Perfect Sound Forever


The Dutch Rock
by Kevin Cowl
(February 2016)

Being underrated is overrated. And being overrated can set you up for a long, hard fall. Golden Earring is neither. By their fans, and almost everyone who saw them or has toured with them, they are respected. And it is commonly understood that they did not get their due. But no one knows exactly why.

One of the world's longest surviving intact rock bands (founded 1961, which makes them older than the Stones), they are well-known in Europe, but remain also-rans here in the States. They are still active with the same core members since 1970, and keep recording but also keep a tour schedule limited to their native Netherlands and points nearby. Known primarily for the two iconic FM radio pillars - 1973's “Radar Love" and 1982's “Twilight Zone" - they also had 30 top-ten singles on European charts and have released 25 albums. I'll bet very few people can name even one. I discovered them just like everyone else does – through classic rock staple “Radar Love," but have since found out how deep their catalog goes, how stunning their song craft is, how skillful yet soulful their playing is, and how over a 50+ year career, they can continue to make great music.

So, who are they?

Barry Hay- lead vocals, flute, guitar

Cesar Zuiderwijk- drums

George Kooymans- guitar, vocal

Rinus Gerritsen- bass

At least ten others came through at different times, but since 1970, these four have remained the core lineup. They toured extensively in the late '60's and 1970's playing with acts as diverse as Led Zeppelin, MC5, Sun Ra, John Lee Hooker, Joe Cocker, The Who, Kiss, Aerosmith, UFO, The Doobie Brothers, J. Geils Band, Boz Scaggs, ZZ Top, Ted Nugent, Santana and many, many more on stages throughout Europe and the U.S. until their last Stateside tour in ‘84. Since then, they have kept close to home. The ‘80's were uneven, but they returned to fine form in the' 90's and have since produced some of the best music of their career.

Their catalog is large and worth a full exploration, but for me, their 70s output is essential listening.

Moontan (1973)

This is it: a “desert island" keeper. Firmly and securely on my personal top 10 of all-time list – by anybody. It is the beginning of what I consider their greatest run and the beginning of the mature style in their songwriting and playing. I liked their late 60s albums such as Seven Tears, On the Double, and Together but didn't think they had yet found their signature sound. And, the inconsistent, overproduced ‘80's were still far away. So let's start here.

After the hopping drum intro, Barry Hay's baritone puts us right in the passenger's seat: “Been drivin' all night, my hands wet on the wheel..." The song is probably everyone's starting place, but in my opinion, it's actually one of the least interesting songs on Moontan. Years ago, a housemate of mine had this LP in his collection, but he admitted he only owned it because of “Radar." I asked him how the rest of it was, but he had no idea – he had never gone past the first cut. I put it on one night and let it play through.

It was as if it had been made for me.

I played it again, and again, and perhaps a thousand times since. Elements of prog could be found in the song lengths and structures, but it was free of the needless bombast. There is also almost no evidence of the blues rock that was so dominant at the time – a rare feat to pull off when the biggest band in the world was playing Exile on Main Street. Nor was it reinventing pure Beatles-y pop like Badfinger or Big Star. The rhythm section of Zuiderwijk and Gerritsen is crackingly tight, propulsive, yet never rushed, busy, or too urgent. Kooymans' guitar work is efficient – solid rhythm patterns and chord work, and then given to swooping ascents and descents through clean, perfectly timed solos. His tone is muted and dark, not full throated or distorted. Singer Barry Hay adds flute, but unlike his contemporary, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, his flute parts do not dominate, but rather compliment. Solos are limited in length, notes carefully chosen. Horns and saxes on “Vanilla Queen," “Big Tree, Blue Sea" and “Are You Receiving Me" add power and depth to the main riffs and free the guitar to float. This is their biggest, best album and nothing since has equaled it. With “Radar Love," they had their breakout hit, were on tour almost constantly, and were becoming a formidable live unit. The albums that followed and led up to the next big milestone, 1982's “Twilight Zone" and its groundbreaking video for the nascent MTV, failed to produce any hits as big as “Radar," but there was a lot of excellent material throughout.

Switch (1974)

This follow up to Moontan had high expectations to live up to, but it did not. The band seemed tired, but these quieter, almost jazzy jams reflected an eagerness to experiment. Points for stretching out. “Ce Soir" figured as a concert staple for years, and “Tons of Time," with its reggae-like beat, hinted at the poppier material that would later come.

To The Hilt (1975)

A much more rocking effort with much diversity throughout. “Why Me" is a strong opener and “Facedance" is the first time I'd ever really heard the blues quite so literally in their music. The title track is almost Who–like, Mod inflected, with ample power chords and breaks. “Nomad" revisits the previous album's jazz. Funky bass can be heard on “Sleepwalkin," and “Latin Lightning" has a disco shuffle and a smoky sax. You get the sense that the band was absorbing many influences, perhaps from all of the bands they were touring with.

Contraband (1976)

A strong return to form. Well-constructed songs throughout and a good, bright recording. George's snarly guitar tone is back and the whole band sounds energized. “Bombay" opens with a bouncy drum shuffle, springy guitar and disco-y refrain. Moody “Suleen" could have easily been off Moontan. Its snaky guitar line weaves over a tight rhythm and Barry's atmospheric vocal. Rockers “Con Man" and “Mad Love's Comin" would also comfortably fit on Moontan. Both became concert staples for years. “Fightin Windmills" is a mid-tempo rocker about fellow Dutch bands who couldn't get the major breakthroughs they needed to hit it big.

Live (1977)

Epic. The first disc of this two disc set is perhaps the most played CD I've ever owned. Recorded in London, the album opens with a muscular “Candy's Going Bad" reminiscent of the hard rock on the first Montrose album, and then goes into a barn-burning “She Flies on Strange Wings" highlighted by the dual interplay of Kooymans and new guitarist Eelco Gelling, who had been recently added to the band. “Mad Love" gets a thumping workout and the disc closes with a majestic “Vanilla Queen" – perhaps the best version of this song ever put to record. The second disc is solid throughout, but the standout track is “Radar Love," which, aided by Gelling, is raw and massive. This excellent document of the band in its prime is authoritative and the performances are passionate. For me, it is among the great live albums of the ‘70's, easily holding its own amongst classics by other bands then in their prime – UFO, Thin Lizzy, etc.

The essence of this band is on the stage, and high energy live sets like this one, plus 2nd Live (1981), Something Heavy Going Down (1984), Last Blast of the Century (2000), and the unplugged Fully Naked (1992), prove that they are most at home in front of the fans.

Grab it For a Second (1978)

Their hardest rocker yet and most realized effort since Moontan. As a musical unit they were now at their peak. By this time, they had toured with all of the major U.S. and British bands and the influences can be heard throughout this record. “Roxanne" is an Aerosmith-y shouter with a chugging hard rock beat. “Leather" is all sex - the bluesy, dual guitar intro is the dirtiest they've ever sounded – you can clearly hear ZZ Top here. It moves right into “Tempting" – a Zeppelin-like hop with clever refrains. “U-Turn Time" is UFO inspired riff rock. “Movin' Down Life" is glammy and indicates that the 1980s are just around the corner. Excellent background vocals are throughout this album, and figure more prominently than ever before. Barry's got some punk in his voice now. The title track is my favorite - edgy, broken glass guitar over a disco beat reminiscent of later Blondie.

No Promises, No Debts (1979)

Sandwiched between two very solid albums, this one seems a bit unfinished to me and like it was squeezed out rather quickly. Still it's a decent effort featuring fan favorites and longtime concert staples “Don't Stop the Show," “Sellin' Out," and “Weekend Love."

Prisoner of the Night (1980)

Energetic and vital. Sounds like they're having a lot of fun, but maybe they also know they've got other bands on their tail. They had clearly absorbed punk and new wave by this point and it shows. Kicks off with adrenaline ravers “Long Blond Animal," “No for an Answer" and “My Town." The title track is a creeping rocker reminiscent of Foreigner. “I Don't Want to be Nobody Else" would be at home on Quadrophenia. A great end to a great decade for them.

Cut (1982)

Wow, what happened? Almost totally forgettable except for “Twilight Zone," which sucks all the air out of the rest of the songs, (not that they had much to begin with). The ‘80's are out in full force. The production is polished to a gloss. The grit is gone – the drums are stripped back to a Neanderthal pound. Horns and synths and lots of ‘em. The songs seem buried under so much overproduction they all but disappear. But boy, “Twilight Zone"- where did this come from? Nine years after their last hit, they were back with another radio giant, now firmly in place in the classic rock canon. My absolute favorite song by them. A singular achievement.

Beyond the Twilight Zone…

To me, the rest of the decade is not really worth talking about. I find their ‘80's output spotty and dogged by overproduction, although some of their best and lasting songs such as “When the Lady Smiles" came from albums like the otherwise forgettable N.E.W.S (1984), and “Why Do I" from the dismal album The Hole (1986).

They began to crawl out of it with 1989's Keeper of the Flame, and every album after that got stronger. Highlights include Bloody Buccaneers (1991), the incredible live “unplugged" set Fully Naked (1992), Face It (1994), Love Sweat (1995), Paradise in Distress (1999), Millbrook U.S.A. (2003) and several other live sets, Naked II (1997), Last Blast of the Century (2000), Naked III (2005) and Live in Ahoy (2006).

Best of all, they are still at it to this day. Watch any YouTube video of a recent show and you will see a great band still in its prime, working hard, continuing to prove themselves, writing great material, not leaning back on their past (although they could), but moving forward.

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