Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree
Tony Orlando & Dawn
Writer(s): L. Russell Brown, Irwin Levine (see lyrics here)
First Charted: February 3, 1973
Peak: 14 US, 13 CB, 11 HR, 12 AC, 14 UK, 12 CN, 17 AU, 7 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 1.0 UK, 6.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 24.0 video, 1.39 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” was based on a true story. A man who had been in prison for three years for writing bad checks wrote a letter to his wife before he was released. He asked her to tie a yellow ribbon around the oak tree in their hometown’s city square if she still loved him. When the bus taking him home pulled into White Oak, Georgia, the passengers cheered and the man cried at the sight of a yellow ribbon around the tree. FB
In 1971, newspaper columnist Peter Hammill wrote a piece called “Going Home” for the New York Post which was a slight variation on the story, WK which apparently was a folk story which had floated around in different versions for decades. SF After it was reprinted in Reader’s Digest in 1972 and aired as an ABC-TV movie starring James Earl Jones, L. Russell Brown suggested to his songwriting partner Irwin Levin that they write a song about the incident. Brown said the song was based on a story he heard about a soldier returning home from the Civil War. WK
The tradition does, in fact, date back to a 19th-century tradition of women wearing yellow ribbons in their hair to represent their devotion to significant others serving in the U.S. Cavalry. WK The symbol became widely known in civilian life in the ‘70s as a reminder to loved ones in jail or the military that they would be welcomed home upon their return. WK The song saw a revival when the American hostages in Iran were freed in 1981 after 444 days. Coast-to-coast, people tied yellow ribbons around trees to welcome them home. FB
Producers Hank Medress and Dave Appell brought the song to Tony Orlando, Telma Hopkins, and Joyce Wilson of Dawn. Orlando “thought it was corny” and didn’t want it on the next album. However, he said, “I kept singing it around the house” FB and noted that Hank saw the song as “a nice sature of the American dream, that it gently kids the fact that we love stories about turmoil, lyrics with suspense, doubt about a happen ending, as long as we know we are gonna get the happy ending in the last line.” FB
The song made it to the top 10 in ten countries, topping the charts in eight of them. WK It is the second most-recorded of the rock era (only behind the Beatles’ “Yesterday”) with over a thousand cover versions. FB
First posted 12/9/2020; last updated 8/7/2023.