Analyzing The Music Of ‘Fargo’: Everyone From Three Dog Night To Gene Autry Shows Up

Cultural Critic
05.04.17

FX

This week, Fargo left the central time zone and became Fargo Crime Scene Investigation: Los Angeles. There were flashbacks to the ’70s — and to the classic-rock flashiness of Fargo‘s second season — as well animated sequences and a mystery about a sci-fi writer that sort of went nowhere. As always, the music offered lots to ponder. Let’s turn it up!

Song: Three Dog Night, “Liar”
Scene: Thaddeus Mobley is seduced during a screen test.

In a 2016 interview with the Palm Springs Desert Sun, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night lamented that his band “was mostly categorized as oldies” by radio, as opposed to classic rock, and this has affected how 3DN is perceived by historians and cultural gatekeepers. Especially galling for Negron is the failure of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame to properly honor one of the most commercially successful American rock groups of the late ’60s and early ’70s. At its peak, Three Dog Night scored 21 consecutive Top 40 hits, including future radio staples such as “One,” “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” and “Joy To The World.” And yet Three Dog Night is saddled with “oldies” rather than the relatively prestigious “classic rock” tag.

“You have a group, the Velvet Underground. Never had a charted record. Not even the top 200. They’re in the Rock ’N’ Roll Hall of Fame because (Atlantic Records chairman) Ahmet Ertegun, who (helped) start the Rock ’N’ Roll Hall of Fame, his record company produced them and they were an Andy Warhol band,” Negron complained. “How can you put someone in that had no success?”

So, is Three Dog Night actually better than the Velvet Underground? Of course not. However, just as Lou Reed’s seminal gutter poetry still evokes the glamorous sleaze of New York in the late ’60s, there’s something about Three Dog Night’s show-business spit-shine of hippie-era rock that conjures the underbelly of ’70s Hollywood. Along with the “oldies” classification, what really does Three Dog Night in, reputation-wise, is that thorny bugaboo known as authenticity. There’s just something about three handsome guys in extravagant mustaches and skin-tight slacks that reads as phony, even smarmy, like they know how phony they are and get off on how they’re getting away with it. Put another way: Three Dog Night sounds like Hollywood’s dark soul.

The most memorable use of a Three Dog Night song in a movie is “Mama Told Me Not Come” in Boogie Nights — it’s the scene where Eddie Adams first shows up at Jack Horner’s house after getting into a fight with his mother. It’s similar to the scene in this week’s Fargo — the song title is literally describing what is happening in the scene, while at the same time leaning on that Three Dog Night smarm to hint at the rot lurking beneath the flashy exterior that our naive protagonist can’t quite sense yet. “Liar” underscores the con being played on Thaddeus, but even without that big chorus, the smarmy sound of Three Dog Night spells doom.

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