Posts Tagged ‘Three Dog Night’

‘On The Road To Shambala . . .’

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Shambala, according to Wikipedia, is “a kingdom hidden somewhere in Inner Asia.” Digging deeper, one reads that Shambala is “mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalachakra Tantra and the ancient texts of the Zhang Zhung culture which predated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet.” Wikipedia goes on to say:

Hindu texts such as Vishnu Purana mention the village Shambhala as the birthplace of Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu who will usher in a new Golden Age . . .

Whatever its historical basis, Shambhala gradually came to be seen as a Buddhist Pure Land, a fabulous kingdom whose reality is visionary or spiritual as much as physical or geographic. It was in this form that the Shambhala myth reached the Western Europe and the Americas, where it influenced non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist spiritual seekers — and, to some extent, popular culture in general.

The Wikipedia entry on Shambala offers numerous examples of the use of Shambala in Western culture, including popular culture, noting that the mythical place is sometimes claimed to have been the inspiration for Shangri-La, first described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. Our popular culture interest this morning, of course, is the song “Shambala,” written by Daniel Moore and first recorded in 1973 by B.W. Stevenson and covered very soon after by Three Dog Night. Here’s how Stevenson sang it:

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
With the rain in Shambala.
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
With the rain in Shambala.

Hey-ay-ee . . .

Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala.
Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala.

How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?
How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?
Tell me: How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?
How does your light shine in the halls of Shambala?

I can tell my sister by the flowers in her eyes
On the road to Shambala.
I can tell my brother by the flowers in his eyes
On the road to Shambala.

Hey-ay-ee . . .

Stevenson’s version entered the Billboard Hot 100 on May 12, 1973, and spent eight weeks in the chart, peaking at No. 66. It went to No. 31 on the adult contemporary chart. The cover from Three Dog Night entered the Hot 100 a week later for a sixteen-week stay, peaking at No. 3 on both the pop and AC charts.

And with your host limited by a couple of summer ailments, other covers of “Shambala” – including the 1998 version by its writer, Daniel Moore – will have to wait until later in the week.

‘Mercy, Mercy On The Love Defenders . . .’

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Even forty-one years later, I remember being a little baffled.

It was mid-December 1971, and I spent part of a weekday evening with my first two college buddies, Dave and Wyoming Rick. (I call him that to differentiate him from Kilian Boulevard Rick; the new Rick came from the small town of Wyoming, Minnesota.) They’d stayed in St. Cloud during the break between fall and winter quarters, and with the dorms closed, they were living with a group of other guys in the basement of a house south of campus.

(The house, as it turned out, was the home of one of Kilian Rick’s friends from Cathedral High School. At the time, it was on the edge of the campus area, across the street from a series of block-sized unpaved parking lots and not far from a packing plant; today, that area holds the university’s football stadium, the two-rink hockey center and a series of now-paved parking lots with a public bus hub.)

The three of us hung around their kitchen for a while and then decided to go get something to eat. Before we headed out, though, they brought out a squarish and flat paper bag that clearly held an LP. “We didn’t get it wrapped,” one of them said, “but we got you a Christmas present.”

I protested that I hadn’t gotten them anything, and they waved that off and told me to pull out my present. It was a used copy of Naturally, the Three Dog Night album released about a year earlier. I smiled and thanked them, and put the record in the back seat of my car as we headed out to find a cheap restaurant.

As I said above, I was baffled. I’d never paid much attention to Three Dog Night, and I doubted that I’d ever indicated to Dave or Wyoming Rick that I was looking for any of the group’s albums. I knew the group’s hit singles, of course, and had particularly liked “Eli’s Coming” and “Out in the Country.” I had one Three Dog Night LP, Captured Live at the Forum, and I suppose I might have dropped that 1969 album on the turntable when the two guys (and likely a few young women) had spent an evening hanging around in the basement rec room at my house.

Whatever their reasoning, I appreciated the gift, as the album turned out to be pretty good, one of the best in the (relatively) lengthy history of the group. The biggest hit from the record was “Joy to the World,” never one of my favorites, but the record also brought along “Liar” and “One Man Band,” which I liked pretty well. My favorite track on the record, however, was an album track: “Heavy Church,” written by Alan O’Day.

Looking at the comments for that video, one thing confuses me: There is a reference to “Heavy Church” having been a B-side, and I’m wondering on which single that was. I can’t find a reference to “Heavy Church” as a B-side. Does anyone out there know anything? (I did learn from a little bit of digging this morning that R&B singer Al Wilson, whose “Show and Tell” went to No. 1 in January 1974, released “Heavy Church” as a single, and I may have to spend a few nickels for a copy of that, as well as for a copy of Alan O’Day’s version of his own song.)

Murder Comes To Mind

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

I’ve got murder in my heart for the judge
I’ve got murder in my heart for the judge
Well, that bad old judge wouldn’t budge
I’ve got murder in my heart for the judge

Walked into the courtroom
Know this was gonna bring me down
And that big fat bald representative of justice
And the prosecutor began to frown

Murder wasn’t under consideration when I started wandering through the files on the RealPlayer this morning. But as I sorted the 63,000 tunes alphabetically, I noticed the Cowboy Junkies 1992 track, “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park,” flash past.

It’s from the Junkies’ very good album Black Eyed Man, which I found the other week at the library bookstore. (I paid a buck for it.) I thought about writing something about the Cowboy Junkies, and then I wondered how many tunes I had in the files about murder.

So I searched for “murder” and came up with twenty-two tracks, ranging temporally from Lonnie Johnson’s 1930 record “Got The Blues For Murder Only” to a couple of tracks – “Murder in Urbino” and “Buckingham Plots For Murder” – from Trevor Morris’ 2007 soundtrack to the cable series The Tudors.

And pretty much in the middle of the list were two versions of the song in which the lyrics above were found: “Murder In My Heart For The Judge” by Moby Grape and Three Dog Night. The song was written by Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson of Moby Grape, and the Grape’s version showed up on its 1968 album Wow.

I’ve only come across two covers of the tune this morning. Lee Michaels did a gritty version with some earthier lyrics on his Barrel album in 1970, and a year later, Three Dog Night took up the song as an album track on Harmony.

None of the three versions of the tune show up in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, and I don’t know if any of them were released as a single that failed to even get close to the chart. But a lot of folks likely heard the tracks anyway: Moby Grape’s Wow went to No. 20 on the Billboard album chart, Michaels’ Barrel went to No. 51 and Three Dog Night’s Harmony went to No. 8. So there may have been a few people between 1968 and 1971 walking around with a song in their heads about murder in their hearts.

A Concert Dim In Memory

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Even during my student and young adult years – the years 1970 to 1983 – I never went to a large number of concerts. I saw acts as they came through St. Cloud – most of those at St. Cloud State – and on occasion went to the Twin Cities for a show.

In St. Cloud during that time, my concerts began with the Fifth Dimension in the autumn of 1970 and closed with Leon Russell in the autumn of 1977. My Twin Cities concert list during those years started with a Joe Cocker show in April 1972 and ended with a Jackson Browne performance during the summer of 1980.

I remember pretty well almost every concert I went to during those years. That’s why it sometimes surprises me when I realize that I once saw the San Francisco band It’s A Beautiful Day in concert and don’t recall much about the show. The concert took place in St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall gym, and it was sometime in early 1973, I think, most likely in the spring. But not much of it stuck with me.

(As it turns out, as indicated in the note below from the St. Cloud State University archivist, the concert actually took place in the autumn of 1971 during St. Cloud State’s Homecoming celebration. So most of the following reasons as to why the concert is dim in my memory do not apply. It may simply be, as I note a couple paragraphs below, that I was unfamiliar with most of the band’s music so not much stuck with me. Note added September 29, 2015.)

I suppose it might have been 1972, but I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the major spring concert at St. Cloud State in 1972 was by Elton John, and I recall that show well. And it makes some sense that a concert by It’s A Beautiful Day in spring 1973 might be dim in memory:

First of all, that was the spring when I was preparing to spend my next school year in Denmark, and planning for that adventure took up a lot of time and a lot of my mental energy. Second, that spring followed the winter during which I discovered The Table at the student union, and the sudden influx of a large number of friends into my life took a lot of my attention, too. Not that I began to ignore the friends who’d gotten me that far; I think I saw It’s A Beautiful Day with Rick. But my social life was more full and diverse than it had ever been, and it’s possible that the concert – instead of being a major event – became just one tile in the mosaic that was my life at the time.

Finally, I think the concert has faded from my memory because I really didn’t know the band’s music all that well. I had none of the group’s five albums, and there was only one recording by the band that I was truly aware of. It’s the same recording that I think everyone thinks of at first when It’s A Beautiful Day is mentioned: ‘White Bird.”

And I do recall the murmur in the crowd followed by applause when David LaFlamme began to pick the song’s opening riff on his five-string violin. And he and singer Patti Santos and the rest of the band gave us about ten minutes of “White Bird.” (Linda LaFlamme, who shares the vocal with her husband of the time on the original 1969 recording, had long since left the group by the time of the St. Cloud concert.) I also have a vague visual memory of David LaFlamme going all gypsy on his violin during an extended solo. But that one song is all I remember.

There’s no doubt that “White Bird” is a haunting piece of music, one that got a tremendous amount of FM airplay during 1969 and the first years of the 1970s. There were other tracks on the band’s albums that likely deserved some attention, too, but as it’s turned out, “White Bird” somehow sums up at least one portion of the San Francisco musical ethos of the era. And that’s why it’s one of the tunes on the Ultimate Jukebox. 

White bird
Dreams of the aspen trees with their dying leaves turning gold.
But the white bird just sits in her cage growing old.

White bird must fly or she will die.
White bird must fly or she will die.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 6
“White Bird” by It’s A Beautiful Day from It’s A Beautiful Day [1969]
“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps, Buddah 165 [1970]
“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night, ABC/Dunhill 4250 [1970]
“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54201 [1971]
“T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia),” by MFSB featuring the Three Degrees, Philadelphia International 3540 [1974]
“The Captain of Her Heart” by Double from Blue [1986]

As I wrote once before, hearing the Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child” always reminds me of the morning I pulled into a parking lot and jumped from my car to call a oldies station’s trivia line – this in the days before cell phones – and then watched my car begin to roll back into the street as I was hanging up. I was lucky twice that morning: First, there was no traffic heading my car’s direction as I ran to it and found the brake, and second, I won a free pizza for identifying the record just from its introduction. And you know what? I still like the record, which went to No. 8 during the summer of 1970. Key lines:

Some day, yeah, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.
Some day, when the world is much brighter.

“Out In The Country” fits into a couple of categories as a pop song. It falls right into the clutch of songs and records that I call “get back to the land” tunes. It’s hard to tell whether the narrator – the song was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols – is heading to the country forever or just for the afternoon, but it still holds the idea that things are better away from the city. And it is, I think, one of the earliest-charting pop songs to have a clear ecological bent; we’d call it a “green record” these days. The record was Three Dog Night’s seventh Top 40 hit, rising to No. 15 during the late summer and early autumn of 1970. Key lines:

Before the breathin’ air is gone,
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime.
Out where the rivers like to run,
I stand alone and take back somethin’ worth rememberin’.

In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh wrote: “‘What’s Goin’ On’ is the matrix from which was created the spectrum of ambitious black pop of the seventies: everything from the blaxploitation sounds of Curtis Mayfield to Giorgio Moroder’s pop-disco. Not bad for a record whose backing vocalists include a pair of pro football players.” The football players were Mel Farr and Lem Barney of the Detroit Lions, and according to Songfacts.com, the pair and Gaye used the phrase “What’s goin’ on?” as a frequent greeting, providing Gaye with the title for not only his socially conscious song but for his equally aware album. The record – as beautiful as it is powerful – spent three weeks at No. 2 on the pop chart and five weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart. (The album went to No. 6, with two more songs hitting the Top 40: “Mercy Mercy Me” went to No. 4, and “Inner City Blues” went to No. 9.) Key lines (that sadly still resonate today):

Mother, mother,
There’s too many of you crying.
Brother, brother, brother,
There’s far too many of you dying.

Turning to Dave Marsh once again, he said that “T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia)” was what disco sounded like in the test tube. And he’s right. It would still be a couple of years before disco would take over the airways and the dance floors, but when you listen to MFSB and the Three Degrees, you can hear what was the future – or a good-sized slice of the future, anyway – in the grooves. Most disco music, as it turned out, eventually bored me (and I don’t think I was alone in that reaction), and only two true disco records will show up in this feature as we move along, but “T.S.O.P.” was something fresh and new and exciting when it hit the airwaves and went to No. 1 for two weeks in the spring of 1974. It may no longer be fresh and new, but on those rare occasions when it pops up, it’s still exciting. And the record’s only real lyrics were nevertheless right on message:

People all over the world: It’s time to get down!

Some records simply sound like a certain time of the day or night, no matter when one hears them, as I alluded to not long ago when I wrote about the Church’s “Under The Milky Way.” To me, Double’s moody “The Captain of Her Heart” is two in the morning. It’s a cold cup of coffee and a window and a city street with maybe one car passing by in an hour’s time. But it’s still a beautiful piece of work. The single edit of the record went to No. 16 in the late summer and autumn of 1986. The group produced two videos for the record: one evidently intended for the European market based on the single and the one embedded below that used the album track and was tagged as the “United States version.” And I guess the opening lines remain the key lines:

It was way past midnight,
And still she couldn’t fall asleep.
This night the dream was leaving
She tried so hard to keep.

‘I Don’t Need No Light In The Darkness’

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Sometimes new stuff comes at you when you don’t expect it. By the summer of 1989 – when I landed in Anoka, Minnesota, for an eight-month stay – I was digging into musical performers and styles new to me (though some of those performers and styles had been around for some time). The digging was for the most part spurred by the contents of two boxes of records I’d bought at a North Dakota flea market during the late winter of 1989, boxes whose contents had introduced me to Mother Earth and had encouraged me to dig into performers about whom little I knew but their names, like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Ian Lloyd, Thin Lizzy, Terri Garthwaite and more. After years of letting music come to me when it would, I began to actively seek out new sounds.

And in July of 1989, a ladyfriend and I went to a concert in St. Paul, a show featuring Ringo Starr with the first incarnation of his All-Starr Band. Beyond Ringo himself, familiar names studded the lineup: Dr. John, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons, Joe Walsh, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Nils Lofgren and drummer Jim Keltner. Of all of them, I probably knew Lofgren and his work the least. I knew he’d been in Grin and that he’d worked some with Neil Young. And I was aware that he’d filled the spot created when Steve Van Zandt left Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band in the mid-1980s. And in the interims, I knew, he’d done his own work. But I knew nothing about that work at all.

At mid-concert, as the musicians supporting Ringo were taking their solo numbers, Lofgren counted in a song that started with a shimmering figure above a descending bass. My date and I, standing on our chairs in the sixth row, looked at each other. “You know this one?” she whispered to me. I shook my head, but as I listened, I told myself that I was going to learn about that song starting very soon.

The first step was the song’s name, “Shine Silently,” which my ladyfriend and I learned the following morning as we read reviews of Ringo’s show in the Twin Cities newspapers. From there, finding the song took a little longer than I’d expected; I had to work for a living, and there was so much music out there and so much to do at home. But I continued to keep Lofgren’s name and music in mind as I wandered shops and flea markets. And in February 1990, I found in an Anoka shop a 1981 Lofgren anthology titled The Best, which included “Shine Silently.” A little more than a year later, in 1991, Ringo released an album pulled from his 1989 concert tour that included Lofgren’s live version of the song, and I grabbed that album the first day it was out. The song originally was on Lofgren’s 1979 album Nils in a slower – and lower-pitched – version than the one that showed up on The Best. Without knowing for sure, I’m thinking that the version on The Best was the single version released in 1979 as A&M 2182. I prefer that take and the one from the Ringo Starr tour to the one on Nils.

Here’s the concert version:

The song remains a favorite of mine, partially because I’m a sucker for a descending bass line but mainly for its gentle and loving tone. Here are the key lines:

Shine silently.
I don’t need no light in the darkness.
Shine silently.
No I won’t get lost while your love shines,
Shines on me, shines on me.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 5
“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” by Lou Christie, Buddha 116 [1969]
“Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night, ABC/Dunhill 4215 [1969]
“Trust Me” by Janis Joplin from Pearl [1971]
“Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” by Long John Baldry from It Ain’t Easy [1971]
“Strawberry Letter 23” by the Brothers Johnson from Right On Time [1977]
“Shine Silently” by Nils Lofgren reissued on The Best [1979]

“I’m Gonna Make You Mine” was the last of five Lou Christie records to reach the Top 40, and it was separated from his last hit by more than three years, which is an eternity in the singles biz. In addition, the record was kind of clunky at moments, especially in the middle eight. But none of that mattered during the autumn of 1969, when the record went to No. 10, as “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” was the first record of that first Top 40 season that felt like it was about my life. There were no key lines, as the entire record spoke to me and, through me, to someone else. She wasn’t interested then, but five years later, for a too-brief time, she was mine.

Not quite a year ago, my blogging colleague jb wrote at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ about the television series Sports Night and the use of pop music by producer Aaron Sorkin to, as jb put it, “punctuate storylines.” One of those so used, in an episode that jb called the best in the series’ history, was Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Coming,” a Laura Nyro song about a womanizer best avoided: “Eli’s coming, hide your heart, girl.” (Though I still wonder about the line “I went to Apollo by the bay.”) In his post, jb noted that one of the characters on Sports Center, even though he knows better now, still hears the song as he did the first time, as something more sinister: “There’s a strangeness about this day. Eli’s coming. . . . From the Three Dog Night song . . . Eli’s something bad. A darkness.” The character continues: “I know I’m getting the song wrong, but when I first heard it, that’s what I thought it meant. Things stay with you that way. . .” Indeed they do. For me the record – which went to No. 10 as 1969 turned into 1970 – was a slightly spooky, idiosyncratic piece of work and nothing more. Since I read jb’s post, however, the song sets me on edge more than it ever did. Thanks, jb. Still, it’s a great record. The key line? Right near the start, riding above that spooky organ for one more instant before the record takes off: “Eli’s a-comin’ and the cards say . . . a broken heart.”

It seems to me that the late Janis Joplin’s reputation rest in large part these days on her admittedly great facility as a blues shouter. She could wail, of course. Much of her work with Big Brother & The Holding Company – “Down On Me” and “Piece of My Heart” come to mind most quickly – was loud and insistent. (And good: One of those two records will show up here before this project is through.) Given the strength of those performances and her work on I Got Dem Ol’ Kosmic Blues Again Mama!, that image of Joplin as a wailer is understandable. Perhaps that’s why of all of Joplin’s work, I prefer Pearl, the posthumously released 1971 album. There are some workouts: “Cry Baby,” “Move Over” and “My Baby” come quickly to mind, and Joplin also takes the quiet start of “A Woman Left Lonely” to places not anticipated. But several times on Pearl, Joplin lets the song tell the story, seemingly holding back. The best of those tracks is her work on Bobby Womack’s “Trust Me.” That’s not to say Joplin’s interpretation doesn’t get intense. But it’s an intensity that seems to me, anyway, to have been very much under control. Key lines:

So if you love me like you tell me that you’re doing, dear,
You shouldn’t mind paying the price, any price, any price.
Love is supposed to be that special kind of thing,
Make anybody want to sacrifice.

I went over the history of the Long John Baldry track “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” in its various title permutations over the course of several posts a while back. (Those post are available here, here and here.) Of the various versions I know about, though – by Gator Creek, Crow, songwriter Jeff Thomas and Baldry – this one remains the favorite. Even with the shaggy dog story about Baldry playing his guitar in the street for pennies as prelude, the track from It Ain’t Easy still makes me wanna dance once pianist Ian Armitt starts accelerating. Key lines: “It ain’t a matter of pork ’n’ beans that’s gonna justify your soul/Just don’t try to lay no boogie woogie on the king of rock and roll!”

The Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23” slipped past me when it was on the charts in the late summer of 1977. I assume I heard it, as it got as high as No. 5 on the Billboard Top 40 chart (No. 1 on the R&B chart), but beyond a vague echo, the song spurs no memories for me. So why is it here in the Ultimate Jukebox? Because after the little filigree intro that was tacked on for the album, the song quickly finds an insistent groove that grabs one’s attention and anchors a great R&B record despite the sometimes surreal lyrics. The instrumental break by guitarist Lee Rittenour breaks into the groove, yes, but it delivers us back there as it fades, and we stroll along. As I noted here the other day, I sense an audio kinship between this record and the Isley Brothers’ long 1973 version of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” and that remains true, I think, as does the record’s lineage back to Shuggie Otis’ 1971 original recording of the song.  Key lines (I think):

A present from you:
Strawberry letter 22.
The music plays, I sit in for a few.

(Post revised slightly with new links December 22, 2012 and January 9, 2014.)