On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 7

Once again I’ve decided to do another installment in my recurring and now more regular music history feature. This time it’s February 7, and it turns out I found a number of events that sufficiently intrigued me to highlight.

1959: New Orleans blues guitarist Guitar Slim passed away from pneumonia in New York at the untimely age of 32. Born Eddie Jones in Greenwood, Miss. on Dec 10, 1926, he had a major impact on rock and roll and influenced guitarists like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. In fact, he experimented with distorted overtones 10 years before Hendrix did. Slim is best known for writing the blues standard The Things That I Used to Do, arranged and produced by a young Ray Charles. After the tune was released in the fall of 1953, it topped Billboard’s R&B chart for weeks and sold more than a million copies, becoming one of label Specialty Records’ biggest hits. Guitar Slim was a favorite of Hendrix who recorded an impromptu version of The Things That I Used to Do in 1969, featuring Johnny Winter on slide guitar. The tune, which is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, was also covered by Pee Wee Crayton, Tina Turner, James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.

1963: Please Please Me, The Beatles’ first U.S. single and their second single overall was released by Vee-Jay Records. This followed rejections by Capitol Records, EMI’s U.S. label, and Atlantic. Chicago radio station WLS‘s Dick Biondi, a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, became the first DJ to play a Beatles record in the U.S. Initially, the tune, written by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, was a moderate success, peaking at no. 35 on the WLS “Silver Dollar Survey.” It would take until the song’s re-release in January 1964 that Please Please Me became a major U.S. hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-March 1964, trailing I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. Three weeks later, The Beatles held the top 5 spots on the U.S. chart, with Please Please Me at no. 5. Chart-topper Can’t Buy Me Love was followed by Twist and Shout, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

1970: Led Zeppelin topped the Official Albums Chart in the UK for the first time with their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II. The record also became a chart-topper in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in Austria, Norway and Sweden.  Recording sessions for the album had taken place at several locations in both the UK and North America between January and August 1969. Zep guitarist Jimmy Page was credited as producer. Eddie Kramer, who by that time had already worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix, served as engineer. Here’s the opener Whole Lotta Love, one of my favorite Zep rockers that also was released separately as a single. The tune was credited to all four members of the band and, following settlement of a lawsuit in 1985, to Willie Dixon. Once again, the group had borrowed from somebody else’s work without acknowledgment. It’s an unfortunate pattern by one of my all-time favorite rock bands!

1970: Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dutch rock band Shocking Blue topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Venus. Their biggest hit also reached no. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and France, no. 2 in Germany and Norway, and no. 3 in The Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the song’s music is from the 1963 tune The Banjo Song by American folk trio The Big 3 with lyrics by Shocking Blue guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen. Officially, only van Leeuwen was credited – sounds a bit like the previous item! Shocking Blue who at the time of Venus also included Mariska Veres (lead vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass) and Cor van der Beek (drums), were active from 1967 until 1974 and had a few short-lived reunions thereafter. In 1986, British girl group Bananarama took Venus back to no. 1 in the U.S. and various other countries. While I appreciate they revived a great song, I much prefer the original.

1976: Paul Simon scored his first and only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, one of my all-time favorites by the American singer-songwriter. Penned by Simon, the song was the third single off his fourth solo album Still Crazy After All These Years from October 1975. The distinct drum part, one of the coolest I can think of, was performed by highly regarded session drummer Steve Gadd. He also played drums on Steely Dan song Aja and has worked with numerous other renowned artists. Backing vocals on 50 Ways were performed by Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson and Phoebe Snow. According to Songfacts, In a 1975 interview published in Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews, Simon told the story of this song: “I woke up one morning in my apartment on Central Park and the opening words just popped into my mind: ‘The problem is all inside your head, she said to me…’ That was the first thing I thought of. So I just started building on that line. It was the last song I wrote for the album, and I wrote it with a Rhythm Ace, one of those electronic drum machines so maybe that’s how it got that sing-song ‘make a new plan Stan, don’t need to be coy Roy’ quality. It’s basically a nonsense song.”

1993: Neil Young recorded an installment of the MTV series Unplugged. Apparently, Young was not happy with the performances of many of his band members. It was his second attempt to capture a set he felt was suitable for airing and release. In spite of Young’s displeasure, the album still appeared in June that year. It was also published on VHS. Here’s Unknown Legend, a tune from his then-latest studio album Harvest Moon that had come out in November 1992. My ears can’t find anything wrong with how this sounds. Of course, it’s always possible certain kinks were fixed in the production process.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

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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