The interet is a great way to unearth lesser-known aspects of pop culture’s past. One-hit-wonders are notorious for having a single song that is exceptional but the rest of their catalog sucks. However, there are a few of them that deserved more notice. Shocking Blue is one of them. If you don’t know the name, you certainly know the song. So without further adieu, let us begin our musical journey…
Please play through each of the embeds and it will be like watching a documentary where the text functions like voiceover.)
There are only a small number of songs that sort of typify the 60s flower-power era. This is notable considering that this band is from The Netherlands. Other than the UK, very few foreign acts got any airplay in the US, and that’s still just as true today. However, as you can expect, like The Scorpions was such a big deal in Germany, or Rush in Canada, Shocking Blue was in The Netherlands.
The main draw of the band was the idea of fronting a rock band with a female singer, something unusual at the time. She was most closely compared with Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane. At first I thought her voice sounded almost the same as Slick, but over time you really learn to appreciate her unique mannerisms, not the least of which is the tinge of her accent (not unlike Klaus Meine from The Scorpions).
Most of Shocking Blue’s music worth listening to is floating around on Youtube, copyrights be damned. But it makes it very easy to share what I like right in the blog post, so I’ll leave the legal issues for the record companies.
You’d think Shocking Blue’s catalog would be mostly in the 60s psychadelic and go-go dancer vibe. You know, riffy innocence and peppermint sort of stuff. Here’s the best example of that sort of thing besides Venus. It’s dated beyond belief, and yet that’s what gives it that time-capsule effect.
They were also willing to dabble in eastern tonalities. Love Buzz featured a repeating drone-riff that eventually made its way from sitars to grunge guitar distortion via Nirvana.
Other than following what was fashionable at the time, I think they really saw themselves as a heavy blues band. But not just any blues. It was blues that sort of had a bit of country flavor in it. Here’s a great example below. This song features the innovative use of baritone guitars, something that was mostly a facet of country music before the era of heavy-metal downtuning. The clean baritone sound is a bit like Aerosmith’s Back in the Saddle.
The baritone got another workout in the even more country-like Hello Darkness.
The band at its best established a real grooving R&B style back-beat like this song:
If there’s one song that I feel is their masterpiece, and it’s not Venus. It’s this one: Never Marry a Railroad Man. This song features a blend of old southwestern flamenco or mariachi with very unusual chromatic shifts. Everything about the song fits together like a glove and the contrasty music video they filmed with Mariska’s quirky physical mannerisms was the final touch.
Unlike a lot of 60s bands that established themselves on the backs of a very 60s sound, Shocking Blue did survive into the 70s, but the lineup started shifting around and the sound shifted as well. However, there was one last song that I’d consider a classic of AOR pop rock. I know I had heard this before but never associated it with Shocking Blue. Now you can too. Very catchy don’t you think?
Mariska Veres was a very powerful and talented singer, but to a large extent her appeal came down to her exotic look something she admitted in later years was mostly a concoction of a wig and makeup.
She was also dependent on the songwriting of the original lineup to provide a backing that best suited her voice. All of these things peaked in the end of the 60s. As taste changed and the lineup shifted, she lost her unique niche. By the late 80s Veres started developing weight problems similar to Anne Wilson from Heart. She soldiered on playing mostly covers as an oldie act but never enjoyed any sort of career rebirth. Nevertheless, in the Youtube era you’ll see much love from people learning to play some of these songs. So Youtube has a way of allowing the cream of the crop of the past that may have been at risk of being forgotten to rise back up to the top again.
If your curiosity is piqued, you can try watching this documentary in three parts, starting with Part 1. It’s in Dutch but you can kind of get the gist from context. Well worth watching on a late night or a Sunday afternoon.