I noted the other day that when Louis Armstrong performed at St. Cloud State in 1966 and played “Hello, Dolly,” that was almost certainly the first time I’d heard a live performance of a No. 1 record (by the original performer, that is). And I wondered how many of those moments there have been in my life.
That called for an hour or so spent paging through Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, which I accomplished this morning. It turns out that I’ve heard twenty tunes performed by the original artists that have hit No. 1, which seems not a bad total for someone who’s never spent a lot of time going to concerts or clubs.
Two of the No. 1 records have come my way live more than once. I heard Don McLean perform “American Pie” at St. Cloud State in February 1986 and then again in August 1990 in Columbia, Missouri. But that’s topped by Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles,” which I’ve heard live three times: In the spring of 1973 at St. Cloud State’s Selke Field; when Preston opened for the Rolling Stones in Århus, Denmark, in October 1973; and when he played with Ringo Starr’s first All Starr Band in St. Paul in July 1989.
I also heard two other No. 1 tunes on that 1989 evening in St. Paul: Ringo’s “Photograph” and “She’s Sixteen,” but even that great night is eclipsed by the October 1973 evening when I heard Preston’s hit and then took in three No. 1 hits by the Rolling Stones: “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Angie.”
Going back further in time, there was one other night when I heard three No. 1 tunes from the original performers: In October 1970, the Rascals played St. Cloud State and did “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’,” and “People Got To Be Free.” It’s a concert I tend to forget because my memories of the evening are tinged with some melancholy: My hopes of taking a certain young lady to the show evaporated very late in the day. With an extra ticket in hand, I gave Rick a call, and he was more than happy to see the show, but even with his good company, I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I had anticipated.
I’ve been at a few other shows over the years during which I heard two performances of No. 1 hits: The Association did “Windy” and “Cherish” at a St. Cloud State show in early 1970; Glenn Campbell sang both “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights” at a show in St. Cloud in 2011; and Paul McCartney performed “My Love” and “Band On The Run” when the Texas Gal and I saw him in St. Paul in September 2002.
Those last two, of course, were initially credited to Paul McCartney & Wings, but despite the absence of the Wings folks during that St. Paul performance, I think I can reasonably put the two songs on this list because no matter who the other members of Wings were over the years, McCartney was the main driving force. That wasn’t the case with the Beatles, of course, which is why I don’t include the bonanza of mostly McCartney-penned Beatles’ No. 1 hits that made up a good chunk of that evening in St. Paul: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Yesterday,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” and “The Long & Winding Road.” (Along the way that evening, McCartney performed the George Harrison-penned “Something,” another No. 1 hit, as a tribute to his late bandmate.)
That leaves just three other performances for this list: “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” by the 5th Dimension during an October 1969 concert at St. Cloud State, “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond at the Minnesota State Fair in September 1971, and the performance that sparked this post, ‘Hello, Dolly” by Louis Armstrong in January 1966 at St. Cloud State.
And to close, here’s a live performance of “Photograph” by Ringo’s first All Star Band at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 1989. This sounds a lot like it sounded in St. Paul earlier that summer. (Members of that band were: Jim Keltner and Levon Helm on drums, Rick Danko on bass, Joe Walsh and Nils Lofgren on guitars, Dr. John on piano, Billy Preston on keyboards, and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. As Ringo says in the video, his son Zak Starkey sat in.)