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Three Dog Night

Dunhill 50108
Released: October 1971
Chart Peak: #8
Weeks Charted: 34
Certified Gold: 10/13/71

For three years now, the critics have been laying into Three Dog Night for a variety of mostly hard-to-fathom reasons. But nobody, evidently, has been paying much attention to the tastemakers in this case, because Three Dog Night's records have been selling in greater quantities altogether than anybody else's. Biggest doesn't necessarily mean best, but the spectacular success of this group seems entirely justified; Three Dog Night is a terrifically good band.

Yup, they've got everything: sizzling instrumental work spearheaded by one of the very best rock organists, Jimmy Greenspoon, joy-provoking performing abilities that combine equal parts of high vaudeville prancing and stomping rock & roll energy, and, of course, three famous voices, equally adept at solos and those patented three-part power harmonies. What more could a rock group offer? A good songwriter, you say? Why bother, when you have flair for finding tunes and a genius for arranging them so that they bear your incomparable stamp of identity?

Up until now, the band's greatest accomplishment was its first album, Three Dog Night. It was made quickly (under the direction of Gabriel Mekler), and there was a minimum of overdubbing. Consequently, the instrumental work had a spontaneous feel to it that contrasted dramatically with the complex and precise vocalizing. The unusual combination resulted in gems like "Chest Fever," "Nobody," and Danny Whitten's "Let Me Go." After three years, it still has the sound of a great rock album.

Although on subsequent albums, Three Dog Night did manage to strike that tricky balance between polish and rawness on specific tracks (which often metamorphosed into hit singles), they were never again quite able to sustain it for the course of an entire album. Until now, that is. In contrast to that first album, Harmony is full of refinements and special touches, as you'd expect from a veteran recording group. There's the coyote-howl guitar solo, for example, in "My Impersonal Life," the leapfrogging, ascending voices and 2001 harmonies in "You," and (from way back in the Sixties), following their version of Moby Grape's "Murder in My Heart for the Judge," there's the appearance of a riff borrowed intact from the Buffalo Springfield's "On the Way Home." The album is loaded with flavoring devices like these, but they never seem gimmicky or overdone, as they sometimes did on earlier albums. The group has learned -- finally -- how to put a finish on their work without at the same time robbing it of its vitality or directness.

They've mined Hoyt Axton for all he's worth, first with "Joy to the World" from their last LP, and now, "Never Been To Spain." Again, the group has effortlessly surpassed the original performance. Not only that: they've elevated Axton's songs themselves from a level of unfocused silliness to one of unbridled joyousness. They do just as well with Stevie Wonder's "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer," a song that could easily sing under the weight of its massed clichés. Chuck Negron starts by holding the song gently, then he gradually increases the pressure until it bursts with plaintive intensity (this is the approach Negron used so well when he sang "Easy to Be Hard").

On this song, as on so many others, it's organist Greenspoon who supplies the final push that takes it over the top. He can be counted on to provide the barks, growls, whines, and punches at the most strategic points -- Greenspoon seems to put all his weight behind everything he plays. His organ isn't just the lead instrument, it vies with the voices for the spotlight throughout this album.

There are ten cuts on Harmony, and nine sound like potential hit singles; the single exception, "Jam," is more a demonstration of assorted Three Dog Night blow-'em-over techniques than a song. The most unusual track, "Peace of Mind," begins with a short poem read by Negron, and then develops into a muted and simply hymn with the three voices taking turns singing the lines of the song. It provides an opportunity to compare the voices, and there's a striking basic similarity of timbre among all three. As each line is sung, the next begins, with no pauses for breaths between, and it seems that a single voice is singing, changing its tone slightly at intervals. The effect is eerie and the unadorned voices seem magically pretty.

This is an immensely enjoyable album, nothing more, nothing less. It's the kind of album that seems to pass by too quickly -- but too fast is much, much better than too slow.

- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 12/9/71.

Bonus Reviews!

Three Dog Night has a string of best selling albums and this latest entry is sure to make it even longer. The LP is entitled "Harmony" and rightly so for the vocal blend has been the keynote to success of the group. Standout cuts are "Jam," "Never Been to Spain," "Murder In My Heart for the Judge" and "Old Fashioned Love Song." Instant gold.

- Billboard, 1971.

This album is as fresh and innovative as their previous gold record albums and it's quite different from their last one, Naturally, which I and a lot of other people think was a bit underrated. One cut on the new album is written by the "Joy To The World" guy, Hoyt Axton, and it's called "Never Been To Spain." The vocal is funky, the rhythm is earthy and there's a little country and western flavor. If it was relased as a single it would make No. 1 in very little time. "Jam" is written by all seven members of the group and it's really terrific. You can just see them performing this number, it's that spontaneous.

They've matched musical spontaneity and emotional feeling with the mechanics of making a record (which I imagine is a bit difficult to accomplish).

- Karen Valentine, Hit Parader, 5/72.

Next to Grand Funk, they're the country's top touring act, and they sell singles in the multiple millions besides. They're slick as Wesson Oil. And when they choose the right material and go light on the minstrel-show theatrics, they're fine -- next to "Maggie May," "Joy to the World" is the most durable single of the year. Their albums do vary -- avoid the "Joy to the World" vehicle Naturally -- but I think this is the best. Even if you're hostile, you'll have to concede that any group that can string together great-but-obscure songs from Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, and Moby Grape without inspring a rush back to the originals has something going for it. Wish they'd cut the poetry reading, though. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Harmony is Three Dog Night's best studio effort, with the early hits "Old Fashioned Love Song," "Family of Man" and Hoyt Axton's "Never Been to Spain." * * *

- Patrick McCarty, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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