One may be the loneliest number, but it was also the luckiest number for Three Dog Night. The band – led by vocalists Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron – took Harry Nilsson’s song “One” to the U.S. Top 5, beginning an impressive run that encompassed 21 consecutive Top 40 hits, 18 Top 20s, 11 Top 10s, three No. 1s, seven million-selling 45s and 12 Gold LPs. Yet today, Three Dog Night is often overlooked by the rock cognoscenti, largely because its members didn’t write their own material. Never mind that Three Dog Night helped popularize the music of Harry Nilsson, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, Elton John, Paul Williams and many other top-tier names. Iconoclassic Records, known for its fine reissues of titles by Nyro and The Guess Who, among others, is revisiting Three Dog Night’s eponymous debut tomorrow, June 24, in a newly remastered and expanded edition.
Irish-born Danny Hutton and New Yorkers Wells and Negron came together in the fertile mid-sixties L.A. rock scene, with each man already having a wealth of experience behind him. Hutton had scored a minor U.S. hit in 1965 with his own composition “Roses and Rainbows” for Hanna-Barbera Records, the music arm of the animation studio. The tune landed him a spot on a Sonny and Cher tour. On the road with the “I Got You Babe” duo, Hutton’s path crossed with Cory Wells, leader of Cory Wells and The Enemys. Back in LA from the road, Hutton hooked up with Wells, whose group was serving as the house band at the Sunset Strip’s Whisky A-Go Go. When Hutton and Wells decided to try their hand at a group, Hutton remembered Negron. Hutton had recently employed Negron as a background singer at Hanna-Barbera; Negron had recorded on his own for Columbia Records earlier in the decade. The vocal chemistry between the three men was clear; Three Dog Night with its three equally-strong lead singers would soon be born.
Hutton’s pal Brian Wilson took a keen interest in the vocal trio which he christened Redwood. But behind-the-scenes tensions in The Beach Boys scuttled the act as a potential signing for Brother Records. Still, Wilson produced two songs for Redwood in 1967 – “Time to Get Alone” and “Darlin’,” both of which would be recorded by The Beach Boys. Redwood’s “Darlin’” has never been officially released, but “Time to Get Alone” made its debut on the 2-CD anthology Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story in 1993 and is reprised on Iconoclassic’s reissue of Three Dog Night.
After the jump: the story of Three Dog Night, plus: what bonus material will you find on the upcoming reissue?
Following the abortive Redwood sessions, Hutton, Wells and Negron set about assembling a band. They enlisted Hutton’s Laurel Canyon neighbor Jimmy Greenspoon on keyboards; Wells’ old bandmate in The Cory Wells Blues Band, Joe Schermie, on bass; and Floyd Sneed on drums. Michael Allsup, an old friend of Joe and Cory’s, rounded out the band on guitar. Hutton’s girlfriend June Fairchild wasn’t in the band, but named the band – remembering a slang phrase for the coldest night in the Australian outback: a “three-dog night,” so coined because aborigines would use their dingo dogs to keep warm.
A showcase at the fabled Troubadour led to a signing with Dunhill Records, the label founded by L.A. royalty Lou Adler. Dunhill assigned producer Gabriel Mekler to the band, but the three lead vocalists were instrumental in choosing the material for their debut album. “We sifted through tons of records,” Hutton recalled to David Leaf in 1993. “If two of the three ‘dogs’ voted yes, a song was recorded. Otherwise, it wasn’t.” Following this process, Three Dog Night selected songs by some of the best: Harry Nilsson (“One”), John Lennon and Paul McCartney (“It’s for You,” a U.K. Top 10 hit for Cilla Black in 1964), Robbie Robertson (“Chest Fever”), Tim Hardin (“Don’t Make Promises”), Neil Young (“The Loner”), Danny Whitten (“Let Me Go”), Johnny “Guitar” Watson (“Find Someone to Love”) and the Traffic trio of Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood (“Heaven is in Your Mind”). From Randy Newman, a songwriter who would play a major role in their career, they chose “Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad,” a song to which Blood Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” owes some melodic debt. Hutton, Wells and Negron also reached back to 1932 for the standard “Try a Little Tenderness” and picked up “Nobody” from songwriters Beth Beatty, Ernie Shelby and Dick Cooper. The soulful song had been recorded on the OKeh label by Larry Williams and Johnny Watson with psych band The Kaleidoscope and had become a regional hit in Los Angeles. Producer Mekler worked on the LP with engineer Richie Podolor, whose association with Three Dog Night would continue when he stepped into the producer’s chair.
Three Dog Night arrived from Dunhill in October 1968. The next month, Dunhill issued the 45 "Nobody" b/w "It's For You,” followed by "Try a Little Tenderness" b/w "Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad" in January 1969. During sessions for a sophomore LP, Suitable for Framing, Chuck Negron began to pull for a third A-side to be released as a single: the band’s muscular reinvention of Nilsson’s “One.” Dunhill agreed, and with Negron’s lead vocal anchoring an arrangement that emphasized the song’s melodic hook, “One” climbed the charts all the way to No. 5, giving Three Dog Night a national breakthrough. The band was on its way. Soon, the Three Dog Night album would add One to its title, and it would peak at No. 11. Suitable for Framing would spawn two more Top 10 hits: Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Coming” and Galt MacDermot, James Rado and Gerome Ragni’s dramatic ballad from their musical Hair, “Easy to Be Hard.”
Iconoclassic’s reissue presents the original album cover. The disc has been newly remastered by Vic Anesini at Battery Studios and includes three bonus tracks: Redwood’s recording of Brian Wilson’s “Time to Get Alone” and the mono single versions of B-side “It’s for You” and A-side “Try a Little Tenderness.” (All three bonus tracks were previously included on the Celebrate anthology.) Author Paul Myers, responsible for the liner notes accompanying Edsel’s recent series of Todd Rundgren reissues, provides the new notes here (based on fresh interviews with the band members) with selected track-by-track commentary.
The upgraded Three Dog Night hits stores from Iconoclassic tomorrow, June 24. It can be pre-ordered below!
- Heaven Is In Your Mind
- It’s for You
- Let Me Go
- Chest Fever
- Find Someone to Love
- Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad
- Don’t Make Promises
- The Loner
- Try a Little Tenderness
- Time to Get Alone – Redwood (first released on Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, MCA, 1993)
- It’s For You (Mono Single Version) (Dunhill single 4168, 1968)
- Try a Little Tenderness (Mono Single Version) (Dunhill single 4177, 1969)