Trouble in Shangri-La (2001) is Stevie Nicks‘ sixth solo recording, a concept album based on the highs and lows of fame. Stevie has described it as the difficulty of maintaining “Shangri-La” or staying at the top of one’s career.
Stevie Nicks has never sounded more grounded or passionate than on Trouble in Shangri-La, which is her best and most varied work as a solo artist.” –Us Weekly
Stevie worked sporadically on Trouble in Shangri-La for seven years. Still disappointed with the uneven Street Angel (1994) and recovering from Klonopin addiction, Stevie had dinner with Tom Petty to discuss the possibility of him writing a song for her. (The two dined at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix on April 24, 1994.) Tom declined, but encouraged Stevie to start writing again. Their conversation inspired at least two songs: “That Made Me Stronger” and “Hard Advice” (from 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault).
As a result of Petty’s pep talk, Stevie wrote “Love Is,” her first song in several months. In 1995, she wrote the title track towards the end of the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Although she did not specifically write about Simpson or the trial, Stevie identified with the challenges of sustaining a relationship in the public eye. “Trouble in Shangri-La” and “Love Is” served as the album’s “bookends,” the inspiration Stevie needed to move forward with the album.
The Dance, Enchanted
Stevie put Trouble in Shangri-La on hold for many years because of Fleetwood Mac’s The Dance (1997), which led to touring with the band. Stevie continued to write songs for Trouble in Shangri-La, including the ballad “Touched by an Angel,” inspired by the unexpected reunion with Fleetwood Mac. The momentum from The Dance led Modern Records to release Stevie’ second retrospective release Enchanted: The Works of Stevie Nicks (1998) and more touring.
After promoting Enchanted, Stevie resumed work on Trouble in Shangri-La. She recorded “Candlebright” and “Sorcerer” with Sheryl Crow, who became the album’s first producer. But the touring demands of Sheryl’s own The Globe Sessions (1998) often pulled her away from the project. Sheryl returned later to produce additional tracks, but left again to continue promoting The Globe Sessions in Europe. She produced five tracks in all.
At the end of 1999, while vacationing in Maui, Hawaii, Stevie wrote “Bombay Sapphires.” “I wrote it in Hawaii two years ago,” Stevie said in 2001. “At that point, in order to write the rest of the songs for [Trouble in Shangri-La], I really had to leave my Enchanted box set and Fleetwood Mac behind. Hawaii was very different than any place I’d ever been. Very green — jade green — very calm, very Zen. And I realized that if you take yourself to a great environment, you can just about get over anything.”
Stevie originally wanted Sting to sing the harmony vocals on “Bombay Sapphires,” but changed her mind. Her management suggested working with rising star and fellow Reprise label-mate Macy Gray, who had won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her No. 1 single “I Try.” The two hit it off and recorded “Bombay Sapphires,” with Macy singing high harmonies on the track. Macy wrote a song for Stevie called “Smitten,” but whether it was recorded by Stevie or Macy is unknown (Rolling Stone, 2000).
Searching for producers
“Sheryl Crow actually started [producing the album] first,” Dallas said. “I came in [when] I think Sheryl had to go on the road and Stevie was in Hawaii one day and she put on the TLC record. [I’ve heard] she said ‘Hey, this is the guy. I need to find this guy. He could do a lot of stuff. It sounds like [certain] Fleetwood Mac influences. So I finally went out to meet her, and Sheryl had done two songs, but I’m not sure if she’s gonna finish them, or if Stevie’s gonna finish them, or how it’s gonna work, but the songs she did sound great.” (MTV News, 2000).
In March 2000, Stevie flew to Atlanta to work with Dallas at his recording studio. Although Dallas reportedly completed tracks for the album,” Stevie decided not to use them. “The whole album was going a certain way and Dallas had to move on,” Stevie said. “He can’t spend a year doing an album. I came back to L.A. and started to do other songs with Sheryl, and I realized the record was going in a completely different direction. The songs didn’t fit. The songs that I did with him were very R&B and then I’m dueting with [country’s] Natalie (Maines) and all of a sudden this record was not making any sense at all.” (Cohen, Tribune, 2001).
Stevie also worked with producer Rodney Jerkins (Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston, Brandy & Monica) for a short time. (New York Magazine, 2000).
To get the album back on track, Stevie worked with producers David Kahne, Pierre Marchand, Rick Nowels, Jeff Trott, and John Shanks to implement her original vision for the album.
Other unused songs
Stevie recorded songs that weren’t used for Trouble in Shangri-La. These included “My Heart,” reworked for In Your Dreams (2011); “Touched by an Angel, included on the Sweet November Motion Picture Soundtrack (2001); and “Thrown Down,” re-recorded for Fleetwood Mac‘s Say You Will (2003).
“Touched by an Angel” preceded the release of Trouble in Shangri-La by six months, first appearing on the Reprise Records promo CD for the 2000 ACLU Bill of Rights Awards Dinner on December 14, 2000. The CD also included Lindsey Buckingham’s solo version of “Peacekeeper.”
Trouble in Shangri-La featured collaborations with several artists, which Stevie has referred to as “perfect accidents.” In addition to Sheryl Crow, who sang backup on “Sorcerer,” “It’s Only Love,” and “Fall From Grace,” Stevie collaborated with Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines on “Too Far From Texas,” “Lindsey Buckingham on “I Miss You,” Macy Gray on “Bombay Sapphires,” and Sarah McLachlan on “Love Is.”
Stevie’s session with Sarah resulted from Canadian producer Pierre Marchand’s green card problem, which prevented him from working with Stevie in Los Angeles. To circumvent the problem, Stevie flew to Marchard’s studio in Vancouver, where she joined Sarah to complete the song.
Stevie’s duet with Natalie Maines came about through Sheryl Crow, who invited Natalie to the recording sessions. With a live band, Stevie and Natalie recorded “Too Far from Texas” in two days.
“Every Day,” which was the album lead single, came about from a demo Stevie received from producer John Shanks and Damon Johnson of the band Thin Lizzy. The title nostalgically reminded Stevie of Buddy Holly’s 1957 classic “Everyday,” and she agreed to record the track.
Release & Reaction
Reprise Records released CD and cassette versions of Trouble in Shangri-La on Tuesday, May 1, 2001. Aided by a successful VH1 marketing strategy (the network named Stevie “Artist of the Month” for May), the album debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 200 Albums chart. The album sold an impressive 109,000 copies in the first week, thanks to a successful pre-ordering campaign. It was Stevie’s highest album debut since The Wild Heart (1983), which also debuted at No. 5 in 1983.
Reprise Records issued the singles “Every Day” (AC #17), Planets of the Universe” (Dance #1), and “Sorcerer” (AC #21) to help promote the album. The singles all performed well on mainstream radio. During the summer, “Planets of the Universe” reached No. 1 on the Hot Dance/Club Play chart, with the help of remixes by DJs Tracy Young and Illicit.
In June 2001, the RIAA certified the album Gold status for the shipment of 500,000 copies to retailers. According to Nielsen SoundScan, Trouble in Shangri-La has sold 638,000 copies in the United States. By December, Stevie earned her fifth Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for “Planets of the Universe.” The award ultimately went to Lucinda Williams for “Get Right with God.”
“[Trouble in Shangri-La] is my heart and soul, everything I’ve wanted to say over the last 10 years,” Stevie told Entertainment Weekly in March 2001.
- Trouble in Shangri-La
- Sorcerer (Feat. Sheryl Crow)
- Planets of the Universe
- Every Day
- Too Far From Texas (Feat. Natalie Maines)
- That Made Me Stronger
- It’s Only Love (Feat. Sheryl Crow)
- Love Changes
- I Miss You (Feat. Lindsey Buckingham on guitar)
- Bombay Sapphires (Feat. Macy Gray)
- Fall From Grace
- Love Is (Feat. Sarah McLachlan)
Planets of the Universe
Brown, E. (2000, May). Production values. New York Magazine. Retrieved from https://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/music/features/2982/.
Johnson, T. (2000, January). Dallas Austin discusses working with Stevie Nicks. MTV News. Retrieved from http://www.mtv.com/news/1425064/dallas-austin-discusses-working-with-stevie-nicks/
(2000, April). Macy Gray. Rolling Stone (RS 839).