The rock band Shocking Blue became the first Dutch group to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States with its song “Venus.” Besides that ubiquitous megahit, the rest of the group’s psychedelic catalog has largely gone unheard by listeners.
This year’s Record Store Day is hoping to change that. A limited-edition numbered run of Shocking Blue’s 1969 album At Home on colored vinyl — you guessed it, “shocking blue” — includes the hit song and four bonus tracks not featured on the original LP release.
Hailing from the Hague, Netherlands, Shocking Blue formed in 1967 and broke up in 1974 when lead singer Mariska Veres sought a solo career. It was “Venus” that put them into the international spotlight. Later, the song made a comeback in the ’80s as part of the Stars on 45 and thanks to a cover by Bananarama. Since 2000, it has been used in television commercials for Gillette Venus razors.
Shocking Blue would never again achieve the US chart success of “Venus,” but the rest of their discography reveals a band worthy of another listen, especially on At Home. Side one starts with the fun and upbeat song “Boll Weevil” about the beetle that feeds off cotton and flowers. It gives a nod to ’60s surf-rock songs with its long guitar strumming and fast drum playing. Lead singer Mariska Veres adds her signature low vocals reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick.
Interestingly, prior to At Home, the band’s debut album didn’t include a female vocalist. By recruiting Veres, Shocking Blue became a success in their home country and across the Atlantic.
The line “just looking for a home” reflects on what was happening: people from around the world migrating to America, particularly California, to experience the hippie movement. The last line mentions Oklahoma City, which was declining in population at the time.
Another standout on the album is “Acka Raga,” a psychedelic instrumental with the fusion of the sitar and drums. It’s a slow and calm break from the upbeat songs on the rest of the album with a structure not unlike an Indian meditation tune. Considering that At Home was released right in the slurp of the Indian-music craze, Shocking Blue’s interpretation is one of the more authentic.
The two bonus tracks, “Hot Sand” and “Wild Wind,” are quintessential songs of the late ’60s with a combination of guitar and sitar paired with lyrics about love and questioning the things around you. Both tracks provide an exotic audio accompanied with Veres’ vocals that occasionally pepper in a hint of her accent. The two songs remain true to the band’s identifying psychedelic-rock sound.
“The Butterfly and I” features horns and a slower rock melody than the rest of the tracks. Not to compare Shocking Blue with Jefferson Airplane too much, but this track’s lyrics are vaguely reminiscent of “White Rabbit” — a hookah-smoking caterpillar who turns into a butterfly suggests eating the mushrooms to grow (get high). It’s an audio acid trip. Veres sings, “Think it out before it’s too late / have it now, you’re bound to look short / don’t wait.”
The make-you-want-to-watusi sound and mystic vocals by Veres take the listener on a journey for the mind and the ear on “Love Buzz.” The fast drumming in contrast to the lazy sitar and the lyrics, “Can’t you hear my love buzz,” define late ’60s rock music. This song could most likely play during a movie scene involving hippie teenagers dancing and smoking with a liquid light show in the background. The tune has been covered by many other artists, including the Prodigy and Nirvana, which released it as a single from the band’s 1989 debut album Bleach.
Shocking Blue’s sound remains constant throughout the album, not giving much variety except for the occasional playing of horns, tambourine, and guitar solos. These musical and slight vocal changes create surprises worth waiting for.
Veres sings all the album’s songs in English, using the American dream as fodder for “Harley Davidson” and “California Here I Come,” the latter about moving to the state where the Summer of Love took place. Besides the weather, it was the place to go even if it was far from home. “Day after day, I’m going over her dusty roads / how long will this go on / until I’m there where I belong?”
The Record Store Day release fulfills the desires of the eager listener who wants to know Shocking Blue beyond “Venus.” The tracks offer a psychedelic-rock sound with lyrics of love common in the late ’60s without much variety, but it was how Shocking Blue felt most at home.