top of page
  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Shocking Blue's rocking "Venus" has a surprising country backstory

...and I only learned about it today.


Today's Senior Year Soundtrack entry is another song I heard on the radio as I was back home for the Thanksgiving break. I only heard it once in that time, but that was enough to help me remember I had wanted to tackle it for this project.


A staple of 60s and early rock radio to this day, I heard Shocking Blue's "Venus" on XM's '60s Gold radio station and subsequently got it stuck in my head for the next few days. There's no doubt it's a '60s track with its instrumental flavors, but I also knew there had to be something else behind its country-tinged sound. It was only when I researched for this article that I learned that part of the tune's story, and I'm looking forward to relaying it to you today... after I tell part of the story I originally envisioned telling.

Lyrically, "Venus" takes full advantage of its mythological title. Through lead singer Mariska Veres, Shocking Blue present the song's female subject as a sculpted beauty akin to that of the Roman goddess — "the summit of beauty and love" — if the subject isn't a goddess herself.


That narrative emphasis is interesting to me, but what I find the most intriguing lyrically about the song is the shift in point of view in the chorus. The titular Venus figure is treated in the third person throughout the verse ("And Venus was her name") and the opening of the chorus that everyone remembers ("She's got it / Yeah, baby, she's got it"). Yet right after "She's got it" comes an abrupt shift to the first person: "Well, I'm your Venus / I'm your fire at your desire." It's a fascinating shift, as Veres takes the praise she's given to this otherworldly figure and quickly empowers herself with that same language. ...Or is it that she was the "goddess on a mountaintop" all along, and that the shift to first person is a big reveal? I mentioned in yesterday's article that there's beauty to be found in ambiguity, and I feel that about the perspective shift in "Venus" as well. Veres is clearly establishing herself as an object of beauty and affection, but on what scale — personal to someone she loves, or on a larger scale as a muse to others?

 

The above was the story I initially had in mind for the tune — a lyrical analysis, with a deep dive into that perspective shift and other aspects of the tune. However, upon listening to "Venus" on repeat to inform my writing, I became more intrigued with various aspects of its sound, starting with my realization that it was quite similar to another late 60s rock staple.


***


Unless I know I'm listening to "Venus," it takes me a few seconds to distinguish it from another similar track, by which Shocking Blue were very likely inspired: the Who's "Pinball Wizard." "Venus" was released a few months following the Who's landmark album Tommy, and "Pinball Wizard" and other tracks clearly rubbed off on other artists. The "Pinball Wizard" inspiration is most evident in "Venus"' suspended-chord opening, which brashly introduces the tune before sliding into a cool blues-like progression in E. However, I also hear its influence in lead vocalist Mariska Veres' vocal tone, which is lovably rough around its edges.


However, "Pinball Wizard" is far from the only tune from which "Venus" took cues. In fact, the music which became "Venus" originated in "The Banjo Song," a reworking of the American folk classic "Oh! Susanna" by The Big 3 — a folk trio which included a young Cass Elliot.

Until I was researching to write this article, I had never known of The Big 3, let alone this radical transformation of a staple folk song. Listening to it now, it's still quite difficult for me to wrap my head around it... but here it is, "The Banjo Song," the direct predecessor to "Venus." Combining the original folk lyrics with a new, rocking country arrangement certainly distinguishes The Big 3's version from those which came before it.


For the sake of looking at "Venus," we can clearly hear the genesis of Shocking Blue's sound in both the lyrics and the progression. Shocking Blue took "The Banjo Song" and put it in their more rock-based style, featuring both electric and acoustic guitars. The electric guitar displays the greatest country influence of any instrument, with its slide-based solo lines that call back to "The Banjo Song." Meanwhile, a propulsive, oh-so-60s electric piano firmly establishes Shocking Blue's sound as their own compared to their inspirations — and I think it makes the tune as much as any other instrument. In its warm sound and its embellishment of the chords over which it plays, the electric piano ensures the song never gets into a rut despite a lack of chord movement in the verses.


***


With "Venus," then, we have one of the most unique origin stories I've ever heard in the popular music sphere, especially for such an iconic song. It undeniably is a rock tune which fits right into the late 60s sound, but the parts from which it originates have a much more varied and storied influence. The fact that the song became what it has, then, is a testament to Shocking Blue both in terms of their musicality and their ability to cull their numerous inspirations into such a centered and contemporary product.


...Isn't that a lot more interesting of a story than what I first had in mind?

Comments


bottom of page