Billboard #1 Hits: #293: “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree”- Tony Orlando and Dawn. April 21, 1973. #1 for 4 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100.
- Single: “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree”- Tony Orlando and Dawn
- Record Company- Bell
- Genre: Pop
- Written by Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown
- Time: 3:20
- B-side: “I Can’t Believe How Much I Love You”
- Album- Tuneweaving
- Grade: C
- Peaked at #1 4 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100. #1 in UK Singles Chart, #1 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa,
This song was written by Irwin Levine and Larry Brown (credited as L. Russell Brown), who wrote the previous #1 hit for the group, “Knock Three Times.” The song is based on a story called “Going Home” that Levine read in the January 1972 edition of the magazine Reader’s Digest. The story was originally published in the New York Post on October 14, 1971, appearing in a column called “The Eight Million” written by Pete Hamill.
In the story, six kids riding a bus from New York to Fort Lauderdale strike up a conversation with a man named Vingo, who tells them he was just released from prison after four years in jail. He told his wife, Martha, that she could start a new life without him, and for the last three-and-a-half years of his incarceration, he didn’t hear from her. In his last letter to her, he gave her instructions. The story reads:
We used to live in this town, Brunswick, just before Jacksonville, and there’s a big oak tree just as you come into town, a very famous tree, huge. I told her that if she’d take me back, she should put a yellow handkerchief on the tree and I’d get off and come home. If she didn’t want me, forget it – no handkerchief and I’d go through.
Everyone on the bus kept a lookout for the tree, and when they arrived, there were lots of handkerchiefs tied to it, giving the story a very happy ending.
Many associated this song with soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War; yellow ribbons began appearing on trees to welcome them home.
The yellow ribbons appeared again in 1980 when Americans put them on trees to remember the hostages being held in Iran. Ten years later, a group called Visual AIDS convinced people attending the Tony Awards to wear small red ribbons as a symbol of AIDS awareness. Soon, many causes produced ribbons with different colors to raise money and awareness. In 2004, the trend extended to rubber bracelets when cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong worked with Nike to promote yellow bracelets labeled “Livestrong” that raised money for cancer research.