A Fine Pedigree
Back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when vinyl was the rage and music videos were not yet the norm, musical media outlets numbered but two: AM and FM radio. While the former featured everything from oldies and country western to light pop, the latter established itself as a stronghold for mainstream rock. Very few bands had the crossover appeal to become both AM and FM staples, and no act ruled the airwaves quite like Three Dog Night. During an eight year career, the group charted eleven Top Ten singles, sold millions of albums, and took home a dozen gold records. Impressive in their own right, these accomplishments are even more notable when considering the band’s success came by way of a trio of talented vocalists, each alternating lead duties with the other two.
While Chuck Negron may be the most recognizable voice behind Three Dog Night, make no mistake, Cory Wells and Danny Hutton were no slouches. Supported by solid backing musicians, Wells and Hutton scored hits as easily as Negron, evidenced by the twenty-one singles in this collection. Ranging from Wells’s gritty “Eli’s Coming” to Hutton’s trippy echo chamber “Liar” to Negron’s beautifully melancholy “One”, the album serves as a perfect soundtrack for the ‘70s decade.
Interestingly, some of the group’s strongest output came when lead vocals were shared by the three. The silky smooth interplay on “Celebrate”, “Out in the Country”, and “The Family of Man” is fascinating to hear, particularly since each singer boasts divergent vocal stylings. That said, the true importance of Three Dog Night’s music can be heard through three of its biggest songs: “Joy to the World”, “Black & White”, and “Shambala”. Sung by Negron, Hutton, and Wells, respectively, few tracks symbolize early ‘70s pop music better. Artistic and soulful without being pretentious, the songs bridge the musical gap between the bubble gum appeal of the Partridge Family and the organic resonance of Creedence and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Despite its tremendous commercial success, the band was often criticized for parlaying the efforts of external songwriters into hit records. So what? That Three Dog Night used the works of Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, and Harry Nilsson, among others, should be a testament to the group’s ability to choose quality material that best suited its sound, rather than an indictment of its talents. If nothing else, the group had the Midas Touch, and was the quintessential hit making machine.
Song selection aside, Three Dog Night also had the uncanny ability to record chart toppers that were distinct from one another. Is Wells’s organ drenched version of “Try a Little Tenderness” remotely similar to the faintly psychedelic “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)”? Is either of them close to Negron’s breezy “Easy to be Hard”? No to both, and yet each song was a feather in the band’s collective hat.
So then, what is the point in revisiting the catalogue of a band nearly three decades removed from its glory days? To partake in a bit of time traveling perhaps, but more so to simply kick back and enjoy some familiar songs from the pre-punk and -disco ‘70s. Pop as a genre was not always synonymous with Madonna, Britney, and Christina, and The Complete Hit Singles has everything one needs to realize that for a period of time, no band was bigger than Three Dog Night on the pop charts.