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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Earworm Weekly: Shocking Blue's "Venus"

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2016 at 3:26 PM

If you live long enough, and make certain life choices, it is more or less inevitable that you will find an earworm from your childhood being used – unironically – as a teaching tool in an elementary-school curriculum. (I still remember vividly touring kindergartens a few years ago and nixing one school because they thought it was OK to teach the kids, as part of a “Music of the Bay Area” unit, to sing Jefferson Starship's “We Built This City.” Just no.) This week, my children have been practicing for their upcoming school play, focused on the planets. The play has two musical interludes. This is why I am now stuck with the song “Venus” in my head.
When "Venus" came out in 1970, it was an immediate hit for the Dutch psychedelic band Shocking Blue. In 1986, the British pop trio Bananarama covered it and took it to No. 1 in two countries. These two versions remain the most well-known, but the song's popularity didn't stop there. In 1990, an acid house instrumental remix by Don Pablo's Animals broke the British Top Ten for a third time, and in 2011, Jennifer Lopez covered the song, as well – you may have heard it in a Gillette ad.

My preference lies strongly with the original. Bananarama's take is charming, but the trio's voices are a little thin for the material. (Jennifer Lopez, this goes double for you.) Shocking Blue's original, on the other hand, features the darker tones and oddly enunciated vocals of singer Mariska Veres. Presumably the fact that English is not her native language accounts for some of the peculiar quality of her diction. If I'm completely honest, I'm partial to Veres' leather boots, her eyeliner and her black bangs, too, even if the latter was really a wig. I also favor Shocking Blue's organ riff over the bassed-out dance beat of Bananarama. On the other hand, Bananarama has that excited “Wow!” plus a little bit of its own trippiness at the instrumental break, and I cannot deny the charm of its original video replete with goddesses, devils, crop tops and torn jeans. In the end, Bananarama is a more polished piece of pop, but the lack of polish is exactly what makes the original so memorable.

I made a little trouble at my kids' school by suggesting that the script's portrayal of the planet Venus as a shoe-loving diva might be a little, well, sexist. On the other hand, no other planet gets its own song. The class held a discussion and decided not to change the script, but they did modify a line in the song: Venus is no longer “making every man mad,” she's “making everyone glad.” I reserve final judgment.

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Lori Selke

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