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'Knock Three Times' By Dawn: Lyrics And Strange Story Of The 1971 #1

Music | January 23, 2020

Tony Orlando and Dawn circa 1975. L-R: Telma Hopkins, Tony Orlando, Joyce Vincent Wilson. (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

"Knock Three Times" became a #1 hit in 1971 for Dawn, an act later known as Tony Orlando and Dawn -- even though the group didn't really exist and Tony Orlando was a freshly-minted alter ego. Nonetheless, the lyrics in this simple and somewhat corny plea to a lover to "knock three times on the ceiling if you want me" tugged at listeners' heart strings and kept them swaying to the mid-tempo beat. 

It wasn't just Americans who dug the tune -- "Knock Three Times" topped the pop charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, and made the Top 5 throughout Europe. The story of how Dawn came together to support the surprise hit shows what happens when the fickle finger of pop-music fate points at an act that doesn't yet have its act together.

'Knock Three Times' Wasn't Even Dawn's First Hit

Tony Orlando and Dawn, once they became official. Source: (MeTV)

There have been plenty of fake bands in pop history, for various reasons -- in the bubblegum era, for instance, The Archies had success with a few hits that were obviously not sung by actual cartoon characters. Hank Medress (a singer who became a producer) and Dave Appell produced “Candida” before Dawn actually existed as a group. However, Larry Uttell of Bell Records did not like the way the way the original singer, Frankie Paris, sounded on the track, and so Medress and Appell asked veteran singer Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis to record the song. There was a problem -- Cassavitis who was working for rival Columbia Records at the time, and did not want to be credited. Medress and Appell promised him that they would release it under the name of a band. Orlando sang with several backup singers and “Candida” was a hit for the fictional band, Dawn, which was named for the daughter of someone at Bell Records.

The Story Behind The Song

Source: (themorningcall)

After that first hit, L. Russell Brown was asked to write a song for Dawn as a follow-up. He sat down with his co-writer Irwin Levine to begin composing. Levine brought up a story from Brown’s childhood when he grew up in the projects. The building Brown grew up in had steam radiators to heat it and they only one phone in the building, so when it rang, they had to develop a system to communicate who the call was for. So they used the radiators for communication. If the call was for someone on the second floor, the person on the first who had answered the phone would hit the radiator twice to indicate this. Brown wrote a lyric about a man living one floor above a woman who hears the music and starts imagining everything. Brown then wrote the full song on the piano, using only three chords. They wanted the sound to be reminiscent of the “Up on the Roof” and to create the sound effects of the knocking in the chorus.

That's Not The Band On The Single Sleeve

Not quite Tony Orlando and Dawn. Source: (discogs)

Dawn's secret lineup for "Candida" consisted of by Tony Orlando (as Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis is now known), Jay Siegel of The Tokens, and Toni Wine, who had a solo hit in 1963 with "My Boyfriend's Coming Home For Christmas" and had actually been in The Archies. The crew for "Knock Three Times" was Orlando and Wine, plus Linda November, who would go on to be a hugely successful singer of commercial jingles.

When both "Candida" and "Knock Three Times" were released as singles, the sleeve art for the 45 rpm discs depicted four men in hip clothing, ostensibly the group Dawn. But those dudes weren't Dawn at all. They were just guys in a picture.

Dawn Finally Forms

The other 2/3 of Dawn, as we know it, dates to '60s Detroit, when Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent began singing together. The two of them worked as session singers and it is unclear how they got together with Tony Orlando -- he did not meet his backup singers until after “Knock Three Times” became a hit. The group formed to support "Candida" and "Knock Three Times" became Dawn featuring Tony Orlando and then Tony Orlando and Dawn.

The Lyrics Of 'Knock Three Times'

Scene from Then and Now. Source: (IMDB)

"Knock Three Times"

Hey girl what ya doin' down there
Dancin' alone every night while I live right above you
I can hear your music playin'
I can feel your body swayin'
One floor below me you don't even know me
I love you

Oh my darling
Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me
Twice on the pipe if the answer is no
Oh my sweetness
Means you'll meet me in the hallway
Twice on the pipe means you ain't gonna show

If you look out your window tonight
Pull in the string with the note that's attached to my heart
Read how many times I saw you
How in my silence I adored you
Only in my dreams did that wall between us come apart

Oh my darling
Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me
Twice on the pipe if the answer is no
Oh my sweetness
Means you'll meet me in the hallway
Twice on the pipe means you ain't gonna show

I can hear your music playin'
I can feel your body swayin'
One floor below me you don't even know me
I love you

Oh my darling
Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me
Twice on the pipe if the answer is no
Oh my sweetness
Means you'll meet me in the hallway
Twice on the pipe means you ain't gonna show

The song has also been featured in films, including Now and Then. It was covered by Billy Craddock in 1971 and became a number 3 country hit. It was also covered by Manny de Leon of the Philippines.

In Popular Culture

Larry Craig, the subject of a parody of the song. Source: (bustle)

"Knock Three Times" has been referenced in memes.  After the Larry Craig sex scandal, in which former senator Craig was arrested for allegedly soliciting sex by tapping his foot three times in an airport bathroom stall, the song was parodied as “Tap Three Times” by Paul and Storm as well as the Capitol Steps in 2007.

Tags: 1970s Music | A Brief History Of... | Dawn | Knock Three Times | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | Toni Wine | Tony Orlando | Tony Orlando And Dawn | Chart Topping Hits

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!