Tony Orlando & Dawn

Dawn's New Ragtime Follies

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Two different LP covers were released for New Ragtime Follies, a truly interesting concept album from a borderline bubblegum group, one on slick cardboard and the other rough to the touch, no doubt a perk for landing the biggest song of the year when "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree" hit number one for seemingly forever. With music hailing back to the vaudeville era, producers Hank Medress (of the Tokens ) and Dave Appell (of the Applejacks and 1959's "Rocka-Conga" fame) had the right idea for the group, creating an album of show tunes from another time, with sheet music for each title gracing the back of the album jacket, a subtle hint at Tony Orlando's past life in the publishing world. Though the star is Orlando, "Daydream" gives Telma Hopkins a chance to shine, reinventing the John Sebastian classic from 1966. The instrumentation on that Lovin' Spoonful hit makes it feel like something the Andrews Sisters would have killed for. The album yielded three hits, the lighthearted ode to a woman who could've starred in David Rose's 1962 classic "The Stripper," "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose," the Top 30 "Who's in the Strawberry Patch With Sally," and the Top Ten "Steppin' Out (I'm Gonna Boogie Tonight)," all written by the Russell Brown/Irwin Levine team that generated "Knock Three Times." "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose" was a wonderfully classy follow-up to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," going Top Three just four months after the group's monster smash, the trio of hits from New Ragtime Follies stretching over a 14-month period in 1973-1974. This was how to build momentum, and New Ragtime Follies stands as arguably Dawn's most fully realized album project, giving Tony Orlando a platform that suited his showbiz voice so well. With Sandy Linzer working alongside Appell, the range of material is worthy of the cast of musicians, which includes session drummer Al Schwartzberg, who got to play on Jimi Hendrix albums after the guitar legend's passing. If anyone doubts the creativity and huge collection of talent that made up the Dawn phenomenon, this stylish and classy album is Exhibit A that this artist and crew had much more depth than what critics of the day may have thought. Sure, Tony Orlando & Dawn played to an audience that was the antithesis of those who were embracing Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, and David Bowie at this point in time, but that doesn't mean there wasn't something very special going on here. Historically speaking, New Ragtime Follies deserves attention for its ambitious and fully realized craftsmanship.

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