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"
Released 19 February 1973
Format 7", 12"
Recorded 1973
Genre Pop
Length 3:20
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"
"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 by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando. 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]


The song is told from the point of view of someone who has "done his time" 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[edit]

This is NOT the story of a convict who had told his love to tie a ribbon book to a tree outside of town. I know because I wrote the song one morning in 15 minutes with the late lyrical genius Irwin Levine. The genesis of this idea came from the age old folk tale about a Union prisoner of war--who sent a letter to his girl that he was coming home from a confederate POW camp in Georgia.... Anything about a criminal is pure fantasy....

— L. Russell Brown[2]

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", which later inspired the John Wayne movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, is a reference to this. 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". 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.[3] 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.[2]

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".[3]

Chart and sales performance[edit]

In April 1973, the recording by Tony Orlando and Dawn reached No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 (chart date April 21, 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.[4] It also reached No. 1 in the UK and Australia, and has sold 1 million copies in the UK.[5] In New Zealand, the song spent 10 weeks at number one.[6]

Cover versions[edit]

  • The song enjoyed duplicate success on country radio, as a cover version by Johnny Carver. Carver's rendition - simply titled "Yellow Ribbon" - was a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in June 1973. Carver's version also reached Number One on the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada.[19] Musically similar, the only difference in the song is the substitution of the minor expletive "damn" (in the lyric, "Now the whole damn bus is cheering") with "darn".
  • Bing Crosby recorded the song on June 8, 1973 with an orchestra conducted by Billy Byers for Daybreak Records.[20]
  • Also in 1973, Jim Nabors covered the song on his album The Twelfth of Never (Columbia KC 32377).[21]
  • Also in 1973, Italian singer Domenico Modugno had a minor hit in Italy with a cover in his language: "Appendi un nastro giallo". The lyrics are a very faithful translation of the original, the only difference is that instead of watching the tree from a bus, the Italian singer watches it from a tram.
  • Perry Como - included in his album And I Love You So (1973).
  • Dean Martin - included in his album You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me (1973).
  • In Chile, Roberto Inglez achieved great success with his version, which was number one on the national radio for the September 11, 1973.
  • Lou Sino covered the song which appeared on his Now album (1973).[22] It was also the B side of his single, "She's Got to Be a Saint" released on Bengal 112873.
  • Kay Starr did a version of this song on the country pop charts in 1974 hitting number 12.
  • Frank Sinatra included the song in his album Some Nice Things I've Missed (1974)
  • Around 1974 the song was also covered by Hong Kong singing artist Agnes Chan.
  • The song is included on the album "With love from" of Taiwanese superstar Teresa Teng.
  • In 1974 Venezuelan group 'Los Tres Tristes Tigres' (Three Sad Tigers) launched locally a huge hit version of the song in Spanish, entitled "Amarra Una Cinta". The colour of the ribbon was changed from yellow (amarillo) to dark red (carmesí), due to the rhyme of the song in Spanish.
  • Max Bygraves included in his album Singalong with Max (1975).[23]
  • The song was covered by Lawrence Welk, whose orchestra performed it many times on his television program during the late 1970s; a studio version was released in 1975 on his album Lawrence Welk's Most Requested TV Favorites (Champagne Style).[24]
  • The song was covered by Bobby Goldsboro on a multi-artist compilation album entitled Storytellers released in 1976.
  • Harry Connick Jr. - for his album 30 (2001).
  • In 2003 Dolly Parton recorded a cover on her patriotic album For God and Country.
  • The song was covered by Eric D. Johnson and appears on the soundtrack for the 2011 film Our Idiot Brother starring Paul Rudd. The song is used over the opening credits as Rudd is released from prison after serving time for selling marijuana to a uniform police officer.
  • In 2014, a cover version was sung by Cuban stars Silvio Rodríguez, Amaury Pérez, Los Cinco, Kiki Corona, Luna Manzanares, Gretell Barreiro and the famous classical pianist Frank Fernández. This version, sung in English, was a protest asking Barack Obama to free three Cuban activists kept in a Miami prison.

In popular culture[edit]

Association with the People Power Revolution[edit]

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.[25]

Association with the 2014 Hong Kong Protests[edit]

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.[26] Journalists covering the event described use of the tune as a protest song.[27]

See also[edit]

Preceded by
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" by Vicki Lawrence
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Tony Orlando and Dawn version)
April 21, 1973 (four weeks)
Succeeded by
"You Are the Sunshine of My Life" by Stevie Wonder
Preceded by
"Dirty Old Man" by George Hamilton IV[28]
RPM Country Tracks number one single (Johnny Carver version)
June 16, 1973 (one week)[19]
Succeeded by
"You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me)" by Johnny Rodriguez[29]
Preceded by
"Get Down" by Gilbert O'Sullivan
UK Singles Chart number one single
April 21, 1973 (four weeks)
Succeeded by
"See My Baby Jive" by Wizzard


  1. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-09-13. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  2. ^ a b c Gerald E. Parson, "How the Yellow Ribbon Became a National Folk Symbol", available at Library of Congress, originally printed in the Folklife Center News (Volume XIII, #3, 1991, pp. 9-11).
  3. ^ a b "The L. Russell Brown Interview". Classicbands.com. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  4. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1973
  5. ^ Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  6. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Flavourofnz.co.nz. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  7. ^ a b "Australian Chart Book". Austchartbook.com.au. Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  8. ^ "Austriancharts.at – DAWN FEAT. TONY ORLANDO – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  9. ^ "Ultratop.be – DAWN FEAT. TONY ORLANDO – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  10. ^ "Danishcharts.com – DAWN FEAT. TONY ORLANDO – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". Tracklisten.
  11. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Dawn – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". Top 40 Singles.
  12. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – DAWN FEAT. TONY ORLANDO – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". VG-lista.
  13. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  14. ^ "Dawn Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  15. ^ "Dawn Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  16. ^ "Top 100 1973 - UK Music Charts". Uk-charts.top-source.info. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  17. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1973/Top 100 Songs of 1973". Musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  18. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1973". Tropicalglen.com. 1973-12-29. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  19. ^ a b "RPM Country Tracks for June 16, 1973". RPM. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  20. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved October 6, 2017. 
  21. ^ "Jim Nabors - The Twelfth Of Never (Vinyl, LP)". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  22. ^ Discogs Lou Sino – Now
  23. ^ "Discogs.com". Discogs.com. Retrieved October 6, 2017. 
  24. ^ "Lawrence Welk - Lawrence Welk's Most Requested TV Favorites (Champagne Style)". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  25. ^ "Iconic yellow ribbon–why it keeps waving". Asian Journal. Retrieved 24 November 2012. 
  26. ^ Coleman, Jasmine (October 3, 2014). "Hong Kong Protests: The Symbols and Songs Explained". BBC News. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  27. ^ Dearden, Lizie (October 5, 2015). "Hong Kong Protests: A Guide to Yellow Ribbons, Blue Ribbons and All the Other Colours". The Independent. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  28. ^ "RPM Country Tracks for June 9, 1973". RPM. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  29. ^ "RPM Country Tracks for June 23, 1973". RPM. Retrieved 3 October 2010.