‘Send Me A Postcard’: how Shocking Blue brought the summer of love to Europe

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The counterculture and hippie movement of the 1960s was a pivotal juncture in the development of both music and popular culture. Bridging the gap between early rockabilly and complex progressive rock, the era provided a voice for an angry post-war generation and established popular music as a valid form of expression and social protest. Storied by incredible groups like Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and The Byrds, the counterculture music scene is often viewed as an exclusively American occurrence, but some of the era’s best tracks arose from the unlikely setting of the Netherlands.

The Hague is usually renowned for its progressive architecture as well as for being the centre of the international judicial system. However, the capital city of South Holland has also provided the world with the stunning sounds of Shocking Blue. Formed by Robbie van Leeuwen out of the Nederbeat scene in 1967, the band were initially influenced by the pioneering sounds of groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but their music soon became a defining sound of the counterculture era.

Upon first hearing their music, you would be forgiven for assuming that Shocking Blue had risen from the San Francisco psychedelic scene alongside the likes of Jefferson Airplane or Big Brother and the Holding Company rather than the historic streets of The Hague. Despite forming halfway across the world, Shocking Blue managed to encapsulate the essence of hippie counterculture better than many of the groups who were deeply entrenched within the scene over in America. Their music was imbued with the same kind of revolutionary quality and youthful energy as many of the Bay Area groups but with the added influences of Nederbeat, which culminated in an utterly unforgettable sound.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Shocking Blue resonated with audiences across the world, particularly within the United States. For instance, their track ‘Venus’ topped the charts in the US, as well as nine other countries. Their greatest effort, the 1968 single ‘Send Me A Postcard’, is undoubtedly one of the greatest counterculture anthems of all time, but it also acts as a good manifesto for the group itself. Detailing themes of alienation and isolation, the song could be interpreted as Shocking Blue feeling shut out from the American rock scene of the time despite being largely superior to many of those groups.

Shocking Blue did not enjoy the same lasting success as other countercultural rock groups, disbanding in 1974 after Van Leeuwen finally threw in the towel after a number of failed singles. However, the group have enjoyed an enduring relevance and influence that is not afforded to many groups – especially when those groups hail from mainland Europe. Their chart-topping ‘Venus’ went on to be covered by pop masters Bananarama in 1986 – which, strangely, reached number eight in the UK singles chart, just as Shocking Blue’s version had done decades prior.

The Dutch band also had a hand in establishing the abrasive sounds of grunge, as Nirvana chose the group’s lesser-known track ‘Love Buzz’ to cover as their debut single. Their version of the Shocking Blue track also appeared on their debut album Bleach, helping to lay the foundations for the genre that would soon produce seminal works like Nevermind.

Ultimately, Shocking Blue are a far too often overlooked band within the context of the 1960s hippie era. Despite their lasting legacy and incredible discography, they are scarcely mentioned in the same way as American groups like The Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane or even British bands like Cream. Their message of alienation on ‘Send Me a Postcard’ has rung tragically true, yet they remain a cult favourite of true music obsessives to this day. So, when you think of the hippie era, Woodstock, anti-war protests, tie-dye shirts, and political consciousness, it is worth remembering that the scene was not exclusively American-centric.

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