The local oldies station played a string of seventies flashbacks, and one in particular caused me to revisit the lyrics. It was Tie a Yellow Ribbon by Tony Orlando and Dawn, the tune that went on to be selected as the number one hit of 1973.
The story that builds to the applause-inducing last verse centers on a guy riding on a bus, intending to see if his girl still wants him. If she does, she is to tie a ribbon on an oak tree in the front yard. When the bus reaches the house all of the passengers begin to cheer, making for a sweet story-book ending.
What puzzled me about the song the other day, something I had not even considered as a child when it was constantly on the radio, was the reason for his absence. He admits to having been in prison for “three long years,” which makes me wonder why everybody on the bus is rooting so enthusiastically for a guy an ex-con they have never really met.
Given that it was a three year sentence, his crime was likely drug possession, theft, forgery or fraud. Each one of those illegal activities has an average sentence of three years.
The subject in the song, regardless of the crime he committed, obviously received a warm welcome when he reached home. Not all ex-cons are quite that fortunate, even ones who are featured in other songs.
Here are six other popular songs who feature characters that have recently left incarceration.
Vinnie is Charles Is Free by John Gorka
Still swearing that he the stuff was not his, the title character here goes home to find that his friends and family are throwing him a party.
Branded Man by Merle Haggard
The ex-con here returns to civilian life only to be treated with scorn and mistrust, the very opposite of the reception enjoyed in the hit by Tony Orlando.
I’m Just Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail by the Everly Brothers
One of the rare tunes on which a female is the prisoner, this folk rock hit offered a different side of the most famous pair of musical brothers.
Tom Joad by Woody Guthrie
Many folks associate this Steinbeck character from The Grapes of Wrath with actor Henry Fonda, who portrayed him in the classic film version. The song is a catchy but abbreviated account of the hardship Joad and his family face after his release from the penitentiary.
Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie
Woody’s son can be heard reciting this epic musical narrative every Thanksgiving, the holiday on which his character gets released after a brief jail stint for littering.
On Parole by Motörhead
As the title of this hard rock tune indicates, the subject here is out of jail but risks a return there if he veers from his best behavior.