August 09, 2015


Arguably the finest Nederbeat song performed by a woman of Franco-Russo-Hungarian ancestry, Shocking Blue's Venus starts a little unpromisingly with a guitar lick straight out of Tommy, but immediately redeems itself with that funky, rebellious Dutch rhythm guitar.  Of course that is also lifted - from The Big 3's Banjo Song - but sorry, talent borrows, genius steals.  Lest we get too accusatory, I listen in vain for a "SHE'S GOT IT" in Banjo Song, so perhaps the Dutch have contributed something after all.

Whatever the provenance, once Mariska Veres starts singing, the song is hers, and the party is on.  Back in the day, the musical experience was accentuated by Veres' exotic good looks (hairstyle via Grace Slick), her authoritarian singing style (Summer of Love: officially over), and her ability to frequently switch from an indifferent stare to a chilling leer.

I'm not even sure which one this is.

This alchemy produced a performance that was singular, superb, and commercially viable, reaching the top of the U.S. charts almost instantly:


Most covers of Venus are awful - almost any band can play the song, but hardly anyone can sing it.  After intensive research on Youtube for the past 45 minutes, the only really good versions are those where Veres (who passed away in 2006) is present.
  • Shocking Blue (1969 - live Bilzen) - **** / This first tour was apparently a crusher, evident in her ragged voice toward the end of the song.  Band leader Van Leeuwen said "once she joined, everything happened very quickly. The first single we did was 'Venus' in 1969. In one year, everything we dreamed about happened. It sold millions around the world and gave other Dutch groups a belief in their own potential."
  • Stockley Sisters (1976 - studio, South Africa) - ** / Routine, the first of numerous attempts to put a pop veneer on a song that is deeply rooted in blues and rock.  But not a crime against civilization, in stark contrast to...
  • Banarama (198?) - * / This is the version that is played in the evil Star Trek universe where Spock has a goatee.  It went to #1 in the U.S.  Avoid.  Because there were no criminal prosecutions for this, we now have to put up with atrocities like this.  (Don't click that link, it's just there for archival purposes.)
  • Mariska w/ every musician in the Netherlands (1985) - **** / A pleasant oddity.  The quintessential authoritarian lead singer, supported by an anarcho-syndicalist musical organization of some sort.  At first everyone seems out of whack except Mariska and the backup singers, but the band (troupe?) eventually jells, then veers repeatedly toward oblivion, before Mariska restores a semblance of order through sheer force of will.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Yoko Nagayama  (1996?) - *** / Her first big hit.  Japanese verses, English chorus.  One of the few successful covers that underplays the verse (in contrast to Mariska's very forward treatment).  Can't criticize it, but it's not indispensable.
  • Mariska w/ big band (2006) - ***** / Last appearance before she passed away, with a proper big band that knows the tune.  The audience sings the song with her.  Can't blame them, it's great.  And a bit sad.
  • Neil Young (2012) - * / Neil brings it back full circle, changes the lyrics back to Susannah.  For masochistic completists only.
  • Artis Cover Band (2013) - *** 1/2* / A rare competent vocal performance, although there are lapses.  The band plays it a bit cooler than Shocking Blue, which I think is the right choice for this (fine) vocalist.

I get the sense that at one point the song was to Dutch women what "L'Italiano" has been for Italians: a cultural anthem, an indelible badge of identity.  On reflection, maybe it's the song's combination of wildness and structure - a very Dutch mix of characteristics - that lies at the heart of it.

But it also became a cultural anthem in Russia, according to Wikipedia:
Due to the song's simple arrangement and danceable rhythm, "Venus" was adopted and performed by thousands of underground amateur performers...  Thus, the English language song of a Dutch band become a prominent phenomenon of Russian urban folklore and was considered by many an unofficial "anthem of the generation"...  In the Russian variant, the first line of the chorus, "She's got it", was usually pronounced as "Shizgarah" ("Шизгáра") [sheez-GA-rah], and it was this word which became a commonly adopted name of the song in the USSR, even among those who could understand the original English text.

I like it too, I guess we all own it now.


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