Sunday, January 20, 2008

Eli's Coming, Three Dog Night (1969)

The year 1969 occupies an easily-disturbed place in my psyche because so much was going on in my life at the time. I was getting ready to graduate from high school and leave home for college the next year, I was inching tentatively toward being in love with the boy who became my boyfriend all through college, my parents were undergoing a horrific breakup ... and of course the country was going to hell in a handbasket with its involvement in the Vietnam War. So practically every song that was on the charts in those days is emotion-laden in one way or another.

However histrionic the songs of Three Dog Night might seem today, they were so of that time for me. The 'three-lead-singer' model that they had deployed was very unusual for rock music, and it produced some intense recordings which fit perfectly with the tenor of the times.

The group's first million-seller, "One," took the world by storm, but my favorite will always be Eli's Coming, which was a great example of what they seemed best at - adapting the music of relatively unknown or otherwise undiscovered composers (in this case the genius Laura Nyro) for commercial success. The Beatles' success as "self-contained recording artists," which is just a fancy way of saying that they wrote their own music, made it harder for artists who were primarily songwriters like Nyro to get their music recorded because every group felt they could and should generate their own material. In fact, there was (and probably still is) a kind of elitism around that which suggests anyone not doing their own material is somehow laughable and unworthy.

Regardless, Three Dog Night rose above it all. In addition to Nyro's haunting composition, Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron with their powerhouse voices covered the music of Randy Newman, John Hiatt, Leo Sayer and Paul Williams. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000. Although this YouTube video is disturbing in so many ways that will become immediately apparent upon viewing, it's worth checking out just to hear the song again and remind yourself why trousers with vertical stripes should forever remain in fashion's graveyard.

Eli's Coming and its command to "hide your heart, girl" so spoke to me that years later when I took voice lessons, the song was one that I regularly worked with to develop my voice. And of course I was inspired to find out more about Nyro, who remains today one of my most revered female vocalists.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Intersting information about composers and groups that I was not aware of...I don't know if you chose this song intentionally, but it is quite apt as the Giants are going to the superbowl and Eli is their qb's name...in fact my wife made mention of the fact to me this morning...I bet it will get a lot of play on the NY radio stations