They didn’t write their songs, and they were backed by some great musicians, so 3 Dog Night never really got much respect. You won’t find them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they never won many awards. Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton and Cory Wells were considered good vocalists, with especially good three-part harmony (as noted in “Old Fashioned Love Song,” one of their biggest hits). But the serious critics said they were just a top-4o singles act, so they never reached Beatles/Stones/Led Zeppelin iconic singer-songwriter status.
To me, however, they were amazing. From 1969-74, they had a run of radio hits second to no one. What an amazing list of well-produced, crank ’em up records. It seemed like they had the pick of all the top songwriters of that era: Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Paul Williams and more. Their hits included ballads like “Pieces of April,” rockers like “Liar,” message songs like “Black and White,” and novelties like “The Show Must Go On.”
Chuck Negron was the lead singer on some of the group’s highest-charting and best-remembered songs like “Joy to the World” and “One (is the Loneliest Number).” Danny Hutton was the featured vocalist on “Liar” and “Black and White.” Both had solid, memorable rock ‘n roll voices.
But it may have been Cory Wells who provided the most distinctive voice (featured in the videos below). His performance on “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” is a top-40 treasure. Who didn’t crank the radio up when his cold open vocal, “Well, I’ve Never Been To Spain” came on? And that’s Cory singing, “Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain, with the rain in Shambala…”
Many years ago, there was a split within the group, with Wells and Hutton refusing to perform with Negron, who admittedly had drug problems in the past. Negron has apparently been clean for quite a while, but the wounds were deep, so he was never welcomed back into the fold. Wells and Hutton performed as 3 Dog Night as recently as last month, when Wells became ill. Negron has performed solo, while singing many of his 3 Dog Night hits.
I had always hoped the three would reconcile, but with the news of Wells’ death at the age of 74, that isn’t going to happen. My favorite 3 Dog Night songs are the ones like “Celebrate,” “Family of Man,” “Eli’s Coming” and “Out in the Country,” all of which display all three vocalists, separately and together. What a great blend of voices. One of the best has now been silenced, but he’ll forever be remembered as a true highlight in the soundtrack of our lives.
Here are 3 of the best, from 3 Dog Night, all featuring Cory Wells on lead vocal.