Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Albums of 1971: Three Dog Night: Harmony


Release Date: September 30, 1971

Active Members: Michael Allsup (guitar); Jimmy Greenspoon (keyboards); Danny Hutton (vocals); Chuck Negron (vocals); Joe Schermie (bass); Floyd Sneed (drums); Cory Wells (vocals)

Produced by Richard Podolor

Track List: Never Been to Spain; My Impersonal Life; An Old Fashioned Love Song; Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer; Jam; You; Night in the City; Murder In My Heart for the Judge; The Family of Man; Intro Poem: Mistakes and Illusions/Peace of Mind

Chances are if you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s your Dad would have a Three Dog Night album somewhere in his record stack. A highly successful band from 1968-75 with 21 Top Forty hits including three number ones, Three Dog Night became one of the bedrock bands of FM oldies radio. They were also unusual, at least from today's perspective, in that they primarily recorded songs written by other artists, not only popularizing the songs but also the singer/songwriters. The three lead vocalists Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron, and Cory Wells were the constant members with a constantly shifting lineup of musicians through the years.

Their seventh studio album Harmony was no exception, highlighting the songwriting of Hoyt Axton and Paul Williams, Axton's "Joy to the World" had been been a major hit in the spring of '71. Harmony opened with Axton's "Never Been to Spain," a narrator lamenting his lack of travel experience but still finding joy in the environment around him. Cory Wells performed a soulful vocal set to a rollicking bar band theatrics in support. "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song" written by Williams playfully satirizes love song theatrics performed with soul and hint of psychedelia by Three Dog Night (it's gotta be a karaoke favorite). "The Family of Man" (written by Paul Williams/Jack Conrad) looks at the future with trepidation with its focus on ecological concerns (slightly sounds like The Beatles song "It's All Too Much").

"My Impersonal Life" is a power ballad of introspection, "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" by Stevie Wonder as sung by Negron turns into classic rock/soul ballad. "Jam' and "You" are somewhat less memorable, but Joni Mitchell's "Night in the City" recalls 60s pop with its countercultural mood. Moby Grape's "Murder in My Heart for the Judge" borders on hard rock. The album ends with a poem set to the piano, not the worst way to close out a record. 

Harmony is a fun album, a sort of variety show showcasing some of the finest songwriting, vocals, and musicianship of the era. Do we need a Three Dog Night these days? With music continually fragmenting into multiple genres, could a band popularize songwriters who need a boost? 

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