Obituary: Irwin Levine

During the Iran hostage crisis in 1978, the wives, sweethearts and relatives of many Americans who had been prisoners of the Vietcong took their cue from a current popular song, and tied yellow ribbons to trees as a gesture of solidarity. Irwin Levine's sentimental "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" became the unofficial anthem of that troubled time.

The son of a prizefighter, Benny Levine, Irwin knocked around the music business without success until 1965, when, aged 26, he had three song hits. "This Diamond Ring", written with Bob Brass and Al Kooper, was recorded by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and became a Number One gold record in America. With Brass alone, Levine composed a brace of successes for a brace of male vocalists: "I Must be Seeing Things" for Gene Pitney, and "Little Lonely One" for Tom Jones. (The latter number was recorded before, but released after Jones's first big hit, "It's Not Unusual".)

In 1968 Levine and Al Kooper wrote "I Can't Quit Her", a hit both for the Arbors and Blood, Sweat and Tears. The next year, with Phil Spector and Toni Wine, Levine provided Sonny Charles and the Checkmates with "Black Pearl", which reached the American Top Twenty. With Wine alone, he wrote "Your Husband - My Wife", for Brooklyn Bridge (1969).

In 1970, Tony Orlando, a recording company executive, was handed Levine and Wine's song "Candida". Orlando, a former singer whose career was in eclipse, liked the song enough to record it himself, forming Dawn with the top session singers Joyce Vincent and Telma Hopkins. Their single of "Candida" was an international million-seller, as was their recording of Levine and L. Russell Brown's "Knock Three Times", which remained in the American charts for 16 weeks (1970-71), staying at Number One for three weeks.

Levine and Brown provided the Partridge Family with the Top Ten hit "I Woke Up in Love This Morning" (1971), but their greatest-ever triumph was "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" two years later. It earned Tony Orlando and Dawn a No 1 gold record, and was recorded by hundreds of other artists. That same year, the Levine-Brown-Dawn team had another gold record with "(Say, Has Anybody Seen) My Sweet Gypsy Rose?", of which there were countless cover versions. On his television show, Dean Martin exploited his drunken image by singing "Hey, can everybody see my red tipsy nose?"

In 1974 Levine and Brown's "Steppin' Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)" was a Top Ten release for Orlando/Dawn. Although Levine's magic touch lasted only a decade, "Yellow Ribbon", according to the Guinness Book of Records, is next to the Beatles' "Yesterday" the most recorded popular song in history.

Dick Vosburgh

Irwin Jesse Levine, lyricist: born Newark, New Jersey 1938; married (one son, two daughters); died Livingston, New Jersey 21 January 1997.

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