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

By | January 22, 2020

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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

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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.