Shocking Blue, Shockingly Underappreciated

The Dutch rock band was much more than a one-hit wonder

The other day, fellow blogger Hanspostcard highlighted Mighty Joe, one of only two tunes by Shocking Blue, which made the top 50 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The second one was Venus, a chart-topper in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway and France, and a top 10 hit in various other European countries. Like I had done, many folks probably think of the Dutch rock band from The Hague as a one-hit wonder, but as I discovered over the past few days, there is much more to Shocking Blue. And I’m somewhat puzzled, or should I saw shocked, this great band with a kick-ass lead vocalist wasn’t more successful beyond The Netherlands.

According to Wikipedia, Shocking Blue were founded in 1967 by Robbie van Leeuwen, a guitarist and sitarist, who was the band’s main songwriter and sang backing vocals. The other members of the initial line-up included Fred de Wild (lead vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass) and Cor van der Beek (drums). Following their eponymous debut album from November 1967, de Wild left to join the Dutch army, and van Leeuwen was introduced to Mariska Veres, a compelling vocalist who was singing with a club band at the time. The line-up for the single Venus and the band’s next three studio albums was in place.

After Shocking Blue’s fourth studio release, confusingly titled Third Album, and a tour in Japan that yielded a live record, van der Wahl departed in late 1971 and was replaced by Henk Smitskamp. At that time, Shocking Blue were a five-piece featuring Leo van de Ketterij as a second guitarist, who had joined in 1970. The band lasted for three more years until 1974, when founder van Leeuven quit and later that year was followed by Veres. Altogether, Shocking Blue’s catalog includes eight studio albums, the final being Good Times released in October 1974.

Shocking Blue 2
Shocking Blue’s best-known line-up (from left): Founder Robbie van Leeuwen (guitar, sitar, backing vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass), Mariska Veres (lead vocals) and Cor van der Beek (drums)

There’s some great music on these albums. Frankly, if you’re into late ’60s/early ’70s garage and psychedelic rock and only know Shocking Blue because of Venus and perhaps Never Marry a Railroad Man, you should check them out. Not only do some of their tunes remind me of Jefferson Airplane, but I would argue they are just as good! Let’s get to some music, and I’m deliberately skipping Venus, Mighty Joe and Never Marry a Railroad Man.

Here’s Shocking Blue’s first single Love Is in the Air, which also was the opener of their eponymous debut album. The tune was co-written by van Leeuwen and somebody who is just listed as Dimitri. While to me much of the band’s appeal stems from Mariska Veres, I think original lead vocalist Fred de Wild did a great job on lead vocals here. I also dig what sounds like seagulls you can hear in the background. It’s just a cool tune. Check it out!

At Home was Shocking Blue’s sophomore album and the first that featured Veres. It came out in September 1969, a few months following the release of the single Venus. Interestingly, that song wasn’t included in the initial version of the record, though it was added to later pressings. Ever heard a Dutch band play country honky tonk? Listen to this one called Boll Weevil, another tune written by van Leeuven. While I have no idea what the title means, I know one thing: That 2:40-minute tune rocks!

Ready for more? Let’s go to the band’s third album Scorpio’s Dance and Daemon Lover, yet another song penned by van Leeuven. The 6-minute psychedelic atmospheric beauty features great guitar and bass work and, of course, Veres’ killer voice. That woman just draws you in! Why didn’t this tune become better known? Well, to start with, it wasn’t released as a single. Plus, at 6 minutes, it definitely wasn’t radio-friendly. Nevertheless, it’s a strong track.

So how about something from that fourth studio album mysteriously titled Third Album? According to Wikipedia, this may reflect the fact that it was the third record with Veres. Whatever the reason, there’s more good stuff on this record, which marked the first with additional guitarist Leo van de Ketterij. Here’s I Saw Your Face. And, yes, the garage rocker was also written by van Leeuven.

I hope by now I got your full attention. Let’s highlight two additional songs. First up: The haunting Navajo Tears from Inkpot, the fifth studio album by Shocking Blue, which came out in March 1972. An excerpt from the lyrics: Man came to ruin in the land of the Tomahawk/Where wants the Buffalo graze do high way to call this place./Man shot them down to have some more fun./And only a few had a chance to run. Maybe the words were a little too much, especially for American audiences. Apparently, the following clip captured an appearance of the band on French television in 1973.

This brings me to the final tune, the title track of Shocking Blue’s last studio album Good Times, the only record without the band’s founder Robbie van Leeuwen. Since this isn’t an original tune, I was going to pick another song, but after listening to it, I just couldn’t resist. Good Times was co-written by George Young and Harry Vanda for The Easybeats, which first recorded and put out the tune as a single in 1968. Shocking Blue also released Good Times as a single, but it did not chart. Again, it’s puzzling to me. Perhaps it was the “wrong” song at the wrong time. In any case, the tune sounds pretty sweet to my ears.

Following their break-up in 1974, Shocking Blue had three short-lived reunions in 1979, 1980 and 1984. Mariska Veres launched a solo career after the band’s breakup. In 1993, she started the jazz group The Shocking Jazz Quintet, which performed jazz versions of Shocking Blue and other ’60s and ’70s tunes. From 1993 until her death from gallbladder cancer in December 2006 at the age of 59, Veres also performed in another Shocking Blue reincarnation.

Following his departure from Shocking Blue, founder Robbie van Leeuwen went on to form two other bands, Galaxy-Lin, and Mistral. He also released a few singles and produced two singles for Veres in 1977 and 1994. Van Leeuwen has withdrawn from the music business and remains the only surviving member of the band’s best-known four-piece line-up. Drummer Cor van der Beek passed away in April 1998 at the age of 49, while bassist Klaasje van der Wal died in February 2018. He was 69 years old.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

6 thoughts on “Shocking Blue, Shockingly Underappreciated”

  1. To your point, the only thing I knew about Shocking Blue was the catchy “Venus.” (That and the lead singer who liked to wear low-cut blouses which, frankly, caught our attention.) These do sound good. But whos’s to say why a band breaks through with one song then disappears? Maybe it’s due to lack of label promotion or perhaps they don’t tour as much as they should. This happens a lot with non-US bands, even sometimes people like Kate Bush. Focus had that one hit “Hocus Pocus” here and that was it. And yet, they are still together and are very popular elsewhere. BTW, I really liked “Venus” but it was a guilty pleasure that I wasn’t telling my “thought=they-were-cool” friends about. I have a post on that very (guilty pleasures) topic in the works.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I suppose you’re right there are many reasons why some bands have one hit and then seemingly disappear. Oftentimes, it appears it’s not because of lack of great music or talent.

    At least Shocking Blue had one big hit, which I assume helped pay some bills! Plus, at least it looks like they were reasonably successful in their home land.

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  3. I found out more about them a few years ago and have been impressed ever since. They should have had more hits than they did. Never Marry A Railroad Man, Mighty Joe, I Ain’t Never, and etc…

    I haven’t listened to their pre-Mariska Veres music as much but I will.
    You are right..a very underappreciated band. She was always compared with Grace Slick but I’ve liked what I heard from her just as much or more.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That group was Bananarama. They had that and a catchy tune called “Cruel Summer.” I thought that was pretty much it for them but it turns out they had a pretty good run of hits. “Venus” is so catchy it’s hard to fuck up.

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