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Posts Tagged ‘Three Dog Night’

The musical Hair opened on Broadway on this date 50 years ago, back in 1968. I grew up listening to this album and most of the songs feel like they are ingrained somehow in my DNA. Hailed as the American tribal love-rock musical, it was a groundbreaking show with songs that permeated the culture and helped define the era. Aquarius certainly feels like that time and that year.

And what a year 1968 was, here and around the world.

There were the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy in April and June.

In a stormy election season, the 1968 Democratic Convention  was an eight-day violent skirmish in the streets of Chicago between police and protesters. Ultimately, Richard Nixon was elected president.

Here and around the globe, student anti-war protesters filled the streets and sometimes, as in the cases of Columbia University and Howard University, took over and occupied buildings.

North Korea captured the American surveillance ship the USS Pueblo and held its crew prisoner for 11 months. North Korea released the crew but kept the ship. It is now an exhibit Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang.

There was the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre in Viet Nam.

You had the Prague Spring that results later in the year with the Russians marching into Czechoslovakia to exert their control.

Before the opening of the 1968 Mexico Olympics, students protested in the streets that the money spent by the country for the Olympics would be better put to use in much needed social programs. The protesters were surrounded by the army and fired on, killing over 200 students and injuring over 1000 more.

The Olympics themselves were memorable with Bob Beamon soaring to an unfathomable record in the long jump. And, of course, there was the iconic image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium for the medal ceremony for the 200-meter run. Bare-footed with their heads cast downward, both raised gloved fists in the Black Power salute.

That would be enough for most years– maybe most decades. But there was even more that I don’t have time to go in here that make it one of the most chaotic and super-charged years in our history.

And among all that, the subversive sound of Hair played on. Well, it’s been fifty years and the world seems to have rotated back to find us in a similar time of chaos.

Some things never change, I guess.

So, for this week’s Sunday morning music I thought something from Hair would be fitting. So many great choices  but here are a couple of  better known selections, both of which became hits for artists that covered them in the following years. The first is Easy To Be Hard which was hit for Three Dog Night. The second is the title anthem which was #1 hit for The Cowsills.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.


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Archie Comics Cover _608It’s always interesting to discover something new — a few interesting facts or the true backstory — about things that have been in plain sight for most of your life.  Take for instance the song Black and White , released in 1972 by the pop band Three Dog Night.  The song went to #1 on the pop charts here and, with its pleasant beat and gentle message of racial equality, has been a staple of oldies radio for decades now.

I never really thought much about the song even though I’ve heard it hundreds of times over the years, even singing along with the lyrics that have been embossed in my synapses with repeated listening.  It came on the radio in our car the other day and Cheri and I couldn’t agree on who had written the song.  Three Dog Night didn’t write many of their own songs, most being penned by other, more notable songwriters– Hoyt Axton, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Elton John and others.  So whenever we hear one of their songs we try to identify the original songwriter.  But we drew a blank with Black and White.

Looking it up, we were both surprised that it was written in 1954 by songwriters Earl Robinson and David Arkin, a blacklisted teacher and set-designer who was the father of actor Alan Arkin.   This fact  made sense to me because I knew that Alan Arkin was a folksinger in the 1950’s, scoring a hit that went to #4 on the charts with a version of the The Banana Boat Song with his group, the Tarriers.

The song was written to celebrate the Supreme Court decision in the landmark case  Brown v Board of Education which outlawed segregation in public schools and was first recorded in 1956 by Pete Seeger.  In the original version, which Seeger sang, the beginning lyrics are different than the ones that so many of us who know the song through the Three Dog Night version remember– the ink is black/the page is white/ together we learn to read and write.  The original deals directly with the supreme court decision:

Their robes were black, Their heads were white,

The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight,

Nine judges all set down their names,

To end the years and years of shame.

The 1972 version that Three Dog Night recorded was based on one that was recorded a year before, in  1971, by a British group, Greyhound, that had a hit in the UK with it.  The Greyhound hit did not use these original lines anywhere in their version and Three Dog Night merely copied  this.  Though it doesn’t greatly diminish the song, it would be nice to have these lines in the song.  Perhaps by 1971 or 1972 they felt that the 1954 Supreme Court decision was no longer topical or relevant.

So, there you have it: a seemingly innocuous and pleasant song with some real history behind it.

Here’s a 1970 version from the Jamaican band The Maytones.  I believe that Greyhound‘s version of the following year came from this one.

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