‘The Shocking Blue’ (03/19/70)

The Shocking Blue are the first Dutch group to generate any sort of excite­ment since Hans Brinker and the Fin­gers, and if they are handled with the proper amount of showmanship and mystery, they could become very big indeed. They’re good, and what’s more, if they are really playing on this extremely immediate and commercial album, they’re professional as well. The band is fully as coordinated and precise as a group of Nashville sidemen, and they have a gorgeous, if musically limited, female lead singer named Mariska Veres, plus a number one single, “Venus.”

“Venus” is the key to this album, because the whole record, with the exception of a couple of banal sitar exercises, is really a collection of singles. It’s only a matter of guessing which would be hits and which would get lost. “Venus,” like most of the cuts, is based on a time-honored device that most current groups ignore—the hook line, a riff or a pattern that grabs the listener instantly and which, if its rich enough to repeat, can sustain the whole song with it sense of effortless familiarity. You know how to sing along before the song is over. “Venus” begins with a riff from Tommy (that’s already familiar), a few sharply syncopated guitar strums, a sweet note, and then a vicious turn­around on the bass that tells you to pay attention. Mariska, in a stiff, controlled Grace Slick style, chants the words, and her real contribution to the song is a riff of her own—the tough, know-it-all way she shouts “Well,” just before each chord change. Add a bubblegum organ for the preschoolers and very effective, imaginative drumming for the snobs, and it all works. This is not even to mention that the lyrics, the vocal, and the music are just dripping with sex. That’s a hit.
Shocking Blue, at the moment, is a sharply restrained ensemble—they’re not trying anything the Beatles didn’t do in 1965—but their sound is hard, clear, and invigorating, and they don’t really sound like anyone we’ve heard before. Robby Van Leeuwen, who wrote most of the songs, mixed the album, and presumably produced it, has a real flair for the melodramatic—“California Here I Come,” the flashiest cut on the record, might sound ludicrous corning from a bunch of Europeans, but there’s no flower-power nonsense, just a tough, hard sense of urgency and need, and a perfect melodic highlight repeated several times, until the song makes the listener want to get to California himself, even if he’s already there, sort of in the same way that “Cali-Girls” made all California boys feel proud of themselves.

Van Leeuwen’s sense of song—how to insert moments of novelty into clichés and make his audience realize something’s going on—and that’s his car radio sense as well—comes off best on “Mighty Joe.” This number is unremarkable until Mariska and the band hit the chorus, the moment toward which the whole song has been building musically and lyrically. There’s a quick verbal change: “Did you hear about Mighty Joe? (do-do do-do do-do do)/Beware, beware!” A ringing guitar builds off the chord change, and then they shift again within the chorus, generating excitement and making you hungry for a repetition. The very ordinariness of the rest of the song is what focuses attention on this great moment, and makes you want to hear this over and over again.

Virtually the whole album is like that—expertly crafted, commercial, immediate, and seductive. Don’t be last on your block.


Rolling Stone, March 19, 1970


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