When I was growing up, I didn’t know anything existed outside the borders of Buffalo – Cory Wells
Some wise soul once said that if you want to see the real America, the only way to do it is on the road. It was advice that Cory Wells took to heart when he packed his bags and headed to the West Coast with the band that he was in at the time, the Vibratos.
It was a decision that would change the course of his life forever, and ensure that he not only saw America but also traveled the world as a member of one of the most successful bands of the late sixties and early seventies, Three Dog Night.
The Vibratos established a solid live reputation that led to them becoming the house band at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles, which in turn led to them being cast in any show that was looking to feature a hip, happening and up-coming band in the latest zany adventures of their cast of wacky characters. It was their appearance on one of these shows, either The Beverly Hillbillies or Burke’s Law, Wells was never sure which it was, that brought them to the attention of Sonny & Cher, who asked the band to support them on tour.
It was while the Vibratos were playing with America’s favorite young lovers, that Cory Wells first met Danny Hutton, a singer who had a vision and an idea to form a band unlike any other. After hearing Wells sing, Hutton knew that he wanted him to join his new band, and spent months trying to convince him to sign on the dotted line and join his project that was going to share the spotlight equally among the singers.
Having recruited the missing link, Chuck Negron, for their band in the first half of nineteen sixty-eight, and perfected their three-part vocal harmonies under the tutelage of Brian Wilson (yes, THE Brian Wilson), the band retired the tired and anachronistic everyman name that they had been using, Redwood, recruited a group of musicians, renamed themselves Three Dog Night, and the rest is history.
Three Dog Night History 101
Maybe that was a little too brief, but if you want to know the hair raising story of Three Dog Night in all of its complicated and jaw-dropping entirety, you can find it here, and believe us, it’s well worth reading and a testament to lives lost to rock and roll and the redemption that can be found in making music.
To cut a long story short, Three Dog Night was quite literally an overnight sensation. After signing a record contract in the immediate aftermath of their first showcase gig at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, they went on to have twenty-one Top Forty Billboard Hits and record ten albums between nineteen sixty-eight and nineteen seventy-six, when the band finally fell apart due to a combination of substance abuse issues and physical and mental exhaustion.
Three Dog Night reformed in nineteen eighty-one and has been touring ever since. Chuck Negron relapsed in nineteen eighty-five and was asked to leave the band by both Hutton and Wells, and following Wells’s tragic death from cancer in two thousand and fifteen at the age of seventy-four, Danny Hutton is now the only remaining original member of the band. But Three Dog Night is still out there bringing Joy To The World.
With a staggering back catalog of songs, hits, and albums to their name, how do you even begin to create a definitive list of the top ten Three Dog Night songs? Well, if you’re anything like us, you do it carefully. Really, really carefully. And who knows, maybe you won’t agree with the songs that we’ve chosen and would rather put your own top ten together.
That’s fine, and we encourage you to do that because Three Dog Night has enough songs for everyone to create their top ten with, and what kind of boring place would the world be if we all liked the same things? Whether you agree with us or not, this is our Three Dog Night top ten…
Originally written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney for Cilla Black, It’s For You appeared on Three Dog Nights’ debut self-titled album that was released in nineteen sixty-eight. Bearing little resemblance to Black’s version of the song, Three Dog Night stripped it completely back to basics and rebuilt it from the ground up.
It’s a perfect example of the three harmony ideas that Hutton had for the band and allows each of the members to shine, as they gradually build toward the finale at which point the rest of the band enter the fray, and Hutton, Negron, and Wells let loose and their voices join and soar toward a sublime climax.
One of Three Dog Night’s greatest talents was, and is, their ability to take a song from another artist and bend and twist it until it feels like it was written by them. Eli’s Coming was written by Laura Nyro, and made its debut on her nineteen sixty-eight record Eli And The Thirteenth Confession.
Wells, Negron, and Hutton re-recorded Eli’s Coming for their second album Suitable For Framing which was released in nineteen sixty-nine. Their version of the song, in which Cory Wells takes the lead vocal, reached Number Ten on the Billboard Chart and climbed to the Number Four position in Canada’s RPM Magazine Charts.
A barnstorming vocal performance for Cory Wells backed by Hutton and Wells, carried their knockdown, drag-out bar room brawl cover of Randy Newman’s knowing and sly coming of age classic all the way to the top of the American charts and further cemented the band’s position as one of the premier acts of their, or any other day.
It appeared on their fourth album, It Ain’t Easy, which was released in nineteen seventy and is widely regarded by critics as one of their best records. Chuck Negron later revealed that the band’s first name and their artwork for the record were rejected by the record company for being too lewd.
He is on record as saying that all three members of Three Dog Night wanted to call the record The Wizards Of Orange and that their cover idea was to use a photograph of all three members in the nude, covered in orange make-up. We’re not sure if we prefer the label’s artwork or the band’s idea…
Paul Williams has always been one of the twentieth and twenty-first centuriesmost unique and forward-thinking songwriters, and before he lent his talents to The Phantom Of The Paradise, Bugsy Malone, and Smokey And The Bandit he wrote this ecological anthem for Three Dog Night, who recorded it for their already mentioned, and critically lauded the fourth album, It Ain’t Easy.
It was another massive hit for the band and landed in the Billboard Hot One Hundred at number fifteen and climbed to number nine in the Canadian charts. And, as it was released on the very first Earth day in nineteen seventy, it kind of makes us like it even more than we already do…
Much as love Well’s and Hutton’s vocals, we’re suckers for anything that shines the spotlight on Chuck Negron, and this cover of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Lady Samantha ( from the Empty Sky album) that originally appeared on Three Dog Night’s second album Suitable For Framing is a haunting, almost ethereal take on a hidden, and often forgotten rock and roll classic.
While it’s impossible to disguise the song’s origins thanks to its chorus, Negron’s startling and emotive delivery almost makes you forget that it was written by Elton John and that it was part of his setlist when he first arrived in America and blew the roof off the Whiskey A-Go-Go.
Another number one single and another faultless, soul-drenched vocal performance from Chuck Negron ensured that this instantly memorable tune pushed its way straight into our Three Dog Night top ten.
Written by Hoyt Axton (who would later go to find acting fame and played Billy’s father in Gremlins), Three Dog Night famously insisted that Axton changed the first line of the song, which then transformed Jeremiah from a prophet into a bullfrog before they recorded it for their fifth album, Naturally which was released in nineteen seventy. Joy To The World remains a clear fan favorite, even to this day.
Sticking with Hoyt Axton’s incomparable songwriting, the next tune on our list comes from Three Dog Night’s seventh album, Harmony which was released in nineteen seventy-one. An imaginary travelogue that sees Cory Wells and his bandmates venture around the globe from the comfort of the studio, when it was released as a single, Never Been To Spain reached number five in the Billboard Top One Hundred.
Written in nineteen fifty-four by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson, this simple, but devastatingly effective anti-racist song was recorded by Three Dog Night for their eighth studio album Seven Separate Fools which was released in nineteen seventy-two.
It’s a rare example of a Hutton lead vocal, and it makes us wish that he’d stepped forward and taken the lead on more tunes, an idea that the record-buying public in nineteen seventy-two must have agreed with, as the song went straight to the top of the Billboard Charts when it was released as a single.
We’re pretty big fans of The Band and this Cory Wells led retention of Chest Fever that was a standout on their debut album Music From Big Pink sends shivers down our spine every single time we hear it.
The combination of overdriven organ and Wells gut-wrenching, howling heartachingly beautiful vocal is a standout moment on Three Dog Night’s self-titled album and an incredible glimpse of what was to come from the band.
“One is the loneliest number…”, the opening line from this Harry Nilsen penned song is one of the most instantly memorable lyrics ever written, and Chuck Negron’s emotive vocal delivery captures every nuance of the song perfectly.
It was Three Dog Night’s first hit single and reached number five when it was released in nineteen sixty-eight. And it’s still one of the greatest songs in the history of rock and roll.
And that’s it, that’s our Three Dog Night songs top ten.
Do you agree with us, or think that we missed a classic or two? If you do, drop us a line and tell us why you think we’re wrong, because as we said earlier, there’s a Three Dog Night top ten for everyone…