‘There Is A Feeling . . .’

Originally posted March 11, 2008

The Texas Gal and I don’t disagree on a lot of things, though that does happen. Some of those disagreements are important, but most are not.

Right now, we’re supporting different candidates for president. As I didn’t check to see if it was okay to mention her preference, I won’t mention mine, either, as that would kind of be a clue, but we’ve had some spirited discussions about the merits of the candidates, and I imagine we’ll continue to do so.

Most of the things we differ on, however, are far less important. I like tartar sauce on fish; she doesn’t. Her preferred drink is Dr. Pepper; I rarely drink sodas, but when I do, I usually drink Coke. Most of the time, I drink coffee, the aroma of which she greets with a wrinkled nose.

When we run errands and I drive, I know before we set out which streets we will take and where we will turn, and I drive routes that – though they may not necessarily save time – present me with the fewest number of left turns possible, as I believe waiting for a left turn arrow is one of the greatest wastes of time in the entire universe. Such waiting doesn’t bother the Texas Gal, and when she drives, we take whatever route comes to mind as we go.

And there are some musical differences, as well. Some of them are related to the slight but significant difference in our ages: I am a little more than four years older than she. I think that age difference is why she cherishes Journey while I have little time for the group. She has a fondness, as well, for several of the other bands of the arena rock era, a style that left me cold, for the most part. On the other hand, she is not nearly as impressed with Bruce Springsteen as I am. Were I to put together a studied list of the fifteen or twenty best performers/groups of the rock era, Springsteen would be there (likely in the Top Ten although I haven’t sorted any of that list out yet). If the Texas Gal made such a list, Springsteen wouldn’t have a chance. (Bob Dylan might get onto her list as a songwriter only; she has no time for him as a performer.)

Two groups that would show up high on her short list that likely wouldn’t make mine would be the Doobie Brothers and Three Dog Night. I enjoy both groups, but I don’t think they’d sit in a Top Twenty. Without actually making such a list, I’d guess Top Forty for both of them, and given the vast numbers of acts and performers to draw from, those would be, it seems to me, pretty lofty rankings. Both were good acts.

Three Dog Night, for about six years, from 1969 into 1975, was about as dependable a Top 40 machine as you can find: A total of twenty-one Top 40 hits, eleven of them in the Top Ten and three – “Mama Told Me (Not To Come),” “Joy To The World” and “Black and White” – No. 1 hits. Those aren’t the three songs I’d select as their best hits – “One,” “Easy To Be Hard” and “Eli’s Coming” come to mind – but they’re pretty solid radio fare.

The Doobie Brothers – a group that shifted from rock to a slick sort of jazzy pop-rock without missing much of a beat during the Seventies and Eighties – had about as much chart success as Three Dog Night: Sixteen Top 40 hits, with five in the Top Ten and two No. 1 hits: “Black Water” and “What A Fool Believes.”

The two groups had obvious differences in their sound, but to me, the major difference between the two was that the Doobies generally wrote their own material while Three Dog Night covered other writers’ stuff. In one portion of the world of rock music – the portion that insists that an artist or group gains more credibility by writing songs as well as performing them – that’s a big plus for the Doobies. In another portion of that world, the one that looks at song quality first and song source second, that advantage slips away.

Not that the Doobies’ songs were bad. Many of them were good, and some – “Listen to the Music,” “China Grove” and “Black Water,” to mention only three obvious ones – were very good indeed. (Actually, their best songs might have been Patrick Simmons’ “South City Midnight Lady” and Tom Johnston’s “Texas Lullaby,” both recorded as album tracks.) But when Three Dog Night looked for songs, well, the group brought songs into the studio from a wide assortment of writers, including Hoyt Axton, Laura Nyro, Nilsson, Paul Williams, John Hiatt, Allen Toussaint, Randy Newman and the trio of Galt MacDermot, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who wrote Hair. Advantage to Three Dog Night.

So – although this wasn’t in my mind as I began writing – as I assess the two groups whose causes the Texas Gal champions, Three Dog Night would likely and up significantly higher on my list of top performers than the Doobie Brothers. I don’t think Three Dog Night is anywhere near the best group to make a living without writing its own tunes; a number of Motown groups have the Dogs beat. The same would hold true, I guess, for a few groups who recorded during the days of New York’s Brill Building. But TDN was a good group.

Where this is all heading, of course, is a cover version by Three Dog Night. Yesterday’s Baker’s Dozen unearthed the group Blue Rose and its single, “My Impersonal Life.” The Texas Gal heard the tune coming from the speakers and poked her head in the room. “You know who else did that, right?” I nodded. She said, “You’re going to like their version, too.”

So I went and found it this morning on the 1971 album, Harmony, and I agree: It’s a good version, and it turns out to be the only cover version ever recorded of Terry Furlong’s song. I’m not sure it’s as good as the Blue Rose single, but it’s good.

Three Dog Night – “My Impersonal Life” [1971]


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