Friday, February 6, 2015

Shocking Blue – "California Here I Come" (1969)

How long will this go on?
Until I'm there where I belong

If you remember the Shocking Blue at all, it's likely because of their hit single, "Venus," which held the #1 spot on the Billboard "Hot 100" for three weeks in February 1970.

That was my senior year in high school, and "Venus" was one of the songs we put on the big-ass reel-to-reel tape machine that played in the high-school cafeteria during lunch hour.  

I later found an eponymous 1970 Shocking Blue compilation album in the cutout bins at a discount store in my hometown and jumped on it like a big dog.  (As I recall it was in the three-for-a-dollar bin.)  I didn't play the album a lot – none of the other songs other than "Venus" really grabbed me.

I'll tell you what (or who) did grab me: the Shocking Blue's lead singer, Mariska Veres.  

The Shocking Blue were a Dutch band, and Mariska Veres was born in The Hague.  But her father was a Hungarian Romani violinist (in other words, a gypsy) and her mother was born in Germany of French and Russian parents.  

Mariska Veres
So it's not surprising Mariska didn't look Dutch.  In fact, she's about as unblonde as it's possible to be.

Mariska looks and sounds a little like Grace Slick, and Shocking Blue's music is not entirely dissimilar to the music of the Jefferson Airplane.  The group even covered "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit."

Grace Slick
The Shocking Blue broke up in 1974 when Mariska decided to pursue a solo career.  The band got back together a decade or so later, but never approached their earlier success.

I only recently learned that "Venus" was inspired by "The Banjo Song," a 1963 record by the folk group The Big 3.  (Cass Elliot was a member before the Mamas and the Papas were formed.)  That record features the lyrics to "Oh! Susanna."  (That's right – "I'm going to Alabama with a banjo on my knee," etc.)

Here's "The Banjo Song," which sounds exactly like "Venus":

The author of "The Banjo Song" – Tim Rose – never alleged plagiarism.  He got his revenge by later taking credit for two oft-recorded songs that other people had written – "Hey Joe" and "Morning Dew."

The years were no kinder to Mariska Veres than they were to Grace Slick.  (To tell the truth, I don't look so great myself.)  So I've used only pictures of her in her younger days – when she was an exotic-looking beauty with a thrilling voice.

Sadly, Mariska Veras died of cancer in 2006, when she was 59.  Here's an excerpt from a British obituary:

Veres loved cats, didn't smoke, drink or do drugs and told the members of Shocking Blue when she joined that relationships were out.  Reflecting on her early fame, Veres told the Belgian magazine Flair: "I was just a painted doll, nobody could ever reach me.  Nowadays, I am more open to people." 
Here's the song that followed "Venus" on my compilation album, "California Here I Come":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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