Three Dog Night – American Pastime (1976)

ThreeDogNight_AmericanPastime2 out of 5 Stars!

A band on death’s doorstep.

Any semblance of brilliance the band once possessed had utterly vanished by the time this album came out.

Shortly afterward, Danny Hutton (who appears on only one track—”Mellow Down”—as a lead vocalist) left the band and they were forced to perform with Jay Gruska as the third vocalist (thankfully that didn’t last long) to promote the album.

The actual band itself consisted mostly of studio musician types as well.

Avoid this album at all costs, even if you’re a die-hard fan. An ugly end to a great band.

Three Dog Night – Harmony (1971)

ThreeDogNight_Harmony4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Harmony is probably my favorite overall Three Dog Night album.

Despite the album’s age, the sound quality still holds up well, and the songs the band selected for Harmony were generally above average.

With tracks such as “Murder in My Heart for the Judge” and Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been To Spain” (both sung by Cory Wells, which his iconic vocal performances claimed as his own), the band’s own song entitled simply “Jam,” along with “My Impersonal Life” (what an evil/metal sounding guitar tone!) and Joni Mitchell’s “Night in the City” (both sung by Danny Hutton), and Stevie Wonder’s “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer,” Paul William’s “Old Fashioned Love Song,” and the track “You” (all Chuck Negron masterpieces), this is probably one of the band’s “heavier/rockier” efforts.

The only thing that kept me from rating Harmony a perfect 5 Stars was that this is the first album where the band started to shy away from their trademarked “swapping” of lead vocals. The singers, it seems, began to enjoy being the lone vocalist in the spotlight, selecting their own tracks and getting away from the three-singer-team effort. Therefore, the two final tracks on Harmony—”Family of Man” and “Peace of Mind”—were the only songs that reverted back to the “older” days of trading vocal leads throughout the songs (although “Jam” is borderline), and it was a sign of things to come when the band’s cohesiveness eventually vanished.

Despite that one criticism, however, I believe, had the band continued on this heavier/rocking road, they might have retained their “cool” factor a lot longer instead of gaining an undeserved future reputation of being nothing but a “singles’ band.”

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Three Dog Night – Naturally (1970)

ThreeDogNight_Naturally4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Now, it’s been several years since the band’s debut album, and by this time they definitely have their act together and now how to get “the most bang for the buck” when it comes to songs for album inclusion, production, marketing, etc. But despite the inclusion of a little ditty entitled “Joy To The World” (which ended up sounding like a kiddie-anthem and prophesied uglier things to come for the band’s image, sadly) this isn’t a shabby album.

At this time in their history, now covering songs by excellent bands such as Free, Spooky Tooth, and Traffic (and making them “their own”), Three Dog Night possessed a bit of a “hip factor” in the world of music. And listening to this album today, I can see why.

Although always leaning toward the “pop end” of music, the band could still include songs like “Liar” (by Argent), for example, which even today has a certain power, an interesting atmosphere, and truly denigrates the original Argent version. I recall how once (I believe it was Rolling Stone Magazine) compared Three Dog Night to, of all bands, Grand Funk Railroad. As a 10-12 year old during the band’s heyday, I never really “got” the comparison. But now in retrospect, I finally see the huge similarity…the organ and guitar tones, for example, while the voice of Chuck Negron wasn’t that “dissimilar” to the voice of Mark Farner. Regardless, this is one of their better efforts, apart from the aforementioned “Joy” track.

The trade-off/dual lead vocals are flawlessly performed, as in “I Can Hear You Calling,” “Heavy Church,” or “One Man Band,” the arrangements were pretty decent overall, and the musicianship was well above average. Also, the Spooky Tooth cover of “I’ve Got Enough Heartache” is also certainly better than the original version from the album Spooky Two, and a track in which the gospel-inspired and gritty vocals of Cory Wells shines while the background vocals/harmonies from the other guys are near perfect.

Anyway, definitely not a bad place to start for anyone seeking to delve into Three Dog Night’s history.

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Three Dog Night – Three Dog Night (1968)

ThreeDogNight_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Yes, a forgotten gem. What I like most about Three Dog Night’s debut album is its “live feel” (the actual unpolished quality). I mean, come on, Chuck Negron briefly goes flat on a single ad-libbed note near the end of the track “One” and it actually remained in the final/released mix, not to mention the song became a huge mega-hit. What recordings of today (even live recordings) haven’t been overdubbed, and re-re-re-recorded, with vocal lines painstakingly corrected line by line so as to remove what might have once been a semblance of a brilliant vocal performance, flaws and all?

Yep, you can’t get a better “live in the studio/one take and we’re done since our budget is tight” feel than this album.

This is a riveting trip back in history where record companies gave next to nothing to artists to “do their thing ASAP or else get dumped from your contract.” Yet despite this slight “flaw,” the album has a magical charm that remains even to this day.

The album contains some enduring classics. Aside from the aforementioned “One” (written by Harry Nilsson), there’s Traffic’s “Heaven Is In Your Mind,” a cover of The Beatles “It’s For You,” a cover of The Band’s “Chest Fever,” Neil Young’s “The Loner,” and the Cory Wells-sung “slammer” track “Try A Little Tenderness,” originally released by Otis Redding, and Cory actually ended up making it his very own “classic.”

Basically, the resulting release was a whopping “Hot Damn!” These guys delivered a harmonic debut, a rock-solid rendering of the music scene back in 1968, which prefaced many years of nearly constant Number One hits on the band’s part. Unfortunately, were it not for the damned drugs that hijacked the personal lives of the musicians by the mid-’70s, the band might have lasted much longer, since the guys were always apt-chameleons to shifting styles and musical trends.

Granted, the band did not write the majority of its own material (barely a fraction of its output, truthfully), but the members sure had a gifted “golden ear” for “hearing hits,” and the group subsequently tackled some excellent material from outside songwriters and usually altered the songs to fit the overall band style and—often—bettering every one of them. The “Dogs” also sensed how to improve when it came to production and presentation, and quickly perfected the “rough-edge” style by the second album Suitable For Framing (the tracks “Feelin’ Alright” and Eli’s Coming” anyone?). And with three gifted singers at the helm, each adopting songs that miraculously fit their own personal vocal style (lyrics and melodies that matched their unique vocal nuances to perfection), they mastered the art of harmonic rock-‘n’-roll. And when the singers couldn’t agree on exactly which vocalist should actually tackle the lead, they incorporated the “swapping lead vocal” technique that brought them equal success.

Therefore, this album is basically the genesis of what would become a brilliant strategy for fame, harmony, and hits. And with that in mind, I happily give it high ratings.

 

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