The vocals were provided by three talented singers: Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron, and Cory Wells. And those guys were backed up by a terrific band: Michael Alsup on guitar, Jimmy Greenspoon on the keys, Floyd Sneed on drums, and Joe Schermie on bass.
The band: Three Dog Night (TDN).
But the great majority of the catchy music they made into hits came from outside the group. Those tunes were provided by some of the best songwriters in the business.
In fact, the first time I heard Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for Your Song was by TDN and not Elton John. That song was included on the band’s “Golden Biscuits” album, a compilation of greatest hits.
My audiocassette version of that record also had covers written by Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”), Harry Nilsson (“One”), Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Coming”), Paul Rodgers (“Woman”), and Paul Williams (“Out in the Country”). The band’s catalogue also included hits scripted by Steve Winwood, Dave Mason, and Hoyt Axton.
So it was TDN that introduced me to some of the greatest songwriters at that time. I later started listening to writers like Newman performing their own songs. Sure, his voice couldn’t match the velvety tones and incredible ranges of the three Dogs, nor could the sales of his albums approach those of the popular bands who covered his stuff.
But I’ve come to appreciate the way a writer presents his or her own work. In time, many successful singer/songwriters could not only pen the songs but perform them as well as the old super groups.
The old business model that for years served everyone from Frank Sinatra, Elvis and Glen Campbell is becoming less the norm. Still, thousands of songwriters in Nashville and other major music centers vie for cuts and hope artists can make hits out their original songs.
And despite the trend, song covers aren’t going away anytime soon. Bands who perform at clubs, bars and other small venues will always play songs people know.
Even great songwriters still do covers. Jason Isbell often tags a Neil Young or Lynyrd Skynyrd song to the end his concerts. Bob Dylan, arguably our greatest American songwriter, even does albums filled with other people’s songs.
I can see why artists are doing their own writing. That way they getting a bigger cut of the royalties. But I like that many are still exposing their fans to the talents of other writers by recording and performing covers. Great artists and producers find great songs, and they have an obligation to share them with us.