One of the most prolific vocal groups to come out of the 1970s was Three Dog Night. These three singers are Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron. From 1969 until 1975 they had hit after hit and sold-out concerts. Throughout that time period, at least one of their many singles was a constant on Top 40 radio.
Hutton, Wells and Negron started out individually as either a solo act or with a band. At one time Brain Wilson of the Beach Boys started up a record label to sign the three singers who recently got together to form a trio. When that deal fell through, they started playing the local L.A. nightclub scene. As a result, the trio was signed to Dunhill Records. They needed a name for their unique band of three lead singers and their back-up musicians. Hutton’s girlfriend had read a magazine article about the Aborigines of Australia sleeping with their dogs. On a cold night they referred to it as a “three dog night.”
After 1976, Three Dog Night took time off from recording and touring for traveling and pursuing other interests. When they got back together in 1981, they could never achieve the glory days of the 1970s on the pop chart. Instead they took to touring and continue to do so to this day. In 1985, Negron left the group and never re-joined his former band mates again. Their original keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon passed away in March 2015.
Even though the hit singles Three Dog Night had, they were not written by any of them. In the age of singer-songwriters, this made them at odds with the music critics. Their songs were composed by then unknown songwriters who went on to greater glory, thanks to their beginnings with Negron, Wells and Hutton. You can still hear their songs on oldies and adult contemporary radio stations across the country and around the world. Here is a list of Three Dog Night’s top 10 songs that have been featured in films and television. Some may not completely agree with this top 10 list, it’s basically to shine a light on their songwriters who made it all possible.
10. “Joy to the World” (1971)
In its day “Joy to the World” was one of those songs that got a lot of airplay on the radio, almost to the point of sheer overplay. You can’t deny its catchy introduction and hook. This was written by Hoyt Axton, a songwriter who would later write a hit for Ringo Starr. The opening lyrics make no sense whatsoever. This is one of three number one hits Three Dog Night would achieve on the Billboard Hot 100.
9. “Celebrate” (1970)
The songwriting duo of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, who were responsible for the huge hit for The Turtles “Happy Together,” wrote this for Three Dog Night. “Celebrate” features horns played by some members of the band, Chicago. They Include: James Pankow (trombone), Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and Walter Parazaider (saxophone). It also has all three vocalists taking turns at each verse, and then blending in with the outro. The song peaked at #15.
8. “Try A Little Tenderness” (1969)
This is one of the few cover songs Three Dog Night became known for. Otis Redding's hit recording from 1966 of “Try A Little Tenderness” is the most famous rendition. It was a Top 40 hit for the trio. It starts off with an old-fashioned organ introduction that leads up to some powerful vocals. Unfortunately this is one of their most underrated releases.
7. “Out in the Country” (1970)
Opening with a beautiful acoustic guitar and great harmonies from the three lead vocalists, this was written by Paul Williams. That songwriter would gain greater popularity as a writer and performer in the 1970s. He wrote and sang on the 2014 Grammy-winning album by Daft Punk. When listening to this Top 40 hit song with real vocals and people actually playing musical instruments, what a contrast it is to today’s overproduced, auto-tuned and overpowered bass lines. Just like the lyric says, "I find a quiet place, far from the human race."
6. “Eli's Coming” (1969)
There was a short-lived TV series on ABC some years ago titled "Eli Stone." Whenever they featured the television commercial for the show, you would always hear “Eli’s Coming.” This top 10 hit was written by Laura Nyro, while lead vocalist Cory Wells adds high energy and a fast pace that’s non-stop.
5. “Easy to Be Hard” (1969)
Once again, here's another excellent cover version by Three Dog Night. “Easy to Be Hard” comes from the revolutionary Broadway rock musical, "Hair." It peaked on the pop chart at number four. It has a beautiful opening with strong vocals by Negron that gets your attention. Each of them always poured such emotion into any song. No question a brilliantly performed song from start to finish that has a great ending.
4. “Shambala” (1973)
You're likely to hear “Shambala” in a number of television commercials. When the song was released in 1973 there were two cover versions. The trio's were certainly the most remembered, and the most popular reaching at #3. Naturally the song title comes from eastern mysticism.
3. “Never Been to Spain” (1972)
What a great intro from Cory Wells with his sexy voice starting with "Well I never been to Spain, (roll of the castanet) kinda like the music." Hoyt Axton clearly wrote this as he’s from Oklahoma, which is mentioned in the song. “Never Been to Spain” peaked on the chart at number five.
2. “One” (1969)
You can still hear this song played today on oldie radio stations. Harry Nilsson wrote this top 5 hit. One constant of their songs are the fabulous openings. “One” features a piano playing that one note in repetition, making it one of the greatest introductions ever to a pop song.
1. “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” (1970)
Randy Newman was just starting out with his songwriting. He wrote it based on someone’s experience at a party. “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” reached the top of Billboard’s Hot 100. This became a favorite among fans and music critics. It’s another one of their songs still being played on oldies radio. What a timeless classic that transcends throughout the decades.