107) Louis Armstrong – “Hello, Dolly!”

“While Broadway compositions tend to become more complex – like People in Funny Girl – the bulk of U.S. listeners seem to be resigned to, and even to prefer, the slap-bang rock-’n’-roll-style trash with which they are deluged.” –Tom Prideaux, Life magazine, Aug. 7, 1964

“It may dawn on you that Hello, Dolly! is a pretty dumb-dumb show, all in all.  But what were you expecting? A Hard Day’s Night?” –Judith Crist, New York magazine, Jan. 12, 1970

That The Beatles were to fall from the top of the Hot 100 was inevitable; that they were to be replaced by Louis Armstrong was surely a relief.  Who could begrudge the legendary trumpeter and vocalist, the man who epitomized jazz, scoring his first number-one after recording for nearly half a century? With “Hello, Dolly!,” Armstrong became the oldest musician to top the Hot 100 (at 64), won his only competitive Grammy and garnered the best sales of his career. The record sparked a revival of interest in Armstrong, ultimately leading to a recognition of his place in the popular music canon.  So it’s only fitting that The Beatles were succeeded by one of the few musicians whose impact on the Twentieth century matched their own.

Also fitting: “Can’t Buy Me Love” being replaced at #1 by another ersatz jazz number.  Whereas The Beatles blended their swing influences with rock and roll, creating an exciting but familiar sound in the process, “Hello Dolly!” is markedly less adventurous, all showtune despite its dixieland brass.  After 14 weeks of The Beatles, conventional pop listeners were ready to take back the charts.  The record is all nostalgia: for the eponymous musical’s turn-of-the-century setting, for the dixieland rendered obsolete by experimental jazz (and rock), and for Armstrong’s long career as the good-time ambassador of American popular song.  Never mind that the song itself is slight and was neither written nor recorded with the intention of becoming a hit.  Hello, Dolly! composer Jerry Herman had intended “It Only Takes a Moment” to be the musical’s break-out number; Armstrong, who recorded the tune at his manager’s request, forgot “Hello, Dolly!” existed until concert audiences began requesting it.  Despite his status as a hired gun, though, there isn’t a moment on the record where Armstrong doesn’t sound completely invested, as if “Hello, Dolly!” were the equal of “Basin Street Blues” or “St. James Infirmary.”  It’s his enthusiasm and charm (“Hello, Dolly/This is Louis, Dolly”) that imbues the song with a level of likeability it probably doesn’t deserve.  After the dizzying highs of The Beatles, a showtune at#1 could have been a crash back to earth.  Instead, “Hello, Dolly!” is a small victory for a legend – one who helped make rock and roll possible. 6

Hit #1 on May 9, 1964; total of 1 week at #1
107 of 982 #1’s reviewed;10.90% through the Hot 100



Filed under 06, 1964

2 responses to “107) Louis Armstrong – “Hello, Dolly!”

  1. James K.

    “In May 1964 this New Orleans native was 62 years old when he bumped the Beatles’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ from the No. 1 spot” was today’s Final Jeopardy question (or rather answer).

  2. James K.

    Little did I know…

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