Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree

Album: Tuneweaving (1973)
Charted: 1 1


  • 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.

    It's a folk story: different versions of it had been floating around for decades, often with White Oak, Georgia as the setting. Pete Hamill heard the story at a Greenwich Village bar called the Lion's Head, where writers would congregate.

    Levine and Brown thought it would make a great song, so they used the story as the basis for the lyric, changing the handkerchief to a yellow ribbon, since "Tie A Yellow Handkerchief Round The Ole Oak Tree" would be awkward.
  • There really is a historic oak tree in Brunswick, as told in the New York Post story, but it's in Georgia, nowhere near Fort Lauderdale.
  • A song of the same name was used in the 1949 John Wayne movie She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. This could be where Levine and Brown got the idea for the yellow ribbon.
  • 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.
  • The first Tony Orlando & Dawn album was released in 1970, but at the time Orlando was backed by various studio singers. Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson were chosen as "Dawn," and sang on subsequent recordings.
  • This won Favorite Pop/Rock Single at the first annual American Music Awards in 1974. The song also got two Grammy nominations: Song of the Year and Best Pop Group Performance. When the trio performed the song at the ceremony in March 1974, they got the attention of Fred Silverman at CBS, who gave them a summer variety series called Tony Orlando and Dawn, which began airing in July. They stayed on the air for three seasons, during which time the group charted more hits, including another #1, "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)."
  • The song was a #1 hit in Australia in mid-1973, spending 26 weeks on the charts. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Graham - Windsor, Australia
  • In 1977, a Japanese movie called The Yellow Handkerchief was released, based on the same newspaper story this song was based upon. The film was remade in English in 2008, with William Hurt playing the convict returning home.
  • In 1993, Orlando opened the Yellow Ribbon Music Theater in Branson, Missouri, where for about six years, he performed regularly.
  • A version by the British pop group Brotherhood of Man was used on Stranger Things in the season 1 episode "The Weirdo On Maple Street." It plays while Nancy and Barb are on the way to Steve's party.

Comments: 26

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1973 {June 10th} "Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round The Old Oak Tree" by Johnny Carver peaked at #5 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Country Singles* chart...
    Six days later on June 16th, 1973, "Yellow Ribbon" reached #1 {for 1 week} on the Canadian RPM Country Singles chart...
    Between 1968 and 1981 the Jackson, Mississippi native had twenty eight records on the Hot Country Singles chart, four made the Top 10 with the above "Yellow Ribbon" being his biggest hit...
    Besides "Yellow Ribbon", his three other Top 10 records were "You Really Haven't Changed" {#6 in 1973}, "Don't Tell (That Sweet Ole Lady of Mine)" {#10 in 1974}, and "Afternoon Delight" {#9 in 1976}...
    He came close to having a fifth Top 10 record when his "Tonight Someone's Falling In Love" peaked at #12 in 1974...
    Johnny Carver will celebrate his 80th birthday in five months on November 24th, 2020...
    * And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, the Hot Country Singles' Top 10 on June 10th, 1973:
    At #1. "Kids Say The Darndest Things" by Tammy Wynette
    #2. "Satin Sheets" by Jeanne Pruett
    #3. "You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me)" by Johnny Rodriguez
    #4. "Don't Fight The Feelings of Love" by Charley Pride
    #5. the above "Yellow Ribbon"
    #6. "Sweet Country Woman" by Johnny Duncan
    #7. "Ravishing Beauty" by Tom T. Hall
    #8. "Send Me No Roses" by Tommy Overstreet
    #9. "What's Your Mama's Name" by Tanya Tucker
    #10. "Why Me" by Kris Kristofferson
  • Jb from Woodstock Georgia This song has a lot of missing details. For example, why does he not know where he stands, has she not been visiting him or writing him in jail? What offense did he commit? If it was spousal abuse, maybe she shouldn't take him back. And why does ge have to take a bus? Why didn't she or a family member pick him up?
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenBob from North, sorry you got cheated on, but the fellow in this song's story clearly did not.
  • Janice from Seymour TnTo Bob from North: I'm afraid you missed part of the lyrics and that has led to your misinterpretation: "Bus driver, please look for me". This indicates that the narrator told at least the bus driver about what he had directed his wife or girlfriend to do, and a reasonable implication to make, even if he was speaking only to the bus driver, is that others on the bus heard him. It's also reasonable to assume that, if he told the bus driver, he was not averse to telling others on the bus. That's how the other bus riders knew about it, and why they were cheering for him, and no, he doesn't stay on the bus and the relationship doesn't end. Not to mention the closing lyric: "I'm coming home".
  • Bob from NorthI can't believe how often this song is misinterpreted. The dude's on a bus, and he has confided a secret code with his old girlfriend - to tie a simple single yellow ribbon if she wants him. Instead, he comes around the corner, and begins cursing "the whole damned bus..." because his simple secret code failed. The whole damned bus is cheering because they all see their ribbons. So EITHER she acted unfaithfully and wants the whole busload of guys that she's been screwing around with, OR his clever plan to have a secret code failed because every guy on the bus has done the same thing with his girlfriend. Clearly the code has failed, and the guy has no clue what "is and isn't mine" at this point. So he stays on the bus, forgets about us, puts the blame on me. It's over. Song ENDS symbolic of the relationship ending.
  • Randy from Houghton Lake, MiThe Vietnam POWs were released in Jan 1973 and I always associated this song with the Vietnam Vets coming home.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 21st 1973, Dawn* performed "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time it was in its first of four weeks at #1 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart nine weeks earlier and spent 23 weeks on the Top 100...
    As stated above; it reached #1, and also for 4 weeks, in the United Kingdom...
    In Canada, Johnny Carver's covered version peaked at #1 {for 1 week} on June 16th, 1973 on the RPM Country Tracks chart...
    * Later in 1973 in November the trio changed their name to Tony Orlando and Dawn.
  • Elmer H from Westville, OkA great inspirational song & #1 hit from 1973. I love it whenever it's on any oldies radio play. I recall seeing many yellow ribbons tied around trees in that period of the record's release. And I even watched Tony Orlando & Dawn's TV variety show. A big, big #1 hit record!!!
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxI guess "Oh, tie a white hanky 'round the ole oak tree" wouldn't have had as good a ring to it.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyWhen "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree" was released the group's name was simply 'Dawn'; they were not known as Tony Orlando and Dawn until the release of "Who's in the Strawberry Patch with Sally" in November 1973..
  • Budoshi from Sandnessjøen, NorwayI sing to it whenever I hear it..
  • Miranda from Baltimore, MdChris from England makes it sound like John McCarthy got married to another woman as soon as he got off the plane from Beirut when in reality he and Jill Morrell were together for FOUR years after he was released before they mutually decided to split up. And it was another four years after they broke up before John married someone else.
  • Pat from Quezon City, PhilippinesWe Filipinos have an inspirational meaning for this song. This made an impact to our hearts during Marcos' regime, especially when Ninoy Aquino returned from prison, assasinated during his return from USA and during the Edsa people power 1.

    This song was also played thousand times during the funeral prosession of Ninoy's wife, President Cory Aquino.
  • Chris from Preston, EnglandWhen John McCarthy was held captive in Beirut his fiance Jill Morrell held a campaign and tied hundreds of yellow ribbons in his memory too pray for his release. When he was released he snubbed her and married someone else. I wonder if she still has a yellow ribbon and if she does whether she might like to strangle him with it!
  • Darrell from EugeneThis song was definitely popular when the War on Terrorism and the Iraq war started, and I hung yellow ribbons all over my property (even on my Shopsmith power tool)because I have a friend whose son went to Iraq with the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged as a sergeant and a war hero several years ago. Way to go, Ben.
  • Jim from Qinhuangdao, ChinaAnd probably tomorrow morning too.
  • Jim from Qinhuangdao, ChinaEvery time the last line comes up, a 100 yellow ribbons round the old oak tree, I think, "Whoa, someone's getting some tonight."
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyThis is really an urban legend. Pete Hamill wrote the New York Post article, based on a story told him by some college kids in Florida on spring break -- which was what Hamill was supposed to cover. The convict was supposedly on the bus that some of them rode down on. Interestingly, Hamill later wrote that he had correspondence from readers who said he had the details right but it happened soemwhere else. Everyone who wrote to Hamill claimed they were there and they knew the truth. So, I guess we will never know the full truth of the matter,or even if it ever really happened. That does not stop it from being a compelling song.
  • Ralph from Newton, MaActually the yellow ribbon in honor of soldiers off fighting goes back to the Civil War. Thus the Wayne movie. I always assumed this song was about a Vietnam war vet since it came out during the same time that the POW's were returning and yellow ribbons were being taken down as those they were put up to remember were coming gome.
  • John Hunt from Chicago, IlThis song was also anthem for the returning Vietnam Vets.
  • Kyle from Hampton Bays, Nymy father was in jail when he got out this ssong just came out so when it is one tha radio i will sing a long with him
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumThis is a very beautiful song, I always feel tears in my eyes at the end of the song, when he sees a hundred yellow ribbons round the old oak tree what means that the woman he loves is waiting for him and still loves him. A great love story with a happy end.
  • Aj from Cleveland, GaI love Tony Orlando and Dawn, but this song doesn't seem their style. I like Candida better.
  • Clarke from Pittsburgh, PaAmazing how one song can change our culture, even in a small way. At this moment there are "yellow ribbons" in many places, remembering our soldiers in Iraq.
  • Alex from New Orleans, LaMy grandmother tied a yellow ribbon on her car antennae to identify her car in crowded parking lots sometimes. Now that she died recently and the car was totaled,this song makes me cry
  • Deepak from India, Indiathis is one hell of a great song! i can listen to it the whole day long...its a lovely feeling to know someone may be waiting to see you...it is captured in this song!!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Eric Clapton

Eric ClaptonFact or Fiction

Did Eric Clapton really write "Cocaine" while on cocaine? This question and more in the Clapton edition of Fact or Fiction.

Martyn Ware of Heaven 17

Martyn Ware of Heaven 17Songwriter Interviews

Martyn talks about producing Tina Turner, some Heaven 17 hits, and his work with the British Electric Foundation.

Chris Isaak

Chris IsaakSongwriter Interviews

Chris tells the story of "Wicked Game," talks milkshakes and moonpies at Sun Records, and explains why women always get their way.

Millie Jackson

Millie JacksonSongwriter Interviews

Outrageously gifted and just plain outrageous, Millie is an R&B and Rap innovator.

Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al YankovicFact or Fiction

Did Al play on a Beach Boys record? Did he have beef with George Lucas and Coolio? See if you can spot weird but true stories.

Brenda Russell

Brenda RussellSongwriter Interviews

Brenda talks about the inspiration that drove her to write hit songs like "Get Here" and "Piano in the Dark," and why a lack of formal music training can be a songwriter's best asset.