The Birth of 'Venus': from Stephen Foster, to The Big 3, and Shocking Blue

La nascita di Venere by Sandro Botticelli
La nascita di Venere by Sandro Botticelli
Stephen Foster (1826—1864) was an American composer whose vast contribution to a popular song, specifically the ballad genre, earned him an honorary place in the hall of fame of American music history.
He had no choice but to get side-tracked from his main ambitions to compose music for the mainstream market, such as minstrel and sentimental pop ballads which were in high demand at the time.
It is estimated that Foster authored around 200 songs, holding the credits for both lyrics and score for most of them. However, in those days the copyright practice was virtually non-existent, so the profits from his works went largely to performers and publishers.
One such example of his poor entrepreneurship occurred in 1848 when he sold his song Oh! Susanna for $100 which later earned the publisher more than $10,000.
Listen to Stephen Foster's Oh! Susanna recorded by Master Classics Records:
A whole century later, in 1963, Tim Rose of The Big 3, inspired by Oh! Susanna, came up with his own version called The Banjo Song. The original chorus can still be easily recognized in Rose's cover, but it is the harmony that had to be almost entirely rewritten to reflect the aesthetics of the time, peppered with a powerful guitar riff.
Listen to The Banjo Song by The Big 3:
Even after the disbandment of The Big 3, The Banjo Song wasn't forgotten, suddenly surfacing as the main foundation for the soon-to-become sensational Venus, an iconic song written by Robbie van Leeuwen from the Dutch band Shocking Blue. 
This time the situation was reversed: Van Leeuwen wrote a completely new set of lyrics while borrowing Rose's song harmony and musical form almost in its entirety, with some minimal changes. The key was changed to E minor, and the distinct guitar riff was converted for the keyboard and placed between the verses.
Listen to Venus by Shocking Blue:
In 1970, Venus made history by reaching the No.1 spot on Billboard Hot 100, being the first single by a Dutch band to do so. But by the mid-70s, the hippie counterculture era was coming to an end, and just like many other formative groups of the flower movement, Shocking Blue had to disband in 1974.
Share this story
2 comments so far
  • Danny 3 years ago

    I appreciate you writing about this but a lot of the information given is completely wrong. Firstly, the band The Big 3 which did “The Banjo Song” is not the same band you’re writing about. The Big 3 was an American folk Trio which included Cass Elliot, Tim Rose (who wrote the Banjo Song) and Jim Hendricks. They had two records in ‘63 and ‘64. Cass Elliot would later go on to be in the Mamas and the Papas.

    I just don’t understand what happened. You started talking about Tim Rose and then you started talking about an entirely different Big 3. And if you actually listened to the Banjo Song, you’ll know there is no electric guitar. There was no electric guitars at all in American folk music in 1963.

    It’s kind of a shame because this is very interesting but people reading this, who don’t really already know about it, are going to be given loads of false information.

  • Serg Childed 3 years ago

    many thanks!
    your remarks are absolutely reasonable
    i made the necessary corrections to the article