Born in the Sixties Los Angeles scene, Three Dog Night became one of the biggest rock bands of the early Seventies. The vocal trio of Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron and Cory Wells made their debut under the name in 1968 at the Whiskey a Go Go. Hutton had formerly been a singer signed to Hanna-Barbera Records — he had performed on a Halloween record called Monster Shindig for the label, which featured the Gruesomes characters from The Flintstones.
Three Dog Night exploded onto the pop scene at large in 1969 with their single “One,” a cover of a Harry Nilsson tune. That gold record reached No. 5 on the Billboard charts. From that smash song through “Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here” in 1974, Three Dog Night released 18 singles. All of them broke into the Top 20.
Their cover tunes “Mama Told Me Not to Come” (Randy Newman / Eric Burdon), “Joy to the World” (Hoyt Axton) and “Black and White” (Pete Seeger) reached No. 1. In fact, none of those 18 consecutive Top 20 hits were written by the band.
That’s the thing about Three Dog Night that people overlook — not only was the group massive, it became so by recording other people’s material.
The band might have been even bigger had it not turned down some classics.
In a 2011 interview at the Robert H. Jackson Center, Cory Wells reminisced about some of the songs that Three Dog Night rejected. The first one that came to his mind was TV tune heard several times a week on MeTV.
“We went down and saw a TV show that was just starting,” Wells recalled, “And they offered us the song to do the theme for the show and the other two guys [Hutton and Negron] said, ‘Nah! It’s too negative! It’s Vietnam and all that kind of stuff’ — and it was for MAS*H!”
At which point Wells and the crowd erupted into laughter.
The song, of course, is “Suicide Is Painless.” You might be thinking, “But that was an instrument.” Well, yes, eventually — perhaps because Three Dog Night said no to recording it! — but it began as a vocal number sung in the 1970 MASH film. The lyrics were written by a 14-year-old, Mike Altman, son of MASH director Robert Altman.
Imagine the serious sitcom with a sung version of the tune, by Three Dog Night, at the start of every episode!