Benelux in Classic Rock

From Plastic Bertrand to Focus to Radio Luxembourg… Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg have made contributions to classic rock. Let’s explore these three countries and their contributions to rock and roll!

The Netherlands

The Netherlands has had a rock scene since the late 50s with roots in Indorock bands, who make music that is a fusion of Indonesian and Western rock music. This subgenre of rock music had an influence on Dutch rock bands that would come later on from Nederbeat to Prog. The best known band of this genre are The Tielman Brothers from the 50s. Other famous Indorock bands from the 60s are Bintangs and The Blue Diamonds. The Tielman Brothers were from Indonesia and they were the first Dutch-Indonesian band to become a worldwide success. Before Eddie and Alex Van Halen were famous, there were the Tielman Brothers!

The Blue Diamonds were made up of two brothers Ruud and Riem de Wolff. They were influenced by the Everly Brothers and you might find their sound similar. They were born in Indonesia and immigrated to the Netherlands in 1949. Here’s The Blue Diamonds with “Ramona” from 1960, a cover of a song from the 1928 silent film Ramona. This song sold over a quarter of a million copies in the Netherlands and within a year it sold over a million copies in Germany.

Bintangs were founded in 1961 and they were known for an R&B influenced sound. If you like The Rolling Stones, you might like their music. In fact, they opened for the Stones and The Kinks in the late 60s. Their first single was released in 1965, “You Can’t Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover”, which was written by Willie Dixon and made famous by Bo Diddley.  They were best known for the songs “Ridin’ on the L&N” and “Travelling in the USA”. Their name is the Indonesian word for Stars.

If you are interested in checking out even more Indorock bands, check out Sam Sam Music’s website.

There were a lot of other Dutch bands who were not necessarily Indorock. Let’s talk about Dutch rock bands who were famous in the 60s and 70s.

After Tea: Band from Delft formed after an argument with Peter Tetteroo. They released a few singles in the late 60s through the early 70s such as “Not Just A Flower In Your Hair” and “We Will Be There After Tea”. The latter was famously covered by British band The Spencer Davis Group.

Finch: Progressive rock band made up of a couple of members of Q65, Peter Vink (whose last name means “finch” in Dutch) and Joop van Nimwegen. The band formed in 1974 and were together until 1978. Their first album Glory of the Inner Force was released in 1975. Overall it’s a great album and very much so a prog rock album because it has four long tracks that are at least 9 minutes each. Their next album, released in 1976, Beyond Expression was a favourite on Radio Veronica, a Dutch pirate radio station turned legal radio station.

Focus: Progressive rock band formed in Amsterdam in 1969. If you like flutes, this is the band for you because Thijs van Leer’s flute playing is excellent! He started playing flute from a young age and his father was a classical flautist. He was classically trained in flute and piano and studied composition. Guitarist and drummer Jan Akkerman and Pierre van der Linden are very important to the sound. Jan Akkerman started playing guitar at the age of 5. Pierre van der Linden’s drumming is very jazz influenced and you can really hear it on the albums. They were best known for the hit “Hocus Pocus” which featured a lot of yodelling and a flute solo. Where they really shine with that song is with live performances where the song is played a lot faster than on the studio version. This song was in the top 20 in the UK, US, and Canada. Far from their only hit, instrumentals “Sylvia” and “House of the King” were a success. I also like the instrumentals “Focus” and “Anonymous”. My favourite albums are Focus III from 1972 and Hamburger Concerto from 1974.

The Fool: Started off as a design collective founded by Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger. The two other members Barry Finch and Josje Leeger joined later. They designed clothes for The Hollies (in fact, Graham Nash actually produced their only album), The Move, Cream, The Beatles, and Procol Harum. They are best known for the inner sleeve artwork for The Beatles Sgt Pepper album. My favourite designs they made were for The Incredible String Band’s The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion and the mural on the Apple Boutique. Sadly, the latter was not received well by neighbouring businesses. Now, let’s talk about their album, released in 1968.  I much prefer their visual art to their music. This album has a variety of sounds to it from bagpipes to bluesy harmonica to folk and psychedelic sounds. Not the most memorable psychedelic album and not everyone’s cup of tea, but a very interesting listen. I actually enjoyed the songs “Rainbow Man” and “No One Will Ever Know”.

George Baker Selection: You’ll probably know them for the song made famous in Reservoir Dogs, “Little Green Bag”. The song was a success even before that movie came out in 1992. It was released in 1969 and it peaked at #9 in their native Netherlands, #3 in neighbouring Belgium, and #16 in the United States in 1970. It sold over a million copies worldwide. The song later on was covered by Tom Jones. Interestingly enough, the song was originally titled “Little Greenback”, hence the rhyming of “looking back on the track for a little greenback”. It was misunderstood as “green bag” and people thought the song was about marijuana. You decide. George Baker was not a one hit wonder. In 1975, “Una Paloma Blanca” (White Dove in Spanish) went to #1 on the Easy Listening charts in the United States and to #26 on the Billboard charts. The song was #10 in the UK at its highest and #1 in many European countries. Now who was George Baker? According to his website, he worked many different odd jobs and was in various bands. In 1967 he auditioned for a band called Soul Invention, which would change his life and make him one of The Netherlands most successful singer-songwriters. Other minor hits of his are “Morning Sky”, “Wild Bird”, “Rosita”, and “Magdalena”.

Golden Earring: Band formed in 1961 in The Hague best known for the 1973 hit song “Radar Love”, which was in the top 20 in the US, #1 in the Netherlands, and in the top 10 in Belgium, the UK, Germany, and Austria. Besides “Radar Love”, they had other hits before and after that song was released. The band released their first album in 1965 called Just Ear-rings. That album had a more British Beat inspired sound. One of my favourite albums of theirs is the psychedelic Miracle Mirror from 1968. Eight Miles High is also worth checking out and they do a great version of that classic Byrds song. These albums were released under the band name The Golden Earrings and they changed their name to Golden Earring in 1969. Their first album to chart in the Netherlands, On The Double, was released in 1969. Besides “Radar Love”, you should check out other songs on the 1973 album Moontan. Don’t just take my word for how good it is, Tony Iommi is a fan of the album and it inspired him to write the main riff of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.

Les Baroques: Nederbeat band from Baarn founded in 1965 and active through the rest of the decade. Some songs I like of theirs are “Silky”, “She’s Mine”, and “Such a Cad”.

The Motions: Dutch band founded in 1964 and broke up in 1970. Robbie van Leeuwen was formerly a member of this band. Their music is very British Invasion influenced. One of the songs below is a Four Tops cover done in a 60s Beat music style.

The Outsiders: Dutch psychedelic and garage rock band founded in 1964 and most popular from the years 1965-1967. Some songs of theirs I like are “Thinking About Today”, “Lying All The Time”, “I’ve Been Loving You So Long”, and “Daddy Died on Saturday”.

Partner: Band from the late 70s best known for the song “Kayuta Hill”.

Q65: Garage rock and psychedelic rock band formed in 1965 in The Hague. Like other Nederbeat musicians, their influences are American blues music and British Invasion music. Their best-known songs that made the Top 20 in their home country are “You’re The Victor”, “The Life I Live”, “I Despise You”, and “World of Birds”. Revolution, their 1966 album, is also worth listening to and the songs are a mix of blues and r&b covers and psychedelia. The band broke up in 1968 and some members got back together in 1970 and all the original members reunited in 1980.

Shocking Blue: One of the best known female fronted bands of the 60s. They were founded in The Hague in 1967 and their frontwoman is Mariska Veres. Other members of the band are Robbie van Leeuwen, Klaasje van der Wal, and Cor van Beek. The band were together for seven years. “Venus” was a chart topper in February 1970 in the US. Other good songs of theirs are “Never Marry a Railroad Man”, “California Here I Come”, “Inkpot” (which features sitar playing – common in 60s pop and rock music), “Time Slips Away”, and “Simon Lee and the Gang” (an instrumental).

The Shoes: Beat band started in 1963 who had a lot of hits in The Netherlands in the 60s such as “Standing and Staring”, “Na Na Na”, “Don’t You Cry For a Girl”, and “Osaka”.

The Tee Set: Formed in 1966 and best known for their 1969 single “Ma Belle Amie” which sold well in their country as well as in the United States, where it went to #5. They had another hit called “She Likes Weeds”, which was banned in the United States and you can guess why. The band even had their own record label called Tee-Set Records. Lead singer Peter Tetteroo had a hit with a version of “Red Red Wine”.

Alex and Eddie Van Halen: Arguably the most famous Dutch classic rock musicians. They were born in Nijmegen and moved to California in 1962, when they were still children. Their father played saxophone and clarinet. Both brothers were classically trained in piano as children. Alex played drums while Eddie played guitar. Eddie Van Halen’s biggest influences are Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Before playing their original compositions they played covers of pop and disco music. A DJ named Rodney Bingenheimer invited Gene Simmons to a Van Halen show and Gene Simmons liked what he saw and produced a demo tape. The band were rejected by many record labels, but got signed by Warner Brothers Records in 1977. You probably know the songs “Running With the Devil”, “Eruption”, “Jump”, and “Hot For Teacher”.

Belgium:

Long ago I wrote a little about Django Reinhardt, a famous jazz guitarist who was very influential even decades after his death. He was best known for the compositions “Minor Swing”, “Daphne”, “Djangology”, and “Nuages”. Like Django Reinhardt, Jerry Garcia and Tony Iommi lost fingers in accidents and they were inspired by him to keep playing music. Other fans of Reinhardt’s music are Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch of Wings and Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers Band and Andrew Latimer of Camel.

Like British Invasion acts, Belgian rock bands took influences from Elvis and other American rock musicians. In the 60s there were bands like The Cousins, The Jokers, The Pebbles, and Wallace Collection whose music was reminiscent of early 60s British rock like The Beatles and The Shadows and later on in the 60s, more folk rock.

The most commercially successful Belgian rock acts of the 70s are Machiavel and Plastic Bertrand. Machiavel released their first album in 1976 and had a more progressive rock sound, later on harder sound and Plastic Bertrand released his first album in 1978 and his style of music was more pop-punk/new-wave. You might know his hit “Ça Plane Pour Moi” which reached #8 in the UK, #2 in Australia, and #47 in the US. The song has also been in adverts for Johnnie Walker and Vodafone and in the movies National Lampoon’s European Vacation, The Wolf of Wall Street, Eurotrip, and 127 Hours. The song is a parody of punk and the song means “everything’s going well for me” or “it works well for me” in French. The lyrics are a mix of French and English and are not supposed to make much sense, but an Australian TV show tried to translate it and make sense of it and you can watch this here. The B-side “Pogo Pogo” is also worth checking out. As far as disco, there’s Two Man Sound who were known for songs like “Que Tal America”, “Disco Samba”, and “Charlie Brown”. Members of that group as well wrote the song “Ça Plane Pour Moi”.

Luxembourg:

While Luxembourg didn’t have a lot of well known musicians from the 60s and 70s, it still made a major contribution to classic rock with Radio Luxembourg, which aired from 1933 to 1992. In Britain, Radio Luxembourg had a major role in playing pop and rock music because it had a monopoly in commercial radio, but by 1964 it had to compete with Pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline. It was the largest commercial radio station in Europe. The station was a symbol of freedom and liberty to Eastern Europeans and Western Europeans alike. It helped launch rock and roll in Europe. As well as broadcasting, Radio Luxembourg had their own magazines and books such as 208 and later Fabulous 208.

What are your favourite songs and musicians? Have your say in the comments section!

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