One of the biggest pop hits of 1973 — and a song that has continued to inspire people all over the world since then — was written by a pair of Newark natives, L. Russell Brown and Irwin Levine.
Brown and Levine, who were introduced to each other by legendary New Jersey talent scout Walt Gollender, wrote the song after Brown read a piece in Reader’s Digest (reprinted from the New York Post) in which writer Pete Hamill retold a story he had heard in Greenwich Village about a prisoner returning home after doing his time. In the story, it was a handkerchief, not a ribbon, that was tied around the tree to signal the ex-con that he was welcome back home.
Brown has said that the song was originally pitched to Ringo Starr’s representatives, but that they declined it. Oh well.
Levine (who died in Livingston in 1997 at the age of 58) and Brown co-wrote many other hits as well, including Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Knock Three Times” and The Partridge Family’s “I Woke Up in Love This Morning.” They had successes apart from each other as well. Brown, for instance, co-wrote the Four Seasons hit, “C’mon Marianne,” and Brown co-wrote “This Diamond Ring” for Gary Lewis & the Playboys.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.