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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Venus Was Her Name...

I suppose that you could consider this blog entry one of those “two for the price of one” deals, as today we're featuring songs by two different artists.

But there's a catch. The artists in question will be singing the same song. There is a reason for this. I was trying to decide which version to feature in this space for the Sunday Jukebox, and I simply could not make a decision as I enjoy both versions.

So today, you'll be hearing both. You'll be hearing the original version which was released in 1969, as well as a cover version by a different group seventeen years later.

Of course, we have to have some sort of background info before we launch into the song. And, I do have to warn may come across as a mythology lesson. But trust me. It's of great importance.

So, everyone has heard of at least one of the Roman deities that have been mentioned throughout Greek mythology. Or maybe you've seen works of art in museums painted and sculpted by artists of the Renaissance era that have featured Roman gods and goddesses. Believe it or not, there are at least twenty identified principal gods of Roman religion. Would you like to know what they are? Here's the list.

APOLLO      CERES             DIANA
GENIUS       JANUS              JUNO
JUPITER      LIBER              LUNA
SOL             TELLUS           VENUS

That's quite a list of names! Some of the names may seem familiar (many are also the names of planets in our solar system), while others you may not have heard of. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't even know there was a god named Vesta.

But we're not going to talk about Vesta. The goddess we're discussing today is the eighteenth one on the list alphabetically (or the last name in the last column).

Venus. The goddess of beauty and love.

Mind you, it's also the name of the second planet in the solar system, a razor blade made especially for women, the name of a pro tennis player, the name of Miss America 1944, a plant that eats flies and possibly other creatures, and according to John Gray, it happens to be the location where all women come from.

How Venus came to be depends on what book you read it from. But in the world of literary mythology, it is said that Venus was born of sea-foam and represents the element of water, which balances out with the fiery tempers of fellow Roman gods Vulcan and Mars. Venus reportedly tempers the male essence, offering the promise of military victory, sexual satisfaction, good fortune, and prosperity.

Sounds like the kind of gal a man wishes they could have, right? I know that I'm currently searching for my own “Venus”, so to speak and make no apologies in admitting this fact.

Anyway, back to the blog.

All you really need to know is that Venus is a gal who really represents love, passion, and beauty. Certainly qualities that suitors definitely look for in a mate (whether you're male or female).

So why wouldn't there be a song written about this goddess?

Well, okay, Frankie Avalon recorded a song entitled “Venus” in 1959 (and if you're interested in hearing that song, you may click HERE). But as talented a man as Frankie Avalon is, we're not going to be featuring his song today.

Instead, let's go back to 1969 and hear the first version of today's song.

ARTIST: Shocking Blue
SONG: Venus
ALBUM: At Home
DATE RELEASED: October 2, 1969

Now, here's the write-up of the band who introduced us to the classic rock hit “Venus”.

Did you know that the group that sang the song originated in the Netherlands? It's true. The band came together in 1967 in The Hague, and was originally comprised of Robbie van Leeuwen (guitar/sitar), Cor van der Beek (percussion), Klassje van der Wal (bass guitar), and Fred de Wilde (vocals).

It should be noted though that “Venus” was not the band's first single to be released. They had a minor hit in 1968 with the song “Lucy Brown Is Back In Town”, but it wasn't until Mariska Veres took over the lead vocals from de Wilde that the band really began to take off. The band released the single “Venus” in the Netherlands months prior to the American release in October 1969, where it peaked at at modest #3. But little did the band know that the single would become a huge chart-topper worldwide. We already know that the single reached the top of the charts in America when it hit the pole position in February 1970. But did you know that the song also hit #1 in Canada, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, and Spain as well? It also made the Top 10 in the United Kingdom and Japan.

The original version of the song sold at least seven and a half million copies worldwide since it was released in 1969, and it remains Shocking Blue's one and only chart-topper.

The song certainly has withstood the test of time over the years. The song has been featured in a variety of television shows and feature films from “Grumpier Old Men” to “The Brady Bunch Movie” to “Remember The Titans”.

And, if you skip ahead to the two minute mark in this video, the song was even parodied in a commercial for the V-Chip by a few of the Muppets! I thought it was kind of cute, but that could just only be me.

So, whatever became of “Shocking Blue”? Well, in North America, their popularity quickly fizzled after the release of “Venus”, making them more or less a one-hit-wonder there. But in their native country, they were anything but. The band released over a dozen singles between 1969 and 1974, all of which received heavy airplay on Dutch radio. The band continued making hits until 1974, when Mariska Veres quit the band to embark on a solo career (with her peak popularity lasting between 1975 and 1977). The band did attempt a bit of a comeback five years after Mariska's departure. However, despite the fact that the band recorded the single “Louise” in 1979, it was never released. The band did manage to have a couple of releases in the 1980s as well.

Sadly, Mariska Veres died of cancer at the age of 59 on December 2, 2006.

So, that was the story of Shocking Blue. But it's not quite the end of the story for their hit single “Venus”. For just seventeen years later, the single would chart once more, courtesy of an all-girl group from the United Kingdom. And just like the Shocking Blue version, this group's version also topped the charts.

ARTIST: Bananarama
SONG: Venus
ALBUM: True Confessions
DATE RELEASED: May 30, 1986

Just like the Shocking Blue version, Bananarama's version also lasted one week at the top of the charts, peaking at #1 on September 6, 1986. Although the trio (made up of Keren Woodward, Sara Dallin, and Siobhan Fahey) were used to performing the song already. They started incorporating the song into their live sets right around the time that they recorded 1983's “Deep Sea Skiving”, and really wanted to record the song as a single as all three girls loved the song and wanted to record it as a Hi-NRG dance single.

The only obstacles in their way were their producers, Steve Jolley and Tony Swain.

The production team had nearly completed the band's third album “True Confessions”, set to be released in July 1986, and when Woodward, Dallin, and Fahey approached them to include their cover version of “Venus” onto their album, they were given a bit fat no by both Jolley and Swain.

And that just wasn't good enough for the group.

Determined to make the single a success, the group approached the production team of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman, the team who would eventually help put Rick Astley, Dead or Alive, and Kylie Minogue on the map. It wasn't initially met with a warm reaction when Bananarama asked Stock, Aitken, and Waterman if they would help them produce the song, as the production team believed that “Venus” wasn't exactly a song that they believed would make a great dance record.

Naturally, Bananarama disagreed. And it's a really good thing that the women were strong enough to keep pressing their belief that the song was ready to be reinvented by them because eventually Stock, Aitken, and Waterman relented. Not only did Bananarama record “Venus” with Stock, Aitken, and Waterman for “True Confessions”, but they also recorded another minor hit on the album, “More Than Physical”.

Actually, come to think of it, Bananarama would start working with Stock, Aitken, and Waterman more often, as they recorded several singles with the production team between 1986 and 1993. So I suppose that “Venus” helped the band expand their horizons and seek out a brand new sound which made them sound more sophisticated and mature.

TRIVIA: And here's some shocking trivia for all of you reading this. Do you know who choreographed Bananarama in the music video for “Venus”? It was a man by the name of Bruno Tonioli – better known as one of the judges of the ABC reality television series “Dancing With The Stars”.

Now, the remake of “Venus” didn't top the charts in as many countries as Shocking Blue's did, but it did hit #1 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, and Switzerland. And like the original version, the Bananarama version has appeared in several films like “Romy and Michele's High School Reunion” and “American Wedding”.

And, just like Shocking Blue, Bananarama had some personnel changes over the years. Siobhan Fahey left the band in 1988 to form Shakespear's Sister with Marcella Detroit, to be replaced with Jacquie O'Sullivan later that year. Three years later, O'Sullivan departed the band herself, leaving Bananarama a duo in 1991. As of 2013, Woodward and Dallin still perform and record as Bananarama, and I would almost be certain that they still perform the single “Venus” in concert every now and then.

Two different groups with the same single. Both songs hit the top of the charts, and both bands sustained line-up changes after the song was released. But no matter what you say about both songs, and no matter how well you like either Shocking Blue or Bananarama...the fact remains that had it not been for “Venus”, people would not have heard of either band.

They've got it. Yeah baby, they've got it...

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