enus" is the biggest-selling US single to originate from Holland and the first of two Dutch songs to top the American chart. Although it shares a title with a 1959 number one song by Frankie Avalon, "Venus" is an original composition by Dutch musician Robbie van Leeuwen.
Van Leeuwen was the guitarist for a popular Dutch group of the mid-'60s, the Motions. Like Golden Earring, Q '65 and the Outsiders, they were one of the leading "beat acts" of the '60s in Holland, according to Billboard's Dutch correspondent, Willem Hoos. Robbie was more introverted than Motions founder Rudy Bennett, who had an explosive personality. Their differences led Robbie to form his own group in 1967 -- Shocking Blue.
Joining van Leeuwen in the group were drummer Cor van Beek, bass player Klaasje van der Wall and lead singer Fred de Wilde, who had been the vocalist for a mid-'60s cult pop group from The Hague, Hu and the Hilltops. In the spring of 1968, Shocking Blue were signed to Dureco, an independent company in the Netherlands. The group's first single, "Lucy Brown Is Back in Town," was released on the company's Pink Elephant label and went to number 21 on the Dutch Top 40.
Mariska, half-Hungarian and half-German, had often sung with her father, who played violin in a Gypsy orchestra. She recorded a solo single called "Topkapi" before she was asked to join Shocking Blue. She replaced de Wilde as lead singer on the group's second 45, "Send Me a Postcard Darling," which went to number 11 on the Dutch chart.
One more single, "Long Lonesome Road," was released, and it went to number 17 in Holland. Then came "Venus," recorded on a two-track machine at Soundpush Studio in Blaricum, a small city 20 miles east of Amsterdam. "Venus" peaked at number three on the Dutch chart in the summer of 1969. It did go to number one, however, in Belgium, then France, Italy, Spain and Germany.
Jerry Ross, an American producer, was just starting a new label in America, and picked up the rights to three Dutch singles: "Ma Belle Amie" by the Tee Set, "Little Green Bag" by the George Baker Selection and "Venus." The first to debut on Billboard's Hot 100 was "Venus," which entered the chart at number 77 on December 13, 1969. It went to number one eight weeks later.
"Venus" was the only Shocking Blue hit to make the America Top 40. "Mighty Joe" peaked at 43 and "Long Lonesome Road" went to 75. In Holland, "Venus" re-entered the Top 40 because of its American success -- and peaked at number 3 again. But the group did have two number one singles in their own country, "Mighty Joe" and "Never Marry a Railroad Man." They continued to chart with songs like "Hello Darkness," "Shocking You," "Blossom Lady" and "Inkpot." Robbie tried to write another song that would be an American hit, but was never able to match the success of "Venus." His depression led to quarrels within the group, and the members of Shocking Blue went their separate ways in 1974.
Robbie surprised the Dutch music industry, according to Hoos, when he returned in 1976 with Galaxy Lin, a group much more folk and jazz oriented than Shocking Blue. Their album was a critical success and a commercial failure. A year later, Robbie produced some solo singles for Mariska, but with little success.
At the end of 1984, Shocking Blue reunited for two concerts -- albeit without Robbie who had since relocated to Luxembourg -- at a "Back-to-the-Sixties" festival. Rumors that Robbie, Mariska, Cor and a new bass player would record again began circulating after the festival.
After Shocking Blue disbanded in 1974, Mariska embarked on a solo career that attempted a number of different styles, including a stint in a jazz group called the Shocking Jazz Quintet. She died of cancer in December 2006 at age 59.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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