THE DUTCH INVASION is now fifty years old, which was the result of the producer Jerry Ross visiting The Netherlands to promote Bill Deal and The Rhondels and coming back with music from Dutch bands that he discovered, which would result in three Top 40 singles in early 1970. The George Baker Selection’s “Little Green Bag” was the third Top 40 hit from his finds, debuting in April 1970 and peaking at No. 21. For years, this Dutch act was considered to be one of the three one hit wonders of the Dutch Invasion until 1976 when their song “Paloma Blanca” debuted in the U.S. and reached No. 26. The second song of the Dutch Invasion was “Ma Belle Amie” by The Tee Set, which debuted in the Top 40 in February 1970 and reached No. 5, their only American hit. The song that kicked off the Dutch Invasion arrived in very late 1969 and spent several weeks in the Top 40 through the early months of 1970 and went all the way to No. 1. That song was “Venus” by The Shocking Blue. More singles from the quartet followed on Jerry Ross’ Colossus label, but none reached the Top 40, making The Shocking Blue, a one hit wonder group, but considered to be the most successful Dutch Invasion act. We have a new One Hit Wonder series debuting soon in our monthly print edition of Goldmine. Celebrating this new series, we spoke with Doug and Alyssa Graham about both sides of the “Venus” single and songs from their new album Kids Like Us.
GOLDMINE: Let’s start with a group I was reminded of when listening to your new album, The Shocking Blue, a band with a female lead singer and a guitar driven sound like the two of you. They reached No. 1 with the single “Venus.”
ALYSSA GRAHAM: There are similarities. We grew up hearing another No. 1 version of “Venus,” by Bananarama, who I initially thought wrote it. I didn’t know it was a remake at the time and heard the original Shocking Blue version later on. We watched an old video of The Shocking Blue performing “Venus” and it was cooler watching them perform it than how we remember it as kids as a Bananarama song.
GM: Bananarama still sounds great. Two members of the trio released a Bananarama album last year called In Stereo and it was among my Top 10 albums of 2019. The Shocking Blue’s guitarist and sitarist Robby Van Leeuwen wrote their songs with Mariska Veres providing lead vocals. In the U.S. the producer Jerry Ross released a dozen songs for their self-titled album as the first act on his Colossus label. The flip side of “Venus” was “Hot Sand,” which was not on the album.
AG: “Hot Sand” is kind of cooler than “Venus.” I love the guitar, and the sitar is super cool. It is more subtle than “Venus.” I can’t help making comparisons of them to Jefferson Airplane, who had a huge influence on me growing up. Some of the first songs that I ever sang were Grace Slick songs. I see the similarities, as they were part of the same time period, just from different parts of the world. I grew up on Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow album with “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” which was the first song I ever sang in public.
Doug Graham: Watching The Shocking Blue’s video certainly reminds us of Jefferson Airplane as they were going for a psychedelic sound and there certainly is a comparison there with “Hot Sand.”
The Shocking Blue
Flip side: Hot Sand
A side: Venus
Top 40 debut: December 13, 1969
Peak position: No. 1
Colossus C 108
GM: I can also compare Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow album to your new album Kids Like Us. With Surrealistic Pillow, there is such a variety of songs and that is what I enjoy most about your album. It starts off with quite an edge and then immediately we hear quiet moments. I think it is the variety that makes this so entertaining.
AG: That is very complimentary and nice of you to say. When we were playing in a college band, we had an opportunity to open for Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, so this has kind of comes full circle for us. Sometimes variety isn’t as accepted when someone wants to hear a specific sound, but we always like to explore. Our producers Richard Swift and Danny Molad opened up this whole new world to us. Previously, we were bound by our geographical location being in Nashville for a few years. When we were writing these songs, I had a much more orchestrated sonic landscape in mind.
DG: We embraced the ideas the producers brought to the studio and we tried approaches different from our first two albums on this third album.
GM: You mentioned Richard Swift. Let’s talk about the song “Searching the Milky Way (For Swift)” which is a fun video to watch on your website thegrahamsmusic.net.
DG: Anyone who knew Richard Swift knows that he was a magical creature. We wrote the song for him while he was still alive, thinking that he would hear the song and would share a laugh about it with us. He heard the music, but we hadn’t focused on lyrics yet. When we first laid down the lyrics in the studio with Danny, I said, “I can’t wait to show this to Richard. He’s going to love it. It will be fun. I hope he understands it.” Sadly, we never got that opportunity.
AG: Richard got very sick and we didn’t know he was going to pass away. For the video, we got the incredible opportunity to record a live version at Abbey Road Studios in London. We hope that Richard can hear it wherever he may be in the galaxy.
GM: I offer my condolences on the loss of your friend. I am glad you did get to work with him. I think about his work with The Shins and certainly can hear that alternative pop influence on your new album. Alyssa, when I first heard Linda Ronstadt sing “Blue Bayou,” I thought it was nice, gentle, and then all of a sudden, she kicked in with such power. It wowed me. That is how I felt the first time I heard you sing the title tune from the new album, “Kids Like Us.” When you kick in, it will probably remind my daughter Brianna of Lady Gaga. It is so powerful.
AG: Thank you. Interestingly, Linda Ronstadt continuously comes up when people talk about my voice. Growing up, Doug and I were huge Neil Young fans and enjoyed what Linda Ronstadt brought to his recordings as a backup singer. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I delved into the Linda Ronstadt solo world and learned how much of a powerhouse and an incredible artist she is. So when anyone brings her up, it is humbly embarrassing but quite a compliment. A lot of time when we perform live, I sort of lose control and often sing very big. I grew up listening to some great powerhouse women, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, and others. On the song “Kids Like Us,” I think Richard, Danny and my loving husband were able to stretch me a bit on when to hold back and when to let go. I think I am most successful vocally doing that kind of balance on this record.
DG: We always view as a challenge on each record determining where to put the right emphasis. When we play live, we don’t think about it, we just have fun.
GM: “Heartbroken Town” showcases drama in 3/4 time.
DG: I love that song.
AG: That might be my favorite song on the new record. We had the opportunity to play three songs live at Abbey Road Studios. In addition to “Searching the Milky Way” in the video that you saw, we also played “Heartbroken Town” and “One More Heartbreak.”
DG: “Heartbroken Town” and “Kids Like Us” are the two songs which I think really capture our traveling across the country on Route 66 on a motorcycle.
GM: My wife Donna and I have talked about doing that one day too, but by car. I am glad that you two got the opportunity to do that.
DG: It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to have another adventure like that.
AG: It was crazy, not what we expected. It changed our musical direction and our thinking about a lot of things about America.
GM: I recently interviewed Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons and your song “Bite My Tongue” with its 1980s new wave sound reminds me of this Los Angeles band.
DG: You know “Venus” and “Hot Sand” both reminded me a bit of that sound, and I was thinking that these songs are probably the closest to “Bite My Tongue.” When we play it on stage live, it is like we are playing a punk rock song.
AG: I think we really are playing a punk rock song. The story behind that song is that we broke down on our motorcycle in the Mojave Desert and had a very frightening experience with some of the locals. That is an area on the way to Los Angeles that is a little unstable. In order to survive, we left by biting our tongues on our beliefs.
DG: The people looked at us and found out that we were liberals in an election season, so we had to get out as fast as we could.
GM: “Painted Desert,” “Running Out of Time” and “Don’t Give Your Heart Away” all capture a 1960s sound that I enjoy.
AG: I would say that “Running Out of Time” and “Don’t Give Your Heart Away” are sister songs. They benefit from the Phil Spector-ish production style. I think all three are a celebration of the girl groups from the 1960s, like The Shangri-Las, The Chiffons, and The Ronettes.
DG: “Painted Desert” is a bit different, a possible musical reference to Diana Ross and The Supremes. When I listen to it now, I hear this other layer of magic on top of it. Maybe it is the major chords to minor chords and back to major chords that helps to bring out that magic. It takes me away from genres.
AG: That’s what the song is about, Honey. The song is about what reality we make up and what reality is.
GM: When I listen to “Love is My Cadillac,” the beginning notes remind me of Wings’ “Let Me Roll It” from their Band on the Run album. Then on “Just What You Deserve,” you sing “It’s all right. It’s O.K.” My favorite song of 1981 had that title by the Iowa band The Hawks, written by Dave Hearn.
AS: “Just What You Deserve” started as a ballad originally and then when Richard and Danny got a hold of it, they heard the “It’s all right. It’s O.K.” part and changed it from a ballad and pushed it into that pop sound, making it so catchy. Doug and I wrote “Love is a Cadillac” when we were feeling down on the Route 66 trip, thinking about where our country is going and Doug looked at me and said, “Babe, your love is my Cadillac.” Then Bryan McCann, who we grew up with and write songs with, took that line and rolled with it, saying that it was a great rock and roll line.
GM: In writing about music for over forty years, you are the only the second married couple who I have interviewed. My first interview in 1975 was with The Captain & Tennille.
DG: We remember “Love Will Keep Us Together.”
DG and AS (singing): “Love, love will keep us together.”
AS: Doug and I have been together since we were seven and ten years old. We feel we are very blessed to love each other and play music together and now have the most delicious little one year old daughter, Georgette Ida Graham, who we call Gig. At our gigs, our audiences are a mix of sixty year olds and eighteen year olds, so there is no generational divide with our music. We will be taking Gig on the road with us later this year when things open back up and she will probably think, “What about music class and swim class? I’ve got to go on the road?” We have created onesies with the album title in her honor and have them on our website.