Can’t Help Falling in Love fully deserves its classic status, and is Elvis’s finest ballad. It came from the songwriting team of Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss, who were responsible for the 1961 English-language version of Mbube for the Tokens, which they renamed The Lion Sleeps Tonight. 20 years later Tight Fit went to number 1 with their version. Can’t Help Falling in Love wasn’t an entirely original track either – the melody was taken from the 1784 French song Plaisir D’Amour by Jean-Paul Egide-Martini (who was German, despite his name). Apparently, Elvis’s associates and film producers disliked the demo, but he insisted on recording it. Yet another sad example of the fact that Elvis may have been better off without some of his team and allowed to make his own decisions more often.

Elvis purrs the lyrics beautifully, the production is intimate and, well, pretty much perfect. The Jordanaires, often overused, make for the perfect vocal accompaniment. Hal Blaine is the drummer here, and the session drummer went on to become one of the most in-demand session drummers, playing with The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel, among others. The lyrics hint that Elvis is perhaps involved in an illicit relationship (‘Shall I stay?/Would it be a sin?’), but ultimately it doesn’t matter – he’s surrendering to his emotions (‘Take my whole life too’… ‘Some things are meant to be’). However, in Blue Hawaii, the song features in a scene in which he presents his love interest’s grandmother with a music box for her birthday. This version starts with the music box as the backing, before transforming to the single version.

It soon became apparent this was one of Elvis’s best songs, and Can’t Help Falling in Love became the finale of his live shows in the late 60s and 70s. It lost some of its magic though, as it was played faster than the intimate original recording. It came the last song Elvis performed on TV, closing his 1977 special, Elvis in Concert, and the last song he ever performed, at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis on 26 June that year. Less than two months later, he was dead.

In 1993 it topped the charts once more, via a rubbish reggae-lite cover by UB40. More on that another time. For me, the best use of this song came at the hands of Jason Pierce’s space-rockers Spiritualized. He added it to the end of the title track to his strung-out free-jazz, gospel and psychedelic masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space in 1997, mixing it in amongst Pachalbel’s Canon and lyrics of obsessed love, to astounding affect. Unfortunately, the Presley estate objected (perhaps due to the drug overtones of the album?) and blocked the use after the earliest pressings. Pierce was forced to re-record the track, adding his own lyrics, which he now claims to prefer (there’s not a lot in it, but I prefer the original). However, in 2009 Pierce planned to release a deluxe edition of the album, and permission was granted to return the ‘Elvis mix’ to the start of the album, providing he rename the track Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (I Can’t Help Falling in Love). This seems a bit rich, considering Peretti, Creatore and Weiss borrowed so much of the melody in the first place, but that’s the music business for you.

Written by:

Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special): Ben Weisman, Fred Wise & Dolores Fuller/Can’t Help Falling in Love: Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore & George David Weiss

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 4 (22 February-21 March)

Births:

Novelist John Lanchester – 25 February 
Comic book artist Simon Bisley – 4 March 
Altered Images singer Clare Grogan – 17 March 

Meanwhile…

26 February: The Irish Republican Army officially called off its Border Campaign in Northern Ireland, calling to a halt its attempt to halt British rule and unite Ireland.

15 March: The Orpington by-election marked the start of the Liberal Party’s revival when Eric Lubbock caused an upset by defeating expected winner, Conservative Peter Goldman.