Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Shocking Blue—
Venus/Hot Sand


Released 1969 on Colossus
The Seth Man, December 2004ce
In 1969, Shocking Blue’s songwriter/guitarist Robby van Leeuwen was on a major creative roll, penning an extraordinary number of classics in rapid succession. The best-known of which was “Venus,” a single that rose to the upper reaches of many international singles charts. The Dutch group released four more singles the same year, but none of them had the impact in the same manner as “Venus.” To this day, it is the song most people outside of the group’s native turf of Holland associate with Shocking Blue and it’s not surprising as to why: it had the greatest amount of airplay in its day, it’s catchy, compact enough it doesn’t overstay its welcome and is sexy as hell.

With the exclusion of the first-mentioned attribute, the B-side of “Venus” was a hidden, killer fuzz guitar-propelled track called “Hot Sand” that is probably catchier, more compact and even sexier than “Venus.” Which is saying something, especially as “Venus” put forth the following proclamation: “Her weapon were her crystal eyes/Making every man mad/Black as the dark night she was/Got what no one else had.” Waaahh!

Actually, “Hot Sand” is FAR sexier. Enough to make me think that van Leeuwen was playing Josef von Sternberg to vocalist Mariska Veres’ Marlene Dietrich by projecting his fantasies and desires through his lyrics and music onto his Muse in much the same way von Sternberg did with through his lighting, direction and presentation of Dietrich. And Mariska Veres was van Leeuwen’s very own “Blonde Venus.” Although a raven-haired brunette with yards of hair, she was also a voluptuous woman oozing sensuality, in possession of both heaving bosom and soul who projected her voice into the far hinterland with unblinking and heavily-accented English vocals that were glacially cool, sensually calm, controlled and belligerent all at once.

It was a missed opportunity that “Hot Sand” failed to make it onto the grooves of the US-reconfiguration of their “At Home” album, “The Shocking Blue” because unlike the majority of these sort of American label reassemblies of foreign-released LPs, it squarely hit the mark in every way. Not only by losing what was the weakest link on “At Home” (“I’ll Write Your Name Through The Fire”) and adding the singles “Mighty Joe” and “Send Me A Postcard” but re-programmed the whole thing into a far more satisfying arrangement of light and shade (Colossus, their American label, also kept Shocking Blue’s next three B-sides “Wild Wind,” “Harley Davidson” and “Fireball of Love” off the album as well so I suppose the decision was based purely on projected sales rather than any aesthetic decision to shore up the LP with only the strongest available material.)

If they had added “Hot Sand” to the album, it would have made “The Shocking Blue” a perfect and immaculate baker’s dozen; ‘specially as it’s cut from the same strident and monolithic urgency as “Love Buzz” or “California Here I Come.” In attendance are the fuzz guitar licks snarling up a storm, the non-Raga pop sitar melody, stoic bass lines, the metronomic-with-pure-simplicity drumming and the lyrics are of the same burnt qualities that van Leeuwen purveyed so often at this time, verging on the simplistic. And once they are communicated through vocalist Mariska Veres’ strident, Grace Slick-staring-down-Renate Knaup-Krötenschwanz tones in her charming and engaging German/Hungarian/Dutch-filtered English, they become something else altogether. For instance “The seagull’s head is tired/And when he’s tired then he sings” sounds remarkably like: “The sea god’s head is dyed red/And when he’s die red, Daddy/Zen he sings!” Either way, the lyrics are by turns terrifying and inviting, located as they are in the same sexual oasis as “Love Buzz” only here there is (mercifully) no mirage in sight and soon Mariska is already tugging at your belt with the none-too-1969-Top 40 chorus: “Hot sand/I’m walkin’ in the hot sand/Makin’ love on the hot sand/Together with youuu...” And as if in complete confirmation, she always follows it up with that most enduring of all rock’n’roll refrains: “Yeah, yeah, yeah/Yeah, yeah, yeah...” Right before the instrumental bridge, she brings down her delivery to coo the chorus in what is truly the sultriest moment to ever issue forth from between her lips.

When van Leeuwen wrote the lines “I’m waiting for the hour/I’m looking for a place to stay/Some place where I can rest/And not think about the empty day” he must have just finished Camus’ “The Stranger” for those sentiments ring with a similar same sense of sun-bleached, existential detachment. But with Mariska helming the very same lyrics through her wonderfully controlled and passionate tenor they resound as if in invitation to find some kicks, get it on and thereby tie up Mariska’s otherwise overheated and loose-end late afternoon. The band cuts out altogether halfway through the first line to allow Mariska’s vocal to resound in the tightened studio air as if to underscore of the building pressure of her need...only to cut immediately back in to resume its insistent sex beat. And the urgency of “Hot Sand” keenly maintains an unflagging sense of anticipation well beyond its imminent fade out.