Thursday, 4 August 2016

"It Ain't Easy/Naturally" by THREE DOG NIGHT (2009 Beat Goes On 2LPs onto 1CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...Something Worth Remembering..." 


Talk about criminally overlooked.

Despite their monster chart successes in the USA (gazillions of albums sold - a whopping 21 entries on the 7" singles charts between 1969 and 1975 when many other more famous names struggled to reach five) - THREE DOG NIGHT have always been terminally unhip. Musical history has LA's TDG viewed as little more than a great covers band - clever interpreters of someone else's brilliance – a chart phenomenon with three storming vocalists out front but without any real songwriting ability within their own ranks. But I'd argue that the first flurry of Three Dog Night studio albums were great and the brilliance of the re-arranged covers often made other people's songs sound like TDG tunes anyway. The "It Ain't Easy" and "Naturally" LPs are a case in hand (both issued in the heady days of a new decade - 1970).

"It Ain't Easy" is anchored by their first No.1 single - a cover version of the naughty-naughty Randy Newman song "Mama Told Me Not To Come" sung by Cory Wells. They also premiered Elton John's "Your Song" to an American audience months before anyway knew what a classic it was or who Reg Dwight would become. Even after a gruelling 200 live shows in that busy year - the unstoppable Three Dog Night followed March 1970's "It Ain't Easy" with November's "Naturally" - an equally strong LP set with winners like their kicking cover of Bush's "I Can Hear You Calling", the Funk-Rock instrumental "Fire Eater" and their 2nd number 1 single - their wonderful 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog...' version of Hoyt Axton's "Joy To The World" - Chuck Negron's vocals as famous today as they were 46 years ago. Anyway, there's a ton of detail to wade through so once more my comrades into the doggy position (sorry, couldn't resist)...

UK released July 2009 - "It Ain't Easy/Naturally" by THREE DOG NIGHT on Beat Goes On BGOCD 875 (Barcode 5017261208750) offers 2LPs Remastered onto 1CD and plays out as follows (68:09 minutes):

1. Woman [Free cover - Paul Rodgers and Andy Fraser song]
2. Cowboy [Randy Newman cover]
3. It Ain't Easy [Ron Davies cover]
4. Out In The Country [Paul Williams/Roger Nicholls song]
5. Good Feeling (1957) [Alan Brackett/John Merrill song]
6. Rock And Roll Widow [Three Dog Night song] - Side 2
7. Mama Told Me Not To Come [Randy Newman cover]
8. Your Song [Elton John cover]
9. Good Time Living [Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill song]
Tracks 1 to 9 are their 3rd studio album "It Ain't Easy" (fourth LP overall) - released late March 1970 in the USA on ABC/Dunhill Records DS-50078 and May 1970 in the UK on Probe Records SPBA 6251. Produced by RICHARD PODOLOR - it peaked at No. 8 on the US LP charts (didn't chart in the UK).

10. I Can Hear You Calling [Bush cover]
11. One Man Band [Thomas Jefferson Kaye co-write with Billy Fox and January Time]
12. Creepin' [Free cover]
13. Fire Eater [Three Dog Night song - Instrumental]
14. Can't Get Enough Of It [Jimmy Miller and Steve Winwood song - Spencer Davis Group cover]
15. Sunlight [Jesse Colin Young song] - Side 2
16. Heavy Church [Anita O'Day cover]
17. Liar [Argent/Russ Ballard cover]
18. I've Got Enough Heartache [Gary Wright song - Spooky Tooth cover]
19. Joy To The World [Hoyt Axton cover]
Tracks 10 to 19 are their 4th studio album "Naturally" - released November 1970 in the USA on ABC/Dunhill Records DSX 50088 and December 1970 in the UK on Probe Records SPBA 6257. Produced by RICHARD PODOLOR - it peaked at No. 14 on the US LP charts (didn't chart in the UK).

For both LPs THREE DOG NIGHT was:
CHUCK NEGRON, DANNY HUTTON and CORY WELLS on shared Lead Vocals
MICHAEL ALLSUP - Guitars
JIMMY GREENSPOON - Keyboards
JOE SCHERMIE - Bass
FLOYD SNEED - Drums

The outer card slipcase on these BGO reissues lends the whole shebang a handsome visage while the 8-page inlay with February 2006 BRUCE EDER liner notes pour on the details in a small amount of space complete with some artwork shots and musician credits. BGO's long-standing Audio Engineer ANDREW THOMPSON has done the Remasters at Sound Performance in the UK and both LPs 'rawk' in all the right ways. Tracks like "Good Time Living" and "Liar" sound great.

On a very cold evening in the Australian outback, an Aborigine hunter would dig a furrow in the ground and bring his dog into the hole with him for bodily warmth. Two dogs were needed for a really bitter night, but the worst night of all was called a THREE DOG NIGHT (that's how they got their name). The band changed Producers for "It Ain't Easy" leaving behind Gabriel Mekler who did their first two 1969 LPs "Three Dog Night" and "Suitable For Framing" (paired on another BGO CD reissue - BGOCD 865). The result was a more punchy delivery and that's immediately evident with the opening stab at Free's "Woman" and Randy Newman's "Cowboy" - both sounding full of beans. However both of these adequate openers are roundly trounced by the title track "It Ain't Easy" - a song with a fabulous musical history. Nashville songwriter Ron Davies wrote "It Ain't Easy" for his 1970 LP "Silent Song Through The Land" (A&M SP-4264) and then witnessed his unknown song name TWO entire albums after it - THREE DOG NIGHT in 1970 and (LONG) JOHN BALDRY in 1971. Many will also be aware of the song through David Bowie's cover on Side 1 of 1972's "Ziggy Stardust". Even Dave Edmunds had a go for his debut album "Rockpile" on Regal Zonophone - also in 1972 (see separate review). "It Ain't Easy" was just one of those cool rock tracks that lent itself to other artists who then somehow made it 'their' song. Three Dog Night's "It Ain't Easy" is the kind of 70ts track I love and place on CD-R comps for home listening.

"Out In The Country" was issued as a 45 in the USA and with its incredibly hooky and pleasing  melody lines - not surprisingly it saw them clock up another Top 20 hit (peaked at No. 15). But their Fifties pastiche "Good Feeling (1957)" that ends Side 1 is God awful - an absolute howler with a screeching vocal - the kind of song that gives Rock a genuinely bad name. Side 2 thankfully opens with their own "Rock And Roll Widow" - a very tasty rocker that in turn is followed by the LP’s big mama - "Mama Told Me Not To Come". Cory Wells fronted the vocal on their first US No. 1 getting across that country boy naiveté at a city party in Randy Newman’s knowing lyrics when he sings "...want some whiskey in your water...some sugar in your tea...what's all these crazy questions they asking me!" It was also the California band's first UK chart showing when Stateside SS 8052 went No. 3 in August 1970.

"Naturally" opens with a genuine blast - their cover of Bush's "I Can Hear You Calling" - co-written by future James Gang guitarist Dominic Troiano. I always thought it would have made a tremendous rocker single and was (and still is) a brilliant choice of song to do. "One Many Band" is one of many songs penned by Thomas Jefferson Kaye who would have his own solo albums on Probe Records and was closely associated with that other stunning Probe Records act - Steely Dan. Three Dog Night thought it strong enough for a 45 and were duly rewarded with a No. 15 chart position. Their version of Free's "I'll Be Creepin'" is better than workmanlike - but that's trounced by a Three Dog Night original - the stunning instrumental "Fire Eater" - another Funk-Rock gem put out by a Rock band. But again the LP is dominated by another huge song and their 2nd No. 1 single - "Joy To The World" - a fantastic version of a Country Rock song penned by Hoyt Axton who also penned "The Pusher" so brilliantly converted into a huge anti-drugs anthem by Jon Kay's Steppenwolf. "Joy To The World" would be their 2nd and last UK chart placing in May 1971 on Probe PRO 523 at a more humble No. 24. 

Both TDG albums fall short of being out-and-out masterpieces - but the good bits are plentiful and still impressive after all these years - and the Audio on this superb BGO remaster lifts both up considerably. Joy To The World indeed...

PS: Three Dog Night recorded 'specific' mixes for most all of their American 7” singles - see my separate review of the superlative April 2004 CD with top audio quality Erick Labson Remasters called "The Complete Hit Singles" on Geffen/UTV Records B0001779-02 (use Barcode 602498614709 to locate it on Amazon).

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