Formed in Los Angeles in late 1967 with Irish-American singer Hutton, New Yorker Cory Wells and fellow Manhattan resident Chuck Negron all bossing the microphones; the fellows had a shared love for psychedelic pop and rock and roll laced with doo-wop. Students of close harmony they soon realised they had a natural empathy and matched their gift to a group comprising Jimmy Greenspoon on keyboards, bassist Joe Schermie, Californian guitarist Mike Allsup and experienced Canadian drummer Floyd Sneed. Taking their name, allegedly, from the outback practise of sleeping with dingoes – a three dog night meant it was a cold one - Hutton and co made their earliest forays into the studio with Brian Wilson, of The Beach Boys, under the name Redwood.
Playing round the LA locale, including dates at the Troubadour, brought notice of their somewhat left-field character – they were major players in hippy circles but also had a different view of what it took to be a professional outfit. The Dunhill label snapped them up and stuck them in a studio to make the debut, self-titled, also known as One on account of it containing their first hit, a cover of the Harry Nilsson song from his very recent Aerial Ballet that they took to the #5 spot, and backed with an audacious take on The Band’s “Chest Fever”. Using noted producer Gabriel Mekler (a Dunhill stalwart thanks to his work with Steppenwolf), Three Dog Night evinced a new allure as they interpreted songs by Neil Young (“the Loner”), Traffic (“Heaven Is In Your Mind”), The Beatles’ obscure gift to Cilla Black “It’s For You” and even the standard “Try a Little Tenderness”. But there were other delights: a cool version of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises”, a gaze into the world of their moody pal Danny Whitten’s “Let Me Go” and an astute reading of Randy Newman’s “Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” - all proved them to be men of taste. Five decades on this opening salvo still sounds classic.
Suitable for Framing and the album captured Live at the Forum (both 1969) continued to embrace the eclectic approach, adding Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Calling”, the Hair musical hit “Easy to be Hard” and Dave Mason’s ever-popular “Feelin’ Alright” into the Night set.
1970’s It Aint Easy is a bit further out since it contains the brilliant Ron Davies song of the title. It is quite likely that David Bowie was struck by TDN’s discovery of this grooved up rocker because he would soon include it as the only non-original song on the legendary Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars album. Elsewhere, attention was given to the work of Elton John and Bernie Taupin – this before Sir Elton was a major international star – likewise Free, and Newman again. Their version of “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” soared to the top of the US charts and hit #3 in the UK where they were about to tour. The Randy gem was teamed with one of their rare self-penned compositions, “Rock and Roll Widow”.
Evidently enjoying the moment the next 1970 disc is Naturally. This includes the next #1 hit, “Joy to the World”, plus another Free cover, the unusual “I’ll Be Creeping”, some Traffic, some Spooky Tooth and a dash of Jesse Colin Young, as well as an astute ‘discovery’ of ex-Argent and soon to be superstar in demand, songwriter Russ Ballard’s “Liar”.
This uncanny Midas touch didn’t dissipate on 1971’s Harmony. With regular producer Richard Podolor keeping the sound clean and pre-FM AOR radio era friendly (a genre Three Dog Night helped invent) more hits arrived via “An Old Fashioned Love Song” and Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been to Spain”: yet again their ear for the finer song gives us covers of Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright, Moby Grape and Joni Mitchell. One has to credit them maximum points for uncovering real gems.
1972’s Seven Separate Fools contains more Ballard and Newman goodies and Allen Toussaint’s sublime “Freedom for the Stallion” while 1973’s Around the World with Three Dog Night finds the group at their peak as a live draw.
A more progressive atmosphere surrounds Cyan and Hard Labor, though the latter still introduces many to the delights of John Hiatt (“Sure as I’m Sittin’ Here”) and some more Toussaint – “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”, soon to be picked up by Hutton’s friend Lowell George for inclusion in Little Feat sets of the era. Hutton is mentioned in liner-note dispatches on Lowell’s magnificent solo album from 1979, Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here, as are band members Greenspoon and Sneed. All these characters enjoyed the Californian high life.
Ever prolific Three Dog Night were bang on the money again during Coming Down Your Way: more Newman for the aficionados emerges in their classic take of “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, and another obscure Toussaint song, “Mind over Matter”.
Three Dog Night compilations and anthologies to consider are the surprisingly far ranging Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, 1965-1975. This features their early and hitherto unreleased version of Brian Wilson’s “Time to Get Alone”, which is brilliant, a nice rarity indeed, and a closely tracked demo take on the Rascals “If You Knew” with the rest of this double set covering all the obvious bases.
We also have Golden Bisquits, Joy to the World and the ever-reliable 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Three Dog Night to tempt you and test the waters.
Something of a phenomenon in their heyday, Hutton, Wells and Negron have fallen between the margins of late but that’s even more reason to investigate their singular attractions now. Great sounds from a golden era.
Words: Max Bell
Oldies but goodies; a well tried and tested cliché that works extremely well here. I was looking for Joy To The World and found this album. Well what was I gonna do? Couldn't say no, now could I! If you haven't heard Shambala, it's well worth a listen, and included here. Hearing these guys again, they actually remind me of a band who used to play the holiday camps. It's so many aeons ago since I went there, I can't remember the name of the place, now. Must have been a Butlins camp somewhere. Anyway, that group called themselves The Jets. If I'm reminded of them listening to TDN, then they must have touched a musical nerve themselves somewhere.
This album, while not their most successful, is one of Three Dog Night's most interesting. Cut during a period when they were still very hot but were almost on the downside of their career, this album has a very strong gospel feeling to it. This is most evident on the hit single "Shambala," one of the group's finest later period records. It's a masterful record that shows the factors that made the group successful -- the counterpoint vocals of Wells, Negron, and Hutton surrounded by a very heavy hard rock backing. Guitarist Mike Allsup contributes a few good originals, too. The closing track, "Into My Life," continues the gospel feeling of the record and ends it on a high note. It's nice to know that with all of the debauchery and drugs, Three Dog Night still had their spiritual priorities in some order.
Words: Matthew Greenwald
After six studio albums, beginning in 1969, a single "in concert" disc Captured Live at the Forum, from Los Angeles, September 12, 1969, and the first of many "greatest hits" packages (Golden Biscuits), came the superstar band's ninth album, the double-disc live album from 1973, Around the World With Three Dog Night. Recorded on the tour that supported the 1972 Seven Separate Fools LP, the record label this time gives no indication of the place or date of recording (more cryptic than 1972's Steppenwolf Live), though that album at least informed the listener it was "recorded live at various concerts during early 1970." Around the World With Three Dog Night has most of the major classics in the band's life before the release of "Shambala," "The Show Must Go On," and the group's other four final hit recordings. This is the same crew that created Captured Live at the Forum -- the same band lineup, Bill Cooper still engineering, Richard Podolor producing, even photographer Ed Caraeff's work continuing to grace the cover and gatefold. The recording is much clearer than Captured Live at the Forum, and the band is totally on. The Laura Nyro tune "Eli's Coming" is the only duplicate from the previous live LP, and along with the majority of their hits not included on the Forum live album, there's the Ted Myers/Jaiananda song "Going in Circles" from the 1972 film X, Y and Zee, as well as "Midnight Runaway," "Good Feelin' 1957," a Floyd Sneed drum solo, keyboard riffing from Jimmy Greenspoon, and the concluding number written by all seven members of the group, "Jam," which rocks, but is an odd way to end a very good LP from an important Top 40 group. By this time, Three Dog Night had become superstars, and the slick recording and performance reflects that, making the previous disc almost underground by comparison. Gabriel Mekler's production of Steppenwolf Live and Jack Richardson's brilliant presentation of The Guess Who Live at the Paramount were classic "peer" albums from this time period to go along with this effort from producer Richard Podolor. Not the definitive live disc from this group, the sublime "Celebrate" is strangely missing, it does contain 11 of their hit songs and six additional tracks. Would be nice to see it expanded to a double CD with more material and maybe some credits as to where it was recorded. There are some great photos of all of the bandmembers inside, and it does remain a snapshot of this vital hit group before they went in different directions.
Words: Joe Viglione
Three Dog Night garnered three hits off of their 1974 release, Hard Labor, with material from John Hiatt, Allen Toussaint, and David Courtney/Leo Sayer. This time around they obtain their 21st and final Top 40 entry with a Dave Loggins song, "'Till the World Ends," and it is no "Pieces of April," the lovely composition from the same songwriter which landed in the Top 20 for the group two-and-a-half-years earlier. The problem with the song is the same dilemma faced by the album, Coming Down Your Way, the band seeking another genre to conquer while keeping their eye off of the precise and major Top 40 activity which was their bread and butter. Keyboard player for the Blues Image, Frank "Skip" Konte, joins Jimmy Greenspoon on the ivories with the Monkees/Barry Manilow bassist Dennis Belfield onboard as well. Their addition makes for a very musical album with Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron emulating the Band and some kind of pseudo-slickGrateful Dead rather than sticking with the formula which made them so very successful. Jimmy Ienner's production doesn't have the sparkle it did four months earlier on Grand Funk Railroad's "Bad Time," a heavy metal band sounding more like Three Dog Night than Three Dog Night. Tracked at Colorado's famed Caribou Ranch, the disc also fails to come up with something as extraordinary as Elton John's "Island Girl," a song manufactured in the same recording facility and hitting number one two months after " 'Till the World Ends" brought the group's six-and-a-half-year chart run to a close. Jack Lynton's "Coming Down Your Way" is a reflection of Leo Sayer's "The Show Must Go On" and the closest thing to familiar Dog Night as this disc gets. Jeff Barry's "When It's Over" puts it all into perspective, Negron phrasing the lament which states the obvious for the once magnificent radio-friendly pop production machine. A frustrating outing because all involved were certainly proficient enough to come up with something more substantial than these ten performances which play like unfinished outtakes. Associate Producer on this effort, Bob Monaco, would take the remnants of the group down a disco path with the 1976 release, American Pastime, effectively closing the door and pointing the band toward their next phase -- that of an oldies act.
Words: Joe Viglione
Bob Monaco, who did some limited production work on the group's previous release -- the Jimmy Ienner supervised Coming Down Your Way -- takes over the production reigns totally here on a more cohesive but still undefined version of the Three Dog Night. Danny Hutton seems to be missing in action -- and not in the band spin-off S.S.Fools -- while this outing feels like a "Two Dog Night" project with the ominous credit "all selections mixed by Chuck and Cory." A couple of decades later, Chuck Negron's name would be erased from the band's website -- totally erased from the visibility of Cory Wells and Danny Hutton's ensemble (isn't that like trying to evict Ginger Baker from Cream???) , so this album is a unique look at what Chuck and Cory did while they were still talking! "Everybody Is a Masterpiece" leads off the disc, the "theme" tune to this album with its picture-frame cover, and you'd swear you are listening to -- the Spinners. As much of a jolt as that is, keep in mind the previous disc sounded like slick "roots" music compared to this quasi-disco recording. Alan O'Day wrote the phenomenal "Heavy Church" from the Naturally LP, perhaps the best non-hit track the group ever recorded. Here they do a strong version of his chestnut "Easy Evil." It's a steamy, classy and interesting take, but up against renditions by Lulu, Dusty Springfield and Genya Ravan, well, it is hard to top the perfection those three gals flirted with on this song. "Mellow Down" captures Three Dog Night from an earlier time, but it is simply not enough to reestablish the group that invented the art of finding raw tunes and refining, redefining, arranging and producing them to a unique pop music majesty that so many other acts tried to duplicate. "Hang On" is much too funky but not half as much as the Hoyt Axton song that follows. "Southbound" is no "Joy to the World" and could be Kool & the Gang covering Sly & the Family Stone -- and it is just way too much of a stretch for the group to morph into some kind of faceless nightclub act à la Wild Cherry. Which is the flaw with American Pastime, a loss of identity. This is Three Dog Night searching the way Rare Earth attempted to get back on track. It completely walks away from the music the group performs in concert and in doing so denies a catchy tune like "Dance the Night Away" the opportunity to appeal to the millions who brought this act its fame. Where a Bette Midler could survive 1979's Thighs and Whispers, a dramatic move like this could -- and did -- make the trek back to Top 40 all the more difficult.
Words: Joe Viglione
The last studio album from Three Dog Night to crack the Top 20, Hard Labor shows the growing cracks in the band's armor. Where on previous albums they had selected songs that highlighted their harmonic prowess, most of the tracks on Hard Labor are essentially solo efforts with group backing vocals. As a result, the band loses much of their soul and spirit. The lightweight hits, "Sure As I'm Sittin' Here" and "Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)," both with Cory Wells singing lead, are most representative of the record. However, the highlights are the Chuck Negron-sung "The Show Must Go On" (written and originally performed by Leo Sayer) and the dramatic, emotional ballad "I'd Be So Happy" (penned by Skip Prokop of Lighthouse fame). More a compilation of individual tracks than a true band effort, Hard Labor is an inconsequential entry in the Three Dog Night catalog.
Words: Joseph McCombs