Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree

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"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree"
Dawn - Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.jpg
Single by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando
from the album Tuneweaving
B-side "I Can't Believe How Much I Love You"
ReleasedFebruary 19, 1973
Genre Pop
Label Bell
Songwriter(s) Irwin Levine, L. Russell Brown
Producer(s) Hank Medress, Dave Appell
Dawn featuring Tony Orlando singles chronology
"You're a Lady"
"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree"
"Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose"

"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" is a song recorded by Tony Orlando and Dawn. It was written by Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown and produced by Hank Medress and Dave Appell, with Motown/Stax backing vocalist Telma Hopkins, Joyce Vincent Wilson and her sister Pamela Vincent on backing vocals. [1] It was a worldwide hit for the group in 1973.


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. [1] For the 60th anniversary in 2018, the song still ranked in the top 50, at number 46. [2]


The song is told from the point of view of someone who has "done his time" in prison (I'm really still in prison and my love, she holds the key) but is uncertain if he will be welcomed home.

He writes to his love, asking her to tie a yellow ribbon around the "ole oak tree" in front of the house (which the bus will pass by) if she wants him to return to her life; if he does not see such a ribbon, he will remain on the bus (taking that to mean he is unwelcome) and understand her reasons ("put the blame on me"). He asks the bus driver to check, fearful of not seeing anything.

To his amazement, the entire bus cheers the response there are 100 yellow ribbons around the tree, a sign he is very much welcome.

Origins of the song

The origin of the idea of a yellow ribbon as remembrance may have been the 19th-century practice that some women allegedly had of wearing a yellow ribbon in their hair to signify their devotion to a husband or sweetheart serving in the U.S. Cavalry. The song "'Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon", tracing back centuries but copyrighted by George A. Norton in 1917, and later inspiring the John Wayne movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon , is a reference to this. [3] [4] The symbol of a yellow ribbon became widely known in civilian life in the 1970s as a reminder that an absent loved one, either in the military or in jail, would be welcomed home on their return.

In October 1971, newspaper columnist Pete Hamill wrote a piece for the New York Post called "Going Home". [5] In it, he told a variant of the story, in which college students on a bus trip to the beaches of Fort Lauderdale make friends with an ex-convict who is watching for a yellow handkerchief on a roadside oak in Brunswick, Georgia. Hamill claimed to have heard this story in oral tradition. In June 1972, nine months later, Reader's Digest reprinted "Going Home". Also in June 1972, ABC-TV aired a dramatized version of it in which James Earl Jones played the role of the returning ex-con. According to L. Russell Brown, he read Hamill's story in the Reader's Digest, and suggested to his songwriting partner Irwin Levine that they write a song based on it. [6] Levine and Brown then registered for copyright the song which they called "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree". At the time, the writers said they heard the story while serving in the military. Pete Hamill was not convinced and filed suit for infringement. Hamill dropped his suit after folklorists working for Levine and Brown turned up archival versions of the story that had been collected before "Going Home" had been written. [3]

In 1991, Mr. Brown said the song was based on a story he had read about a soldier headed home from the Civil War who wrote his beloved that if he was still welcome, she should tie a handkerchief around a certain tree. He said the handkerchief was not particularly romantic, so he and Mr. Levine changed it to a yellow ribbon. [7]

Levine and Brown first offered the song to Ringo Starr, but Al Steckler of Apple Records told them that they should be ashamed of the song and described it as "ridiculous". [6]

Chart and sales performance

In April 1973, the recording by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando reached No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 (chart date 21 April 1973) in the US, and stayed at No. 1 for four weeks. [1] "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" sold 3 million records in the US in three weeks. It also reached No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and BMI calculated that radio stations had played it 3 million times from seventeen continuous years of airplay. Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 song for 1973. It also reached No. 1 in the UK and Australia, and has sold one million copies in the UK. [8] In New Zealand, the song spent 10 weeks at number one. [9]

Cover versions

Association with the People Power Revolution

In the Philippines, the song was best known for its use in the return of exiled politician Benigno Aquino Jr. to the country in 1983, during which Aquino supporters tied yellow ribbons on trees in anticipation of his arrival. However, Aquino was assassinated upon arrival, sparking the rise of People Power three years later that led to the demise of Ferdinand Marcos' presidency and subsequent inauguration of Aquino's widow Corazon Aquino as president. Yellow was also the campaign symbol of Aquino's son who eventually became President Benigno Aquino III in 2010. [33]

Association with the 2014 Hong Kong Protests

During the 2014 Hong Kong Protests the song was routinely performed by pro-democracy protestors and sympathetic street musicians as a reference to the yellow ribbons that had become a popular symbol of the movement on site (tied to street railings) and on social media. [34] Journalists covering the event described use of the tune as a protest song. [35]

See also

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