y 1973, Tony Orlando and Dawn had come quite a way since their first hit, "Candida," three years before. They had become the second biggest seller of singles in America, without ever having made a major concert tour or appeared on a television show. England's New Musical Express voted them the Number One Vocal Group in Europe, and they were also named Most Popular Group in England, Italy, France, Germany, Australia, South America and Japan. They had sold nine million records before their first live gig -- at Carnegie Hall -- and since that time had sold six million more.
Early in 1973, Tony and Dawn cut the single that was to become their all-time classic and the number one single of that year -- "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree."
The song was based on an actual incident that occurred aboard a southern bus bound for Miami. One of the passengers explained to the driver that he was just out of prison, having served three years for passing bad checks. In a letter to his wife, he had written that she didn't have to wait for him; but, if she was still interested, she could let him know by tying a yellow ribbon around the only oak tree in the city square. As the bus rolled down U.S. 17, nearing the man's hometown of White Oak, Georgia, the driver was asked to slow down so that all could see whether the ribbon was in place. To the man's tearful relief, it was. The driver pulled over and phoned the story in to the wire services which after several conference calls from news stations, spread it all over the country as a popular and hearwarming story of true love. Songwriters Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown read it in the newspaper, then put together their million-selling ballad.
Tony Orlando and Dawn had another big hit in 1973: "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose." After that, CBS called and offered the trio their own four-week summer show, which aired in July 1974. In the fall, "Steppin' Out" became a Top 10 record for the group and in December, they returned to TV in a comedy-variety series that lasted for two seasons. In 1975, there were three more big singles: "Look in My Eyes Pretty Woman," "He Don't Love You" (another #1), and "Mornin' Beautiful," the latter two songs on the Elektra label.
When asked to explain the group's secret of success, Tony said, "In our case, we like each other. That's number one. Number two, we have no intentions of breaking up. A lot of groups with a name like Tony Orlando and Down, Dion and the Belmonts, Diana Ross and the Supremes, it's inevitable to think that someday the leader will go off alone. In this case, I don't ever want to break up this group."
"The Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour" was canceled on December 28, 1976; the group lasted just seven months more. On July 22, 1977, at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, Massachusetts, Tony shocked the crowd -- and his partners -- by announcing his retirement from show business. He suffered a nervous breakdown on stage and spend the next six months in a New York psychiatric hospital. After his release, Tony began to pick up the pieces of his career -- without Dawn.
As for "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," the song made a dramatic comeback of its own, eight years after being recorded. The yellow ribbon as a symbol of loyalty was a natural to express the nation's feelings for the 52 American hostages held in Iran, and when they returned after 444 days of captivity on January 20, 1981, the song was played throughout the land as a joyous homecoming theme.
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