In yesterday's Globe and Mail, a short obit ran for Mariksa Veres, the Dutch singer best known for her work with 60s group Shocking Blue (1968-1973). Their biggest hit, "Venus," went to #1 in 1970 and is still an oldies staple. According to Wikipedia, she left the group in 1974 and went solo, landing one hit single in Europe. She toured as Shocking Blue in the 90s with a completely different band, apparently with the blessing of her ex-bandmates.
She died of cancer on December 2. She was 59.
There's a fan bio here.
Here's some video footage of "Venus." Note the subliminal splicing of album covers into the mix, and the hopelessly out-of-synch drumming.
Here's another one, where she looks like she's having a slightly better time.
I always loved "Venus," even before the bastardised Bananarama version came out in the middle of my high school experience. It was on a 4LP K-tel set called Party Mix that my dad had, a comp that contained many cherished favourites and immersed me in otherwise ephemeral 60s pop: "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells, "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups, "Indian Reservation" by Paul Revere, Tommy James, et al. The wordless bridge of "Venus" summed up so much that I loved about bubblegum psychedelia, instantly prompting images of go-go girls silhouetted against kaleidoscopic backdrops.
I didn't think about Shocking Blue again until the first time I saw the New Pornographers, at their official Toronto debut in 2001. They encored with a killer song I'd never heard before called "Send Me a Postcard," which--needless to say--Neko Case totally nailed, and the fuzzy guitar riff fit in perfectly with the rest of Mass Romantic. I later found out it was a Shocking Blue song, and that when he started the New Pornographers, Carl Newman had told Neko that he wanted her to emulate Ms. Mariska Veres and her robotic pop vocal approach. Listening to both bands, it's not hard to see the similarities.
"Send Me a Postcard" is one of the most underrated songs of the last 40 years, and a surefire club night/mix tape pleaser. You can find it on iTunes, hopefully other online sources as well. If I wasn't such a Luddite, I'd provide you with the mp3 myself.
(Edit: 21st century girl and Brave New Waves host Helen Spitzer has helped us out here.)
Shocking Blue's one other minor claim to fame: Nirvana covered their song "Love Buzz" on their debut, Bleach. Maybe their biggest North American fans all lived in the Pacific Northwest, who knows.
Beyond a couple of great singles, a Shocking Blue compilation (like the one I found years ago at Sam the Record Man's supposed liquidation sale) contains many riches: the country soul guitar licks that punctuate nearly every track, the occasional fuzzbox or sitar simulator, the Manzarek-esque organ lines, great melodies all around, and at the heart of it all is always Veres's voice: a strident, confident and striking instrument, not unlike Grace Slick's. Her Kraut detachment (she was half-Hungarian Roma, half-German) and demeanour suggested a Nico that could actually belt it out.
Yet she didn't totally transcend the ESL lyrics that give Shocking Blue more than its share of kitsch value: it's hard not to giggle when Veres sings of "making love in the hot sand" with her "demon lover." "Put some love in your heart like you put the ink in the inkpot!" "Mighty Joe with the bass, boys!"
But she had it, yeah baby, she had it.
Someone tell Neko and Carl to get in the studio soon and pay their proper respects; many of us have been waiting for them to record "Send Me a Postcard" for five years now.