Detail from the cover of “Dawn’s New Ragtime Follies” (1973)

How many times have I prefaced one of these features by apologizing? I am a Rod Stewart fan, but “Hot Legs” sucks. I love Bob Seger, but I hate “We’ve Got Tonight.” That’s the thing about the World’s Worst Songs. Often, they’re made by talented people. Very few get a lifetime achievement award from this august body of one.

Not even Tony Orlando and Dawn.

Dawn’s early hits, “Candida” and “Knock Three Times” and others they charted in 1971, are superb examples of late-period Brill Building New York pop. But Dawn’s music shifted on its axis thanks to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” It would become one of the most grossly overexposed records in the history of Top 40 radio, but in 1973 it was #1 for a month, justifiably. What came next was not a return to solid, simple, straightforward pop songs. Dawn’s next two singles were gimmicky attempts to reprocess the “Yellow Ribbon” vibe that were painful at the time and utterly unlistenable now.

We should have seen it coming when Dawn’s new album was titled Dawn’s New Ragtime Follies. Although Allmusic.com gives it an extremely positive review, the throwback feel of it did not yield music that sounded especially good on Top 40 radio. Nevertheless, “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” went all the way to #3 that summer; “Who’s in the Strawberry Patch With Sally” sneaked into the top 30 at the end of the year. Both are as subtle as a pie in the face followed by a spritz from a seltzer bottle. The first few dozen times you heard “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” you could at least feel some empathy for the guy on the bus. Both “Sweet Gypsy Rose” and “Strawberry Patch” are performed in such hammy vaudeville fashion that it’s impossible to care about the protagonist in either one. The arrangements are stuffed with cheesy effects—everything but slide whistles and rimshots. The net effect of both is to make you want to pull your arm off and use it to beat yourself to death.

Dawn’s 1973 success paved the way for a TV variety show, which went on the air in the summer of 1974. Despite their TV stardom, they never returned to their earlier levels of chart success, although they would score one more #1 single with “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” in 1975. (It works partly because Orlando doesn’t overact like Fozzie Bear.) Their TV show went off the air at the end of 1976 and Dawn broke up not long after. Their legacy includes some great pop singles—and two awful ones. They’re not alone in that.

Here’s a restrained live performance of “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose.”

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