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"
Released19 February 1973
RecordedJanuary 1973
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 chart for seven weeks from May to July 1973 and number one on the New Zealand chart 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] This song is the origin of the yellow color of the Liberal Party of Cory Aquino, the party that ousted the Marcos dictatorship in the People Power Revolution of 1986.[3]


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[edit]

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.[4][5] 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".[6] 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.[7] 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.[4]

In 1991, 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.[8]

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".[7]

The 2008 film The Yellow Handkerchief, conceived as a remake of the original Japanese film, uses a plot based on the Pete Hamill story.[9]

Chart and sales performance[edit]

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.[10] In New Zealand, the song spent 10 weeks at number one.[11]

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.[32] 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 8 June 1973 with an orchestra conducted by Billy Byers for Daybreak Records.[33]
  • Also in 1973, Jim Nabors covered the song on his album The Twelfth of Never (Columbia KC 32377).[citation needed]
  • 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.
  • Also in 1973, Los Mismos covered the song as "Pon Una Cinta En El Viejo Roble" (Belter 08-263).
  • Perry Como included the song in his album And I Love You So (1973).
  • Dean Martin included the song 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 11 September 1973.
  • Lou Sino covered the song on his Now album (1973). It was also the B side of his single, "She's Got to Be a Saint", released on Bengal 112873.[citation needed]
  • 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)
  • Max Bygraves included the song in his album Singalong with Max (1975).[citation needed]
  • Freddy Fender covered the song in a bilingual version entitled El Roble Viejo in 1975
  • 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).[citation needed]
  • The song was performed on The Muppet Show twice: the first was in the form of the rewritten parody "Tie a Yellow Ribbit Round the Old Oak Tree" in the Steve Martin episode and then as an instrumental during the "Pigs in Space" segment of the Carol Burnett episode.
  • 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.
  • Kai Hyttinen [fi] recorded Finnish version "Nosta lippu salkoon" in 1973.[34]
  • The anticomedian Ted Chippington performed a quasi-cover of this song on his debut album Man in a Suitcase, "Rocking Ribbons."
  • Singer Eric D. Johnson covered this song in the film Our Idiot Brother. It was released in 2011 alongside the film in the motion picture soundtrack.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Later in 1973, Connie Francis had a minor hit in Australia with an answer song, "The Answer (Should I Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?)". Her version remained in the top 40 for three weeks, peaking at number 31.
  • In 1975, the song was sung by Dean Martin in the TV special Lucy Gets Lucky.
  • In 1977, the song was sung by Andy Kaufman, while playing his character Tony Clifton, on HBO.
  • The song had renewed popularity in 1979, in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis.[4]
  • The song appeared in the 1982 movie An Officer and a Gentleman, played by a band at the Navy Ball.
  • The song was performed by David Alan Grier, as Don "No Soul" Simmons, over the closing credits of Amazon Women on the Moon (1987).
  • In the 1993 Wallace and Gromit short, The Wrong Trousers, the short's antagonist, Feathers McGraw, listens to an instrumental cover of the song on the radio after settling into his new room.
  • On the show Dinosaurs, in the episode "Driving Miss Ethyl" (first aired on 29 June 1994), several characters sing this song.
  • In 1999, S Club 7 performed the song for their hit TV series Miami 7. It was featured in the second episode.
  • In a 2005 episode of Las Vegas, Tony Orlando (guest-starring as himself) performs the song at the end of the episode before an audience that includes Don Knotts (also guest-starring as himself in one of his last acting roles.)
  • Comedian Victor Lewis-Smith recorded a sketch on BBC Radio in which he claims to have an annoying song playing in his head, but he can't remember what the name of it is. "It goes... 'Tie a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree...' But WHAT'S IT CALLED?"
  • The song is referenced in "The Ones That Didn't Make It Back Home," which hit #1 on Country airplay in 2019.
  • On The Kids in the Hall, Kevin McDonald and Dave Foley, as the Sizzler Sisters, sing this as part of their lounge act.
  • The song is featured in The Simpsons when sung by Disco Stu in a karaoke bar on "Treehouse of Horror XXIV" (season 27, episode 5).

Association with the People Power Revolution[edit]

Liberal party standard bearer Mar Roxas, as he took on Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for the presidency in 2016

In the Philippines, the song was best known for its use in the return of exiled politician Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, when supporters tied yellow ribbons on trees in anticipation of his arrival. However, Aquino was assassinated at Manila International Airport. This sparked protests and the People Power three years later that led to the overthrow of President Ferdinand Marcos' regime, and the accession of his opponent, Aquino's widow Corazón. Yellow was also the campaign symbol of their son, Benigno Aquino III, who eventually became president in 2010 following his mother's death the previous year.[35]

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.[36] Journalists covering the event described use of the tune as a protest song.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Billboard Hot 100 Chart 50th Anniversary – All-Time Top Songs". Archived from the original on 13 September 2008. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Billboard Hot 100 60th Anniversary". Billboard. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  3. ^ Cruz, Efren. "The yellow ribbon".
  4. ^ a b c Parsons, Gerald E. (Summer 1991). "How the Yellow Ribbon Became a National Folk Symbol". Folklife Center News. Library of Congress. 13 (3): 9–11.
  5. ^ Norton, George A. (1917). "'Round Her Neck She Wears A Yeller Ribbon". Leo Feist, Inc. Retrieved 26 April 2019 – via Levy Music Collection.
  6. ^ Hamill, Pete (October 1971). "Going Home". New York Post. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  7. ^ a b James, Gary (c. 2009). "The L. Russell Brown Interview". Classicbands.com. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  8. ^ "Irwin Levine, 58; Wrote 'Yellow Ribbon'". The New York Times. 27 January 1997.
  9. ^ "Cohn buys up Yellow Handkerchief remake rights". Screen Daily. 10 September 2003. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  10. ^ Sedghi, Ami (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  11. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Flavourofnz.co.nz. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  12. ^ a b "Australian Chart Book". Austchartbook.com.au. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  13. ^ "DAWN FEAT. TONY ORLANDO – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  14. ^ "DAWN FEAT. TONY ORLANDO – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  15. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 12 May 1973. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  16. ^ "DAWN FEAT. TONY ORLANDO – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". Tracklisten.
  17. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Dawn" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  18. ^ "Dawn feat. Tony Orlando – Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  19. ^ "Dawn – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". Top 40 Singles.
  20. ^ "DAWN FEAT. TONY ORLANDO – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". VG-lista.
  21. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Rock.co.za. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  22. ^ "Dawn: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  23. ^ "Tony Orlando Dawn Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  24. ^ "Tony Orlando Dawn Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  25. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 26 December 2017.
  26. ^ "Top 100-Jaaroverzicht van 1973". Dutch Top 40. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  27. ^ "Jaaroverzichten – Single 1973". Single Top 100. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  28. ^ "Top 20 Hit Singles of 1973". Rock.co.za. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
  29. ^ "Top 100 1973 - UK Music Charts". Uk-charts.top-source.info. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  30. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1973/Top 100 Songs of 1973". Musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  31. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1973". Tropicalglen.com. 29 December 1973. Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  32. ^ "RPM Country Tracks for June 16, 1973". RPM. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  33. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  34. ^ "Hakutulos kappaleelle Nosta lippu salkoon". Aanitearkisto.fi. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  35. ^ "Iconic yellow ribbon–why it keeps waving". Asian Journal. Archived from the original on 17 January 2013. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
  36. ^ Coleman, Jasmine (3 October 2014). "Hong Kong Protests: The Symbols and Songs Explained". BBC News. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  37. ^ Dearden, Lizie (5 October 2015). "Hong Kong Protests: A Guide to Yellow Ribbons, Blue Ribbons and All the Other Colours". The Independent. Archived from the original on 7 May 2022. Retrieved 13 October 2014.