As Valentine’s Day approaches once again, boomers can reminisce of loves won and lost, and the music that framed each circumstance. Finding the perfect someone — and keeping that love — was a perennial favorite topic for songwriters in the boomer years. Love songs were nothing new then, the same as now, but there were approximately ten years where songs directly called on Venus, Goddess of Love and Beauty, and her cohort, Cupid.
The Greeks called her Aphrodite, the love goddess, and her companion, the god Eros. When the Romans conquered the Greeks and appropriated their culture, the goddess was called Venus and the slender boy, Eros, became a chubby cherub called Cupid. While the Greeks considered Eros the brother of Aphrodite, the Romans sometimes referred to Cupid as the love child of Venus and Mars. In both ancient cultures, an arrow shot from Cupid’s bow would cause whoever was struck to fall in love. And let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to sing “Venus” and “Cupid” than it is “Aphrodite” and “Eros.”
Venus – Frankie Avalon (1959)
Frankie Avalon’s first number one hit, written by Ed Marshall and Peter DeAngelis, is a great place to start our Venus and Cupid exploration. Lyrically, the song is a man’s direct plea to Venus. He’s begging for Venus to send him somebody to love and make my dreams come true by having her, in turn, love him back.
Cupid – Sam Cooke (1961)
Written and sung by Sam Cooke, the song reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. Like Venus before it, this song is a direct plea as Sam is asking Cupid to help him out. The girl of his desire, as he sings, doesn’t know I exist. In return, he promises to love her for eternity.
Cupid, draw back your bow
And let your arrow go
Straight to my lover’s heart for me, for me
Venus In Blue Jeans – Jimmy Clanton (1962)
Three years after Venus, Jimmy Clanton took a song written by Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller to number seven on the Billboard charts. In this song, the man is no longer asking for a love; rather, he’s comparing his love to the Goddess of Beauty herself. An interesting pop culture tidbit for Mister Boomer is that the song portrays this man’s Venus as wearing blue jeans. In 1962, jeans were still banned in many schools across the country, and here there is a rock ‘n roll song that sees the perfect woman in jeans! The kids are falling in love and, horror of horrors, they are wearing blue jeans!
Venus – Shocking Blue (1969)
Robbie van Leeuwen, the band’s guitarist, found inspiration in The Banjo Song by Tim Rose for the band, The Big 3. That song featured the lyrics to Oh! Susanna, by Stephen Foster, with a new melody. In return, van Leeuwen took the music from The Banjo Song and gave it entirely new lyrics and a psychedelic treatment that was not only of the moment, but rocketed the song to number one in February of 1970, three months after its release.
So much had changed in the boomer cultural landscape since Frankie crooned about Venus, and this song gives a brief nod to the tradition, but trumpets the change. There is no love-sick puppy begging for help in these lyrics. The song begins with what seems like another Venus comparison as the band sings, She’s got it/Yeah, baby, she’s got it. But then Mariska Veres takes the vocal from a female perspective. While acknowledging that she is the object of desire, this Venus is no shrinking violet who needs the urging of an arrow from Cupid’s bow. She’s daring the male to share her clam shell, but the inference is, on her terms.
I’m your Venus, I’m your fire
At your desire
For Mister Boomer’s tastes, his favorites of this Venus and Cupid selection are Sam Cooke’s Cupid and Shocking Blue’s Venus. Each captures the time in which they were sung. Mister B leans toward Shocking Blue’s Venus, probably because he was a teen nearing Draft age when the song blasted onto the charts, enshrining it in a place in his heart. Numerous covers since then can’t hold a candle to the driving guitar and electric organ of this version. Mister B has the record in the original 45 rpm as well as a digital copy.
How about you, boomers? Did you have a favorite Venus or Cupid song then? Do you still enjoy it today?