Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Question Time: 'Venus' by Shocking Blue; 1969. - - 'The Banjo Song' by The Big Three; 1963. - - So, What's The Story Here Anyway?

I don't have an answer for this. Maybe you do. Maybe you can help find one.

Or maybe you can assure me that it's not worth pursuing, and tell me to get a life.

Many people are familiar with the song 'Venus', recorded by the ever-so-super-cool Shocking Blue.
It was the one big chart hit for the Dutch group, peaking back around 1970.

Here's a video clip from 'back in the day' of the band performing the song...

...That's the late Mariska Veres on vocals. Robbie van Leeuwen, the band's lead guitarist, receives writing credit for the song.

You know the tune, right? You've heard it a jillion times, maybe the first time was the 1980's cover version by Bananarama.

BUT - - Have you heard THIS - - ? Based upon the traditional 'Oh Susanna', the writing credit goes to Tim Rose, released in 1963 on the Roulette record label...

Listen to: The Big Three - The Banjo Song (click for audio)

In the U.S., 6 or 7 years PRIOR to Shocking Blue's success, there was The Big Three.

Tim Rose, along with Cass Elliott and
Jim Hendricks formed a trio in the midst of the folk revival as that sound was just beginning to morph into folk-rock.

The band came about during a period of mix-and-match shuffling of different musicians in that scene, different combinations forming a variety of short-lived groups, alliances changing in an 'incestuous' search for a winning equation.

Following the dissolution of The Big Three, that shuffling would lead 'Mama' Cass Elliot into The Mugwumps, and then to The Mamas And The Papas. (While some of her fellow Mugwumps went on to The Lovin' Spoonful)

The songs are not identical, but the similarities are so close that I can't believe that they're only coincidence. (Is it just me?) If it was only one or two elements, maybe, but...

...Somehow it also seems unlikely to me that it's a simple case of Shocking Blue copping the arrangement.

Was there any connection between these two very different bands from very different backgrounds? Is that basic song arrangement coming from a common source predating BOTH songs? Is this a pathetic thread to pull?

I've idly toyed with this stumper on occasion for several years now. It just bubbles up to the surface every now and then. I've looked around a bit for answers, but I've not found any. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place.

Any thoughts? Any insights?

ADDENDUM 4/27/07: Check out 'comments' for this post (below) to read a VERY helpful bit of info!

FURTHER UPDATE 5/1/07: Following the 4/26 discussion of this topic on Dutch TV (again, check out the comment I received), this blog has had an increase in traffic from the Netherlands. Today I found that my post has been cited at a Dutch web page:

The Banjo Song vs. Venus (UPDATE, 8/23/07 - Link now dead)

I had fun using Babelfish to translate the page into a comical resemblance to English...

...Very cool! Very gratifying. They've provided a WMV file showing the excerpt from the TV program, as well as a chronology citing other mentions of the 'debate' around the web. They've done their homework!

(UPDATE, 8/23/07 - For the Dutch TV excerpt, LINK here, and scroll down the page to the Leo Blokhuis clip, which you can view on your Windows Media Player)

- - And this is what's so wonderful about the web. This one extraneous bit of pop culture minutae, and there's evidence of the Dutch, the Russians, the Greeks, the Croats and the Americans all taking time to gab about it...


Anonymous said...

you are on the right track: yesterday I saw on a Dutch talk show Leo Blokhuis who is a dj and someone who know everyting about pop music. He said the same thing as you. And he also asked the writer of 'Venus' if this was a coincidence. He was a bit embarrased and admitted that he was 'very much inspired by the big three when writing Venus' and he also said 'all blues songs sound the same so what's the problem'. You can see this item on the website of the talk show (the episode of april 26)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be late to the party but this is a rip-off palin and simple. BTW, you have the most interesting blog I've seen in ages!

Anonymous said...

When Venus came out didn't The Big Three have anything to say about it? Wasn't it noticed by them?

Anonymous said...

Wow there really is a very close relation to the two. Here I get mad at Bannanarama for getting all the acclaim for The Shocking Blue's song when just maybe it belongs to the Big Three.. or someone else for that matter! Love your site btw!

Anonymous said...

I have pretty much all of Cass Elliot's music including The Big Three and Mugwumps/proto-Mugwumps, and a lot of Tim Rose's solo stuff as well which is quite excellent, and a few different recordings of the Banjo Song Tim was part of in particular. I also have the first three Shocking Blue albums and most early singles. I guess if the person admits they were influenced but it's not a case of plaugerism unless you really haven't heard a lot of music in which case Chopin and Beethoven might sound very alike to you, do you know what I mean? Then again John Fogerty once was in trouble for sounding too much like a Creedence Clearwater song... so go figure.

Very nice signed promo of The Big Three by the way!


Anonymous said...

Who did the banjo three ripoff, cause the lyrics sound a little familiar. You have a great and interesting website.

Anonymous said...

I also saw the televisionshow with Leo Blokhuis on Dutch television, 2 years ago. The "composer" of Venus (Robbie van leeuwen) was embarrassed, indeed. My thoughts about it, is: "Venus" is ,ore or less a copy of the "Banjo Song". It all happened in the 60's: no internet, hardly recent news from the States and vice versa. I think, Robby van Leeuwen had thought: "nobody will ever know the Banjo Song".....
Well, history always brings secrets to the surface ...;-))

Anonymous said...

Fun post. I think that people performing folk music, or folk style music, expect a bit of borrowing and copying as part of how music gets passed along, so maybe there wasn't the same sense of ownership of songs as in some other styles and eras. After all, the lyric for the banjo song is from another song.

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