The song is told from the point of view of someone who has ‘done his time’ but is uncertain if he will be welcomed back home. He writes to his love, asking her to tie a yellow ribbon around the ‘ole oak tree’ in front of the house (which the bus will pass by) if she wants him to return to her life. If, however, he does not see such a ribbon, he will know that he is unwelcome and will remain on the bus. As he approaches the house and person he wants to return to, being fearful of there being no tied yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree, he dare not look, so asks the bus driver to check for him. To his amazement, the entire bus cheers the response when they see that there are 100 yellow ribbons around the tree; a sign he is very much welcome.
The often-held view that the person who has ‘done his time’ was a convict is erroneous. The writer, L. Russell Brown is reported to have said, “This is NOT the story of a convict who had told his love to tie a ribbon to a tree outside of town. I know because I wrote the song one morning in 15 minutes with the late lyrical genius Irwin Levine. The genesis of this idea came from the age-old folktale about a Union prisoner of war who sent a letter to his girl that he was coming home from a Confederate POW camp in Georgia. Anything about a criminal is pure fantasy...”
So, you see, it was a soldier who’d been a prisoner of war that was returning and not a convict from some penal establishment of correction!
The origin of the idea of a yellow ribbon as remembrance may have been the 19th-century practice that some women allegedly had of wearing a yellow ribbon in their hair to signify their devotion to a husband or sweetheart serving in the U.S. Cavalry. The song 'Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon’, which later inspired the John Wayne film. ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’, is a reference to this. The symbol of a yellow ribbon became widely known in civilian life in the 1970s as a reminder that an absent loved one, either in the military or in jail, would be welcomed home on their return.
This song has been recorded by numerous singers apart from Orlando and Dawn. These include Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Sony and Cher, Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jnr, and Brotherhood of Man to name but the major artists.
Love and Peace. Bill xxx