It’s New Year’s Eve, 1972. A band is playing “Celebrate, Celebrate, dance to the music..” and suddenly Dick Clark’s voice emerges “direct from aboard the Queen Mary in California, coast to coast in Times Square in New York, you’re invited to Three Dog Night’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve starring Three Dog Night, Blood Sweat and Tears, Al Green, Billy Preston, Helen Reddy and I’m Dick Clark from Times Square.”
I can’t say that I remember watching this inaugural launch of the iconic “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Dick Clark”, which first aired on NBC before moving to its permanent home on ABC in 1974. But 50 years later, I just finished watching this 90-minute special on YouTube (edited down to 60 with no commercials.) From the groovy graphics to the clothes styles, it just screamed the 70’s. I got a huge kick watching this vintage footage.
At some point, I realized that the version I was watching never cut away to Dick Clark’s coverage in New York, but at 11:59:00, the lead singer of Three Dog Night announced “I want you to get next to someone special because 1973 is about to be born.” The band wished Dick Clark a Happy New Year and began to stand in place and clap slowly, as if to build momentum. I noticed immediately that the clock on the screen was counting up to midnight, not counting down the last 60 seconds. At 12:00:00, the words “A Happy New Year” flashed on the screen and the horn section blared. When it quieted down, they started singing Auld Lang Syne a cappella for 30 seconds and then brought in the instruments for a decidedly funkier version.
It was fun to learn that Three Dog Night was the host of the first two “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Dick Clark” specials. I was 12 at that time, so I felt a connection to that slice of history. But I also connected with this old video because of the one-in-a-million chance I had just attended a live Three Dog Night concert only three weeks prior. It was my first time ever seeing them. And yet, on almost the eve of their 50-year-old anniversary on NBC, we were at The King Center singing along just like the crowd back in 1972.
And what a night! In 1972, they played “Old-Fashioned Love Song”, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” and “Black and White.” In 2022, there were more hits to share, including “Shambala,” “One” and “Joy to the World.” There was no intermission. I’m guessing the show was about an hour and a half.
Except for 80-year-old founding member Danny Hutton on lead vocals, there are no other members who remain from the video I watched. Sadly, Cory Wells died and Chuck Negron left the band after five years stating “lifestyle differences.”
I’ll be honest. I did not know about the origin of their name. So, I googled it. Apparently, the term 3-dog night comes from Australia, where Australian hunters would sleep next to their dogs on a cold night to keep warm. If it was bitterly cold, they coined it a three-dog night.
The crowd in 1972 looked young and hip. I scanned the crowd at my concert and saw that fans were sporting A LOT of white and gray hair (mine included!) One gentleman stood out because he was wearing a wild leopard suit jacket. He was ready for a good time. I smiled.
Apparently, there is some controversy about why Three Dog Night was never inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some say it’s because they didn’t write their own songs. For example, Hoyt Axton wrote “Joy to the World.” Harry Nilsson wrote “One” and Paul Williams wrote “Old-Fashioned Love Song.” None of these songwriters ever performed with the band.
Danny Hutton took it in stride. They know they had 21 consecutive Top 40 hits in only five years. That night, he mused that their music could not be placed neatly into a niche; the sound varied with almost every song. He took pride in that. Others feel that the band just didn’t earn the respect of those privileged enough to select the Hall of Fame inductees. What Hutton does know is that he hears their songs in stores to this day and they remain incredibly popular. And that’s enough.
In my opinion, for many of their songs, they do have a “sound”. It’s their stunning harmonies. They were very lucky to find David Morgan after Cory Wells died in 2015, because finding voices that blend like theirs is difficult. It’s like swapping out Sting with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. The current touring band includes Danny Hutton’s son Timothy on bass, Paul Kingery (guitar, bass), Pat Bautz (drums) and Howard Laravea (keyboards.)
They know they have power with their signature harmonies, too. The penultimate encore song was a song that was originally released in 2009 as a single. It resurged in 2012 after the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school.
It’s called “Prayer of the Children” and they sing it entirely a cappella. I had never heard this song, and it moved me. I wasn’t alone either. Everyone was motionless, engaged, occasionally looking at each other as if to say “can you believe we get to listen live to these harmonies?”
Finding this personal bridge between Dec. 31st 1972 and this last week of December 2022, was a bit of magic. It makes me feel good about New Year’s Eve and the new year waiting in the wings. It will be stepping out to perform in only four short days.
Happy New Year!