Sgt. Pepper - sort of.

by Susie Hodgson

It was fifty years ago today
That the Stricklands finally had their say

Okay, so I’m no John or Paul, but the sentiment is there! Fifty years ago, Mary Jane and Harry (“Bud”) Strickland started the Burbank Historical Society. Today we are proudly celebrating our fiftieth anniversary, and what better way to remember something than with music? They say that with a single tune, you can be zapped back into the year it came out, what you were wearing, who you were dating (or pining after) and what the closest flowers smelled like. The mention of flowers is a hint of what other sense evokes strong memories. But more on that later.

So let’s take a look back, fifty years ago, at the music of 1973. Bet you can still hum a lot of these... and remember what you were doing and who you were with!

The #1 best-selling song of 1973 was Tony Orlando and Dawn’s smash hit, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree.” The “tie a yellow ribbon” line referred to welcoming home men from prison or the military. The tune topped the charts in countries all over the world. Interestingly, the song was written for Ringo Starr, but his record label thought the song was garbage.

The song meant that if you wanted and welcomed the singer home, you’d tie a yellow ribbon around the oak tree that the singer would see in his bus ride home. If there was no yellow ribbon, while devastated, he’d somehow carry on. He even refused to look at the tree as they passed, asking the bus driver to look. When the driver did, there were 100 yellow ribbons ‘round the old oak tree. The entire bus burst into applause.

Many of us think that Tony Orlando came up with the yellow ribbon concept – but he didn’t. Nor did his songwriters, Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown. The idea is said to have originated in the 19th-century where women wore yellow ribbons in their hair welcoming their man home from the cavalry. There was even a 1949 John Wayne movie entitled She Wore a Yellow Ribbon meaning the same thing.

Number 2 with a bullet (I just wanted to say that) was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” You know – the baddest man in the whole d**n town? The story is about a seemingly rich man who felt he could get anything... until he messed around with a girl named Doris whose husband beat Leroy up but good.

The third best-selling single of 1973 is the haunting “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” Sung by Roberta Flack, it’s the story of unrequited love and how a mere song (by Don McLean, in this case) can move a person to depths unknown. It was written by the songwriting team of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, with help from the woman they wanted to sing the song – Lori Liebermann. Liebermann did in fact sing it in 1972, but it was Roberta Flack who made it a smash a year later. It should be noted that if you recognize the name Don McLean, it’s because he sang the mega-hit, “American Pie,” in 1971.

The fourth best-selling single was Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” a song whose meaning I don’t think I need to explain. Earlier in Gaye’s life, he was a famous Motown singer, often partnering with the young and beautiful Tammy Tyrrell. She died of brain cancer at the tender age of 24, breaking Marvin’s heart and spirit for years to come. Marvin would also die years later – shot by his own father.

Some people say that 1973 was The Best Year Ever for music. Here are some reasons why: Glam Rock came into being. (Who remembers Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”?) Elvis’s TV special, Aloha from Hawaii was broadcast worldwide. Why? Because his manager, The Colonel, was in the U.S. illegally and couldn’t get a passport. Pink Floyd released its huge hit album “Dark Side of the Moon,” which set an all-time top record at the time, staying on the charts for 741 weeks. (You read that right.)

Led Zeppelin held a concert in Florida that drew the biggest crowd ever, beating out even the Beatles. The Everly Brothers broke up, acrimoniously. Queen released their debut record. And tragically, Jim Croce died.

The movie, The Sting, came out, renewing America’s interest in Scott Joplin’s ragtime tunes. Elton John released “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The Eagles were still a new band as “Desperado” came out. So did “Jesus Christ Superstar” and the soundtrack from American Graffiti.

Other hitmakers included The Pointer Sisters, The Marshall Tucker Band, The Steve Miller Band, ZZ Top (remember “La Grange”?), Jethro Tull, Paul Simon, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Seals & Crofts and Barry Manilow.

So, the next time you’re humming a little Pink Floyd, gentlemen, slather on some English Leather. Ladies, don’t forget to spritz your Charlie cologne. The sense of smell also zaps you right back to a certain time and place. And it’s 1973!

Want to learn more about Burbank? Come visit us!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site:

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