Nov 06

TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN – “Knock Three Times”

FT + Popular36 comments • 8,395 views

#300, 15th May 1971

Cursory research on this led me to surprise and disappointment. Surprise – mild surprise – that Tony Orlando was American, as this seems to fit right in with same-era UK pop like “Yellow River” and “Love Grows”. And disappointment, having only really taken the chorus in before, that Tony lives above the girl.

Why does that make a difference? Well, I’d assumed he lived below, and so it was his ceiling she was knocking on. Which would have made her ‘knocks’ entirely involuntarily – just walking across the floor might have been enough. (I’m assuming she has a hardwood floor, OK?) Which would have made Tony O a creepy stalker rather than just a lovelorn sap. Which would have made for a somewhat more interesting song.

I’m clutching at straws, because there’s not a lot that’s exciting about “Knock Three Times”. The castanets and faint latinisms of the arrangement are nice, and of course it’s a catchy song, but Orlando oversings it, and his florid smarminess kills off any sympathy I’d feel for his character in the song, too.




  1. 1
    Lena on 21 Nov 2006 #

    I just looked at what was on the charts in general around this time and almost everything in the top 10 while this was #1 is better, including the Rolling Stones and Ringo Starr, at least from the ones I know. I cannot account for the popularity of this at all, I very much doubt if the people who bought the previous single bought this one…

    …and yes I did watch their tv show and I’ve never understood this song – if he wants her, why can’t he just say hi or something? Do they all live in a prison?

  2. 2
    Doctor Mod on 21 Nov 2006 #

    Lena’s right–it’s people in prison who communicate by tapping in code on the pipes. Whenever I’ve “knocked three times on the ceiling” while living in an apartment, it’s been to warn my neighbors to stop making so much bloody noise! (Hey, Tony–maybe she wants you to shut the f*** up!) And if they can’t/don’t/won’t talk to each other, how is anyone going to know what all the tapping and knocking is about anyway?

    Unrequited love can make a fool of anyone, but this is incredible foolishness–and indeed it borders on obsessive stalking, even though it’s probably more a case of pathological shyness and lack of proper socialization. It’s hard to calI it romantic. I suppose it must have been all the lurkers out there who identified with this one.

    You won’t get her knockin’ and a-tappin’, wishin’ and a-hopin’. (But you might just get the police paying you a call for your suspicious behaviour.)

    I’ve never really understood the early seventies fuss over TO and Dawn (ok, Dawn weren’t bad but there talents could have been better used). As to the television show, this was the dawning (pun intended) of the cheesy pop star comedy/variety hour, which reached its nadir with the Sonny and Cher show, in which even a spectacularly awful divorce could be performed before a laughing studio (and home) audience.

    If I’ve become a sporadic contributor as of late, it’s simply because we’re entering a period in which I gradually lost interest in pop music, nearly altogether. Yes, in the seventies, Doctor Mod attempted to become an opera singer! I’m glad punk came along at the end of the decade–I think it saved popular music before this sort of thing could finish it off.

  3. 3
    Doctor Mod on 21 Nov 2006 #

    Second thought–maybe they ARE in prison after all . . .

    The subsequent (and wretched) “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” was about getting out of prison. (Even if Americans seem to think it’s about coming home after going off to wars started by the two Georges and thus put them all over the place and not just on trees.)

  4. 4
    Marcello Carlin on 21 Nov 2006 #

    The bastards kept “Brown Sugar” off the top! A great big zero.

  5. 5
    Alan on 21 Nov 2006 #

    This must have been simply huge just measuring the impact in terms of skits and parodies thereof. i’m sure the barron knights had a go. i was not even 2 when this was number one but i know the tune rly well. it’s the audience participation opportunites that meant all the light entertainment and working club singers had a definite sing-a-long on their hands.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 21 Nov 2006 #

    Don’t recall too many skits, parodies and TV light entertainment cover versions of this at the time. “Tie A Yellow Ribbon,” however, had all three in abundance.

  7. 7
    Kat on 21 Nov 2006 #

    Best Vic Reeves club singer song ever.

  8. 8
    Brian in Canada on 21 Nov 2006 #

    I’m kinda with Doc Mod , in that I am way out of it with the last dozen Number 1’s. I recognize maybe 30% of them and there are a few I haven’t heard.

    Not sure what I was doing ( well I do , know but hate to admit it & yes, the soundtrack was ” Sticky Fingers”) but I checked local radio charts for this time and I was equally out of the loop with AM radio in North America.

    Just to add to the ” Knock Three Time” mystique and it popularity there was also a ” line ” dance that was part of this numbers popularity. Not unlike ” Achy Breaky Heart”, I am sure this song probably crossed over in North America and went big in the country charts , and finding it’s way into honky tonk history.

  9. 9
    wwolfe on 21 Nov 2006 #

    The one touch of historical semi-interest about this record is that it almost certainly represented the last gasp of Italian pop, a la the Crests/Brooklyn Bridge/Jay & the Americans. This had been a fairly vital commercial sub-genre in America during the post-Elvis-in-the Army/pre-Beatles era from 1960-to ’64, with diminsihing returns thereafter. “Knock” fits in most comfortably in this neighborhood. (Although, ironically or not, the two women who were Dawn wouldn’t have been allowed to live in that neighborhood, thanks to the restrictive housing laws still in effect during that earlier period.) Orlando himself got his start in this musical style, with the Goffin/King semi-hit, “Halfway to Paradise” in the early ’60s – later re-made to much better effect by Nick Lowe.

    A better example of this style from Orlando was the previous hit, “Candida,” which added a welcome touch of class struggle in its lyrics, courtesy of Toni Wine (who also functioned as “Dawn” in the studio for that recording). She turned up here not so long ago as the female half of the Archies. That record was still diminished by Tony’s unerring gift for being a total dipshit.

  10. 10
    Daniel_Rf on 22 Nov 2006 #

    “the last gasp of Italian pop, a la the Crests/Brooklyn Bridge/Jay & the Americans.” – how do Dion & The Belmonts fit in with this?

    It’s sort of interesting seeing so many of the regular comment-givers going “I lost interest at this point”. I wonder if conversley we’ll soon be getting new folks attracted by T-Rex and Slade googling staying around here for the fun.

  11. 11
    scott on 22 Nov 2006 #

    This is, I think, the first pop song I truly despised at the time, most likely because both my parents completely loved it, it was total squaresville as far as the kids in my family were concerned, and even a family in-joke of sorts (though I think I was familiar with it somewhat later than 1971, at which point I was too young to hold such opinions). As such, it was obligatory for what seemed like years at weddings and other family-type or church-type gatherings. Don’t specifically recall a *line dance* per se but it’s definitely possible; the only specific action I can think of was the motion of everyone on the dance floor (duh) knocking three times in unison to the chorus (which took even less co-ordination than spelling out Y-M-C-A several yrs later).

    Years later, I came across (and agreed with) Chuck Eddy’s description of it in his 2nd book as a precursor to Santa Esmeralda, and that opened the song up for me a little, plus I actually turned into one of those cheesy wedding djs who virtually lives and dies by all-ages crowd pleasers, so I imagine if I had been 20 years older (and a DJ) in the early seventies it would’ve felt like a lifesaver. (Plus the idea of my parents out there on a dancefloor dancing to maraca-inflected pop makes me not just a little wistful 30 + years later.) I’d probably grade it a 6 myself, but I agree with wwolfe that “Candida” is the better record, maybe because its hook is less obvious?

  12. 12
    Erithian on 22 Nov 2006 #

    And it’s the 300th Number 1 – yay! Loved the discussion about Tony and his downstairs neighbour, before we went off-topic and started talking about music.

    I didn’t realise Dawn had a TV show, but I have to disagree with Doc Mod and express a certain nostalgia for cheesy pop star TV vehicles – in the UK we had Lulu, Cilla and of course Cliff (probably a few others I’ve forgotten) which strike me in childhood memory as having been altogether less cynical than current Saturday night TV fodder. (And occasionally surreal – remember Cilla’s duet with Bolan on “Life’s A Gas”?)

    Speaking of Dawn, can anyone explain an odd clip I saw on a Channel 4 lists show a while back? – they’re just finishing “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” when Tony Orlando spots a figure in full Ziggy Stardust regalia in the audience. “Is that really you?” he asks, before exclaiming, “Ladies and gentlemen, DAVID BOWIE!!”

  13. 13
    Lena on 22 Nov 2006 #

    I can’t explain why Bowie would be in the audience except that he was spending a lot of time in Los Angeles at this time (hanging out with Iggy Pop, IIRC) and, oh, maybe they were on the same label or something? I don’t know…

  14. 14

    hendrix played on the lulu show!

    (whence meltzer’s and kogan’s — and probbly xhuxk eddy’s — concept of the FREE LUNCH — the aesthetic ambush you had no reason to expect) (kogan’s context for this being the related fact that where such surprise is absent, where the alleged radicalism of [whatever] is routinised, then its effect is often diminished and sometimes merely assumed) (ie by virtue of being deliveredin the context of the avant garde, something may be assumed to be much more darin than it actually is content-wise)

    er anyway

  15. 15
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Can’t join in with Erithian’s salute to the terrible spectre of early ’70s BBC light entertainment music TV.

    Particularly in terms of Cilla and Lulu, this generally consisted of the hapless “stars” having to sing hoary old show tunes while being untidily thrown around the stage by the Young Generation and then expected to appear in “hilarious” comedy sketches with Frankie Howerd. Even Cliff did the “comedy” stuff.

    The alternatives were Val Doonican in his worthy rocking chair and, lest we ever forget, the highest-rated of all these programmes, The Black And White Minstrel Show.

  16. 16
    Erithian on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Lena – but attending a DAWN gig in full Ziggy costume? From the clip it didn’t look like Bowie himself, so who? and why??? Has anyone else seen this?!

  17. 17
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Perhaps it was the American equivalent of Ronnie Barker dressing up as Gary Glitter on The Two Ronnies?

  18. 18
    wwolfe on 22 Nov 2006 #

    To Daniel, re: Dion & the Belmonts

    I’d say that they were much more at home with real R&B than any of the Italian Pop performers would ahve been. The latter wanted to end up as mini-Sinatras, singing “Fly Me to the Moon” at a casino somewhere; Dion never really had that dream (although his managers saddled him with some of that type of material in his early ’60s heyday). Jay Black or Johnny Maestro could never have even imagined, much less wanted, to give the performance Dion gave in “Dady Rollin’ (In Your Arms),” to pick an obvious example. That’s my take on it, at least.

  19. 19
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Nov 2006 #

    Not strictly correct: please qv. Johnny Maestro’s amazing “I’m Stepping Out Of The Picture.”

  20. 20
    Erithian on 24 Nov 2006 #

    Number 2 Watch: as well as “Brown Sugar”, Dawn held off R Dean Taylor’s “Indiana Wants Me”.

  21. 21
    Dadaismus on 24 Nov 2006 #

    … which is even more scandalous than keeping “Brown Sugar” off the No. 1 spot

  22. 22
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Nov 2006 #


  23. 23
    Mark Grout on 27 Nov 2006 #

    The ‘comedy’ variety shows, I loved them as a kid.

    Way better than the “Shirl Bass” shows that had only songs and no comedy and were very painful to me.

  24. 24
    Mat Judge on 11 Dec 2006 #

    Yes, it really is Bowie in the audience. Initially, Tony Orlando notices the ‘Pirate’ sitting near the front at the begining of the song, but as the camera pans out, & Tony hits the line ‘…..what do I see’, he pauses, leans towards the third row and asks the Pirate, ‘Is it you, is it really you..??’, to which the pirate replies with a nod. Tony then informs the crowd…’Ladies & gentlemen, David Bowie (Which he actually pronounces *’Booie’, but corrects himself). Without having to look too closely, you can also see the then Mrs Bowie, Angie, sat right next to her man, grinning broadly!! I own a copy of the clip, as a serious collector, & will welcome enquiries on footage concerning the great man himself. matjohnjudge@btinternet.com.

    *Bowie was originally pronounced ‘Booie’, as Tony Orlando pointed out. The name was taken from that of Jim Bowie, who David Bowie believed to have invented the knife of the same name. It was actually invented by his brother Rezin (Feel free to check!) Hope this helps :)

  25. 25
    Mat Judge on 11 Dec 2006 #


    There’s a YouTube link to prove it :))

    Have fun my Bowie chums, Mat :))

  26. 26
    intothefireuk on 12 Dec 2006 #

    Did Bowie think he wouldn’t be recognized ? What was he thinking ?

  27. 27
    Waldo on 5 Oct 2009 #

    Tony, the nuisance neighbour, would be looking at a visit from Inspector Knacker if he pulled a stunt like this today. “Hey, girl, what you doing down there?” What’s it got to do with you, you tosser!True, Orlando does offer the girl a get-out clause with “twice on the pipe” but that’s not the issue as pound to a penny this lovesick idiot, like the EU on the Lisbon treaty, would not be prepared to take no for an answer anyway. There are all sorts of danger alarms ringing here. This is clearly an extreme case of a bloke not getting out enough and singing a merry little song about it was just wrong.

  28. 28
    Lena on 18 Jun 2012 #

    Can’t you hear them knockin’?: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/songs-of-south-rolling-stones-brown.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  29. 29
    Lena on 21 Jun 2012 #

    Sirens, gunshots, death: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/popcorn-double-feature-r-dean-taylor.html Muchas gracias for reading, everybody!

  30. 30
    weej on 4 Aug 2014 #

    Tony Orlando & Dawn (though not with this track) feature on this analysis of the most obscure hit singles – http://www.verysmallarray.com/?p=1752

  31. 31
    wichitalineman on 4 Aug 2014 #

    Oooooh, I like that. Interesting how there are TWO P Diddy entries in there! I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Neil Sedaka’s Bad Blood, a 1975 US #1 that did nought in Britain. The Dawn entry likewise did nothing here – He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You) was a weedy cover Jerry Butler’s He Will Break Your Heart with a different, clunkier title. I’m mystified as to how it got to #1 in America. TV tie-in or something?

  32. 32
    Mark G on 4 Aug 2014 #

    Yeah, “Bad Blood”, sort of call-and-response thing, with 10cc producing, wasn’t it?

  33. 33
    teddyb on 5 Aug 2014 #

    (First time poster–wish I discovered this blog five years ago!)

    31: Yes, they had a weekly TV show on the premier American TV network at the time, CBS. A year later (Wiki says ’75, but I distinctly remember it being early ’76), they remade Sam Cooke’s “Cupid”, their last Top 40 hit.

    ( Love the book, by the way–just bought the UK edition; the American one looked all chopped up.)

    32: Don’t remember who produced it, but it was released on Elton John’s Rocket imprint (through MCA) here in the USA, and that’s Elton on the record with him.

    And yes, I am fairly certain I had both 45’s. The Sex Pistols were a long two years away…

  34. 34
    lonepilgrim on 23 Jul 2018 #

    I have to say that I kinda liked this as a kid – the corny narrative and strong melody made it memorable and fun to sing along to. I still have some residual affection for the song although it is pretty poor

  35. 35
    chrisew71 on 19 Dec 2018 #

    Here in the US, Orlando managed to parlay this into a variety show. It probably only lasted a year or two, but as a kid, I felt like television was dominated by him and Donny & Marie Osmond.

  36. 36
    Gareth Parker on 27 May 2021 #

    Fairly routine stuff in my opinion. I agree with Tom’s 4/10 here.

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