Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Three Dog Night

  • Captured Live at the Forum [Dunhill, 1969] D+
  • It Ain't Easy [Dunhill, 1970] B
  • Harmony [Dunhill, 1971] B+
  • Seven Separate Fools [Dunhill, 1972] C
  • Joy to the World--Their Greatest Hits [ABC, 1974] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Captured Live at the Forum [Dunhill, 1969]
I once had hopes for this group, but success ruined them too, encouraging all of their most vulgar plastic-nigger excesses. Each of the (only) nine renditions is more flaccid than the studio version (that's right, no new material) and the "Tenderness" which closes the set, admittedly an exciting climax live, doesn't work any better than it did the first time it was recorded. D+

It Ain't Easy [Dunhill, 1970]
Admitting it won't gain me any of the hip cachet I crave, but I admired and enjoyed this group's first LP. I found the second mediocre and the live job that followed it wretchedly excessive, but this one--their fourth in just fourteen months--gets back: exemplary song-finding and not too much plastic-soul melon-mouthing or preening vocal pyrotechnique. Highlights: the hit version of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," with just the right admixture of high-spirited schlock to turn it into the AM giant it deserves to be, and a departure from pre-Beatles times called "Good Feeling (1957)." B

Harmony [Dunhill, 1971]
Next to Grand Funk, they're the country's top touring act, and they sell singles in the multiple millions besides. They're slick as Wesson Oil. And when they choose the right material and go light on the minstrel-show theatrics, they're fine--next to "Maggie May," "Joy to the World" is the most durable single of the year. Their albums do vary--avoid the "Joy to the World" vehicle Naturally--but I think this is the best. Even if you're hostile, you'll have to concede that any group that can string together great-but-obscure songs from Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, and Moby Grape without inspiring a rush back to the originals has something going for it. Wish they'd cut the poetry reading, though. B+

Seven Separate Fools [Dunhill, 1972]
Their worst-ever studio LP doesn't deserve to be called slick. It's professional and expensive, yes, but it's also a mess--oversung, overarranged, overpackaged. Their tasty material has turned into a mush of campaign-promise social consciousness, and the two songs I know in other versions sound bloated. This could be the beginning of the end. C

Joy to the World--Their Greatest Hits [ABC, 1974]
Things seem to be winding up for the Kings of Oversing, but this fourteen-song compilation demonstrates that the singles, unlike the albums, didn't diminish much. It also suggests that though they're praised when at all for translating weirdos like Nilsson and Newman into AM, they also deserve credit for preserving the odd goody (two apiece) by the likes of Paul Williams and Hoyt Axton. Only Lighthouse keeper Skip Prokop proves beyond help. B+

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