Shambala – Three Dog Night
Number one in New Zealand – 10 – 24 August, 1973
The word “Shambala” is derived from the Buddhist “Shambhala,” which is a revelation or a goal of the teachings to acknowledge humanity’s desire and aspirations to create a society that will enable the inhabitants to “express the dignity of human existence and to lead meaningful lives within a flourishing culture.”
So, to recap, Shambala is:
1) the dignity of human existence:
2) the ability to lead meaningful lives:
We started taking everything for granted. It was great in the beginning. Then all of a sudden, you start to go OK, well, the album’s coming out and we’re not even finished with it and it shipped Gold. The concert has been sold out for a month, OK. I’m going through relationships. I’m going through money. There was nothing holding my interest anymore, ’cause you took everything you had for granted. It was one of those things where I said I swear I will never do. Then all of a sudden someone said “Try it. I can’t hurt you.” So you try it.
“It” was heroin. Trying “it” turned into a $500 a day habit for Jimmy Greenspoon, the keyboard player for Three Dog Night.
3) All within a flourishing culture:
Jimmy – If you got too down on the heroin, you’d buy a couple of grams of coke, and then maybe take a few pills and take 8 or 10 double kamikazes, just to get an edge on the whole thing.
Interviewer – I recall seeing a segment on Three Dog Night on the CBS Evening News. They were pointing out how thrifty you guys were because you ate at fast food places.
Jimmy – We just took the limo and drove it into the drive-thru at Jack-In-The-Box, which was kind of a kick, ’cause everybody knew who we were. We kind of stopped the working of the place altogether. And the people in the back of us were getting kind of upset ’cause we ordered 40 tacos and 35 hamburgers and sandwiches and so on.
It took them a while to make the order.
For some reason, it would seem that New Zealand was the only place in the world where Shambala reached number one (although it reached number three in the USA). Perhaps it was the memorable lyrics of the chorus:
Ah, ooh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Or the deep personal reflection of the verses,
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 her eyes
On the road to Shambala
I guess you had to be there.
To be fair, even though Three Dog Night were really just a covers band, they were a band, a group of musicians playing instruments, and they sound pretty tight and soulful in their best numbers. It’s hard to dislike songs like Joy To the World (“Jeremiah was a bullfrog…”), or Black and White. Even though the band had three lead vocalists it would be Chuck Negron’s voice that people recognise as he is the lead on those two songs. He also spent the 1980s “battling with addiction”. Predictably he found God, a vocal coach, and the oldies touring circuit. His book is called Three Dog Nightmare. Nice take on the band name.
The name came from an article a band member’s girlfriend read about cold nights in the outback of Australia. For warmth you could sleep with a dog. The coldest nights were three dog nights (or six to eight cats presumably). That’s quite cool, and boy were they a popular band. Between 1969 and 1974 they had eighteen consecutive top 40 hits in the USA. They were so popular they seem to have pioneered bringing stadium rock into the mainstream.
Still, they did all this playing other people’s songs. Fans of the band get around this creative issue by trying to give the band members credit for “selecting” songs (as if having good taste is the same as writing good songs), or by saying things like: “The group had no hang-ups about ‘doing only their own songs.'” Yeah, I imagine the first million dollar seller would ease my hang-ups too.
And it’s hard to like this kind of thing from Jimmy the keyboard player:
After our fourteenth album came out, that was in the whole disco era, we were trying to conform with what was going on musically, which was a mistake. We should have kept on doing what we did. We kind of fell flat on our faces. The fans just said “this is something we don’t like.” The album didn’t even make the charts. They stopped coming to the shows. People are so fickle.
Fickle? Fourteen albums ain’t fickle. Jimmy was probably just sore cause he had to cut back to a $400 a day habit once record sales dipped.
There’s no need to be too snippy though. There’s nothing the matter with doing covers if they’re good covers, and Joy To the World is a great song. Shambala on the other hand is tedious drivel somehow made even less palatable by its nod to spiritual ideas.
The band is still going. They may have missed Buddhist nirvana but it sounds a lot like they have reached the capitalist version of Shambhala:
Usually, we’ll go out in mid to late June and do like 3 months straight of dates, and then the rest of the year we’re doing weekends or corporate parties like IBM or Merrill Lynch. A lot of major groups are doing private parties like The Beach Boys. Merrill Lynch sent us to the Bahamas, all expenses paid, to do one show for a week. We went to Hawaii for Firestone. That kind of subsidizes the off time with a little paid vacation and sun.
Perhaps they do a different version of Shambala now:
Wash away my trouble, wash away my pain
With corporate tours in Hawaii
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
With Merrill Lynch all expenses paid
On the road to Shambala
Gee, I hope the recession hasn’t cramped their style.
This post is part of a series about the number one songs of 1973 in New Zealand. The series can be found here.