Graded on a Curve:
Three Dog Night,
The Complete Hit Singles

I may have liked the songs of Three Dog Night when I was 12 but I never liked Three Dog Night, and I don’t think I’m alone. I’m convinced there were once lots of people who liked the songs of Three Dog Night but I’m not convinced anyone really liked Three Dog Night ever, and the reason for this is they were gormless and completely lacking in what for a better term I’ll call character. Three Dog Night performed other people’s songs but they never managed to imprint their personality on any of them for the simple reason that they didn’t have a personality. They were the hollow men of rock and roll.

I could be wrong about this. It’s even possible you’re a fan of Three Dog Night. But I fail to see how this is possible. The faceless lot in TDN—I couldn’t pick Chuck Negron out of a police line-up to save my life—didn’t so much interpret other artists’ material as dry clean the life out of it. They were faux hippies whose appointed task was to render palatable such great songs as “Mama Told Me Not to Come” and “Try a Little Tenderness” to other faux hippies, counterculture quislings, and the like. Not surprisingly, they sold like a bazillion records.

So far as I can tell, Three Dog Night did not write a single song on 2004’s The Complete Hit Singles. Which is to say they were professional interpreters. But unlike, say, Joe Cocker or Janis Joplin, Three Dogged Night never, so far as I can tell, improved upon a single song they chose to cover, and that includes Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been to Spain.” And no offense to Mr. Axton intended, if you can’t improve upon old Hoyt just what is your reason for being?

Everything I’ve said so far may be cruel, but I conducted a simple test. Do I still enjoy hearing the TDN songs I enjoyed hearing as a child? No. And this is odd because I still feel a sentimental attachment to virtually all of the songs I enjoyed hearing as a child. There are a few exceptions. “Celebrate” and “Never Been to Spain” I still like. “Shambala,” God help me, I still kinda like. “Try a Little Tenderness” may not be for the ages but both the guitarist and the vocalist actually sound riled up. And desecration or not, I can still listen to their take on poor Randy Newman’s (he deserved better) confused man’s take on the drug culture, “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” Although in Randy’s case I think they got lucky. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have been able to pull off “Sail Away.”

Two things strike me about this 21-song compilation. The first is how poorly “The Dog’s” biggest hits—“One,” “Black and White,” “Joy to the World,” “An Old-Fashioned Love Song,” and “Pieces of April” come to mind—have fared over the years. They all had a sell-by date that is long, long past. Such numbers make the likes of Chicago sound “now,” which is a frightening thought indeed. They all have a quaintly antiquated feel that brings to mind the era’s other curiosity merchants, Blood, Sweat & Tears. Both bands have been denied a posterity, and there’s a reason for that.

The second thing that strikes me about this LP is its overreach. It includes too many “hits” I’ve never heard before; if you’re really mad enough to buy a Three Dog Night best-of compilation, I would steer you towards 1999’s 20th Century Masters—The Millennium Collection: The Best of Three Dog Night. The title’s a mouthful, but this single LP compilation sticks to the old horrors you’re sure to know. It’s still a let the buyer beware proposition so far as I’m concerned, but hey, it’s your money.

“Play something I can sink my teeth in like Jello” sings the band on “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues).” And that says it all. Three Dog Night understood what their audience wanted and that’s exactly what Three Dog Night gave them—so much wobbly, candy-colored, and ultimately unsatisfying Jello. Toothless fare rendered by design by a band of panderers from the stiffer stiff of their musical betters. It made them rich, no doubt. And it got them laid so much Chuck Negron’s penis exploded. But Jello making is an unpleasant task, and Jello doesn’t make for much of a legacy. I may have liked the stuff in my 7th grade lunches, but I haven’t liked it for decades. And that’s the Three Dog Night Perplex in a nutshell.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D

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