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The One-Hit Wonder File: “Venus”

Venus

If you tuned into a pop radio station in the latter part of 1969 and early 1970, at some point you’d probably have heard the very cool guitar and keyboard riffs which open the song “Venus,” by the Dutch group Shocking Blue. Those riffs, along with a hypnotic lead vocal, helped propel the song to the top of the US charts. The band was formed in 1967 by guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen, who had been a member of The Motions. The original lineup for Shocking Blue, in addition to van Leeuwen, featured Fred de Wilde on vocals, Klassje van der Wal on bass, and Cor van der Beek on drums. The group found early success in the Netherlands, releasing several singles, including “Send Me A Postcard.” Fred de Wilde left the group in 1968 after the band had issued their self-titled debut. He was replaced by Mariska Veres, a veteran of several Dutch bands, including Les Mysteres and General Four.

Veres made her debut on the group’s sophomore album, 1969’s At Home. The record features a mix of rock, pop, country, and psychedelic sounds. Veres’ striking looks and distinctive vocals helped the band reach a wider audience. “Venus,” written by van Leeuwen, was released as a single in the Netherlands in July of 1969, and quickly rose up the charts, reaching number three. In February of 1970, the tune hit number one on the Billboard charts in the US. A video clip of the song was released which showcased Veres’ memorable lead vocal performance. While the group never duplicated the phenomenal success of “Venus” in the States, they had several more hits in Europe, including “Mighty Joe” (which landed just outside of the Top 40 stateside) and “Never Marry A Railroad Man.”

Related: “Hidden Gems: Songs That Missed the Top of the Charts”

Shocking Blue continued to release new material through the mid-1970s. Klassje van der Wahl left the group in 1971, and Van Leeuwen and Veres left in 1974, which effectively ended the band. Veres recorded some solo singles which were issued in Europe, and Shocking Blue briefly reformed in 1979. Another Dutch group, Stars on 45, comprised of studio musicians and singers, used the guitar riff from “Venus” in their self-titled single, a medley of songs by The Beatles, which was a hit around the world in 1981. The most famous cover of Shocking Blue’s signature song is very likely the dance-pop version of the song by Bananarama, which the trio released in 1986. The group had been performing the song live for some time and decided to record it. Their cover of “Venus” quickly hit number one on the charts, thanks to a ton of radio airplay and a video that seemed to run every few minutes on MTV.

 

“Venus” wasn’t the only Shocking Blue song to be covered by other bands. Nirvana recorded the song “Love Buzz” for their initial single in 1988, and Prodigy offered their version of it in 2004. Bob Mould (of Husker Du and Sugar fame) took on “Send Me A Postcard” in 2019, for his album Sunshine Rock. Sadly, Mariska Veres, Klassje Van der Wahl, and Cor Van der Beek have all passed away, leaving van Leeuwen the only surviving member of the band. “Venus” lives on and is frequently used in movies, television shows, and commercials. The song was recently featured in the Netflix series The Queens Gambit, in a scene where the main character, Elizabeth Harmon, dances while watching the video on television. Shocking Blue and their tale of the “goddess on a mountain top” continue to capture the imagination of music fans around the world.

-John Visconti

Photo: Shocking Blue (Wikimedia Commons)

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John Visconti is a lifelong music and movie aficionado with wide-ranging tastes, including The Beatles, Otis Redding, and Bruce Springsteen, right on through to modern-day practitioners of power pop and retro soul. You can get into a spirited discussion with him about various film noir classics, or the relative merits of the entries in Toho’s Godzilla series. After long stints in both publishing and IT, he’s currently working in the healthcare world in a non-clinical role. You can check out his blog, John V's Eclectic Avenue at http://jveclectic.blogspot.com.

7 comments on “The One-Hit Wonder File: “Venus”

  1. Great song. For some reason I had it in my head that they were from San Francisco (maybe her slight resemblance to Grace Slick). And that’s a very Pete Townshend-esque opening guitar riff (i.e. very cool).

  2. Julio Garcia

    Very interesting article. I would like to add that in my country, Peru (of all places…), another song of this group was a big hit after “Venus”. It was “Demon Lover”. Thank you, John

  3. I ALWAYS thought the lead singer was a guy. Kinna puts you in the mind of Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs……yeah? ;]

  4. The sole author is Robbie van Leeuwen, who is indeed living a very good life with the money that still flows from Venus, etc. He was a superb composer and guitarist.

  5. “Venus” was ripped off from a number by the Big 3, “The Banjo Song” (also known as “B-A-N-J-O”). See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdor8y9JxKs .

    • Wow, for sure. I’d never heard that. A jammin’ tune from 1963. Thanks for the link!

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