Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree – Tony Orlando and Dawn

Number one in New Zealand – 31 May – 2 August, 1973

IMG_2198Sometimes I feel like a part of me has gone away for awhile.  When you wake up in the morning it is as if that other self woke an hour earlier, stepped out of you, pushed open the front door and walked off into the empty Sunday streets.  So when you get up, and they are already far away up in the hills, you feel empty.  Empty, and waiting for their return.


Tie a Yellow Ribbon was number one in New Zealand for seven weeks in 1973, and was the biggest selling single of that year around the world.  Before I ventured out on this pointless project  I had never heard this song.  I am convinced of this even though when I first heard the song it seemed vaguely familiar.  I’m sure it only seemed vaguely familiar because it covers such well trodden musical ground, not because I had actually heard it before.  There is not much to dislike about the song, but there is also nothing about it that would suggest to a casual listener in 2009 that this was the song that pushed people’s buttons in 1973.

tonyVisiting the Tony Orlando website is another salutary lesson in the pitfalls of fame.  There is a section of fan poetry on the theme of Tony’s 60th birthday:

A Star is born, whose [sic] now the “Big 6 0”

The world we know him as “Tony O”

Born April 3rd under Aries sign

A better person you’ll never find



There is also an opportunity to hear Tony sing about Nutrisystem, and some before and after shots of Tony before and after using this breakthrough dietary system (although the “after” shot is a little less than reassuring).

The 1970s were good to Tony.  He had hit songs and a popular variety TV show.  His voice is pleasant and he was a handsome fellow.  Still, it pays to keep in mind that he was a simply a voice and a face in this whole marketing exercise.  He wrote nothing, played nothing, and recorded the vocals of his first hit without even meeting the two female  singers who were to be called Dawn.  Not  forgetting, also, that Tie a  Yellow Ribbon is hum along, nothingness.

It is a song that is about return.  Originally it was simply a song imagining a man coming home from prison – if there was a yellow ribbon around the (ole) oak tree then he would know that his beloved was still waiting for him.  This got picked up in 1973 and attached to the idea of Vietnam vets coming home, and picked up again with the Iran hostages.  In fact, just the other night I saw people in some small town in America  tying yellow ribbons for an American hostage in Afghanistan.

I’m comin’ home I’ve done my time
Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine
If you received my letter tellin’ you I’d soon be free
Then you’ll know just what to do if you still want me
If you still want me.

Woah tie a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree
It’s been three long years, do ya still want me
If I don’t see a ribbon round the ole oak tree
I’ll stay on the bus, forget about us
Put the blame on me
If I don’t see a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree



Of course the art of return can be tricky emotional ground.  Sometimes it is hard to know what or who has changed more: the people and places you return to, or yourself.

In 1973 New Zealanders as well as Americans were returning from Vietnam

Virtually within the space of hours we were plucked out of our war zone and catapulted back into a life where people lived a normal life unaffected by the activities of a war. These people were not involved in our war and did not have the faintest idea of how we had lived these last months and, furthermore did not seem to care. And they expected us to be as we were when we left, to act normally in their sense of the meaning.

But our sense of normality was now vastly different and many fatal strains were placed on relationships. You light a cigarette, smoke it, drop it and grind it out with your boot. So what’s the fuss? Oh, carpet! Sorry, haven’t seen that stuff for a while. Get him out of the reception lounge as quickly as possible before he does something else to embarrass his family.


 When we came back to New Zealand after living in Osaka for five and half years it seemed like it was never going to stop raining.  I remember walking about Cuba Mall in a daze wondering where everyone was, and being amazed that I could smell the sea.  A tidal wave of responsibilities rose up before me: get a car, get a job, get a flat, look for a house, buy a bed, buy a chest of drawers, buy one of everything.  Although we had lived for five years in one of the most  consumption obsessed societys on Earth, for us, tucked into a tiny apartment, what we consumed was small stuff – CDs, books, a meal out – not the big, responsible, grown-up stuff.  It was a hard return.

As hard as the handful of last encounters with Gran, and the town where she lived.



I quite like the ridiculous and the sublime; it’s all the bits in between that can get me down.  The ridiculous might be Monty Python; the sublime might be a Brando soliquoy, but it is the vast middle ground that is actually life, and even though I think it is grander things my other self goes looking for on the days when he walks out the door and leaves me, it is the middle ground that is important to do well.  If you get too taken with the sublime you can become very pretentious, or precious, or fey, while endless wallowing in the ridiculous tends to make you very cynical about humanity, tends to make you want to deflate everything and everyone, because you wind up doubting the motives of all beautiful things.

There is endless possibility in the everyday, but there is also the vacuuming to do.

This post is part of a series about the number one songs of 1973 in New Zealand.  The series can be found here.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

5 thoughts on “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”

  1. This was a rather surprising message to find on my blog. Thank you for taking the time to write it, for teaching me something, and for putting up with my post about your song. I was actually feeling rather glum when I wrote this one post. As for the human heart, well, I think I am as entitled to my opinion as you are to yours.

  2. Thank God for the throngs of people in N.Z. as well as the hundreds of millions of human beings all over the world, who loved the song I wrote with my late great partner Irwin Levine.
    last week I had the opportunity to sing this song for a group of third graders at a local public school. When I sang the last lines of the song- AND I CAN ‘T BELIEVE I SEE
    A HUNDRED YELLOW RIBBONS ROUND THE OLE OAK TREE, nearly all of the forty plus kids I was singing it to dropped their jaws and got misty eyed. They realized that the girl not only wanted her SOLDIER back,
    -It was written about a civil war soldier
    NOT A PRISONER from some jail= she loved him a hundred times more than he could have ever imagined. I realized the timelessness of my song, and after reading what you had to say about it, I found it impossible NOT to let YOU know how far off the mark you were when it comes to the human heart. Your’s must have been left in the jungles of Southeast Asia……..
    God Bless you and a little advice,
    when you listen to a song, don’t be so analytical. Utilize it instead.
    And remember this fact. No matter what you felt about TIE A YELLOW RIBBON ROUND THE OLE OAK TREE, It took hundreds of millions of people on a three and half minute vacation away from their troubles their personal tragedies and heartache’s. And for me that makes it all worthwhile.
    L.Russell Brown

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