Three Dog Night finds enduring success

In terms of critical plaudits or recent exposure, Three Dog Night may not be the biggest name at this year's OC Fair Summer Concert Series.

Still, by one mathematical formula, it's the most successful act in rock history.

In 2007, when statistician Joel Whitburn released his 12th edition of "Top Pop Singles," he introduced a new formula, the Top Pop Hit Average, which calculates the average chart peak for an artist's Billboard hits. Among acts with enough hits to qualify, Three Dog Night scored the highest with an average of 12.

That number — think of it as the pop-music equivalent of "Moneyball" — features prominently on Three Dog Night's website, which boasts that the band "continues to top the list of artists with the best Billboard Top 100 Chart average." So how did the group, whose signature tunes include "Black and White," "One" and "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," score so consistently?

"It all boils down to, we were in the right place at the right time, with the right chemistry," said co-founder Cory Wells, who will take the stage with fellow lead vocalist Danny Hutton and two other original members Friday. "That's what it was."

Wells, reached by phone Tuesday, doesn't have a particularly romantic view of the music industry. He admits that lucky breaks benefit a career more than talent, that a band's growth is often at the mercy of audience tastes and that, sometimes, he really does get tired of playing "Joy to the World" one more time.

But considering that Three Dog Night, by Wells' count, plays 60 to 80 shows a year, he's not ready to pack it in yet. Last year, the band joined the OC Fair lineup for the third time, and this week, it will take the stage with the Grass Roots, the 1960s-era band who scored with "Midnight Confessions" and other songs.

Dan Gaines, the fair's entertainment director, called Three Dog Night a recurring favorite for two reasons: its loyal audience and the fact that the band charges a modest performance fee, which allows for cheaper ticket prices.

"They do exceptionally well," Gaines said. "They've never sold out, but they always come very, very close."

Three Dog Night, which formed in the late '60s and enjoyed a nearly decade-long heyday, may not have garnered the acclaim of some of its contemporaries (when former Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn reported on Whitburn's finding, he expressed surprise that "a fairly pedestrian hit machine" had topped the list). Still, sales don't lie. The band's three No. 1 and 11 Top 10 hits have been rock-radio mainstays for decades.

And with an output dominated by covers, Three Dog Night spread the wealth as its records climbed the charts: Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Hoyt Axton and Leo Sayer are among the songwriters whose work found a wide audience through Wells and his comrades.

In fact, at least two online petitions aim to have the group elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Wells, though, will take a cheering crowd over a wall spot in Cleveland.

"I don't need to certify or defend myself or what I've done in my career," he said. "I did what I was supposed to do. I made good music. I made people happy. And I don't have to be in the Hall of Fame to do that."

In other words, maybe bringing joy to the world is just enough. And if that means suiting up again to play the song of the same name, well, so be it.

If You Go

Who: Three Dog Night and the Grass Roots

Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:45 p.m. Friday

Cost: $19.70 to $55.40

Information: (714) 708-1500 or

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