Golden Earring: Five Great Songs

Their best beyond “Radar Love” for guitarist George Kooymans’ 75th birthday

George Kooymans of Golden Earring turns 75 today (Image: Wikipedia)

This may come as a shock to some classic rock fans, but there was more to Golden Earring than “Radar Love.”

Even if I didn’t know it at the time, for me, that song was a gateway drug. Golden Earring entered my world – and yours if you were a teenage hard rock fan and AM Top 40 radio devotee in the spring of 1974 – at the same time and over the same platform. Whatever this strange thing called radar love was, you dug it.

If you weren’t that age then and there, I’m sure Golden Earring entered your rock world at some point retroactively, because the song that ear-wormed its way into my brain nearly a half-century ago was later placed in many a movie (Baby Driver, Wayne’s World 2. Ash Wednesday etc.) And covered by Ministry (with whisper-to-a-growl vox from Al Jourgenson on the Cover Up album), by U2 (on the PopMart tour), White Lion and, of course, by R.E.M. (somewhere in some concert somewhere).

Guitarist George Kooymans, who turns 75 March 11, and singer Barry Hay, were the usual Earring tag-team and they wrote “Radar Love.” Music first, words later, as usual. Nothing formulaic about either. It blew me away. The ominous opening plucked guitar strings, the chugging drums and bass line, the drama-to-come, the multiple crescendos, a surprise guest brass section blasting in. All of it limned with undercurrent of otherworldliness, maybe spookiness. 

Hay and Kooymans, along with bassist Marinus Gerritsen and drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk, put me right in the driver’s seat. There was a certain Deep Purple-ly vibe to it – “Highway Star” or “Speed King” – as well and Deep Purple was, at the time, my favorite band. Hay had some Roger Daltrey in him, too. (Golden Earring later recorded on The Who’s Track label and toured with them. “We were sort of sons of The Who,” Hay once said.) 

I’d just gotten my driver’s license and this was the ultimate driving song. I’m singing right along with Hay: “I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hands wet on the wheel/There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel” and then later, “Last car to pass and here I go!/And the line of cars goes down real slow.” Zoom-zoom-zoom.


VIDEO: Golden Earring “Radar Love”

The song also, memorably, blasted out that summer of ‘74 on the Himalaya ride at the Bangor (Maine) State Fair. Round and round we went, higher and higher. “You wanna go faster?!” yelled the carny. We did, we did! Funny, the shit you remember. Just the first few notes of that song takes me right back there.

Here, the lonely driver had some psychic connection to his girlfriend and he was headed her way, guided by this strange radar love aura, speeding through the deep dark night and into early morning – “It’s half past 4 and I’m shifting gear.” With the radio on, like the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.” 

What was on the radio? “The radio’s playing some forgotten song, Brenda Lee’s ‘Coming on Strong.’” Lee is a country-rockabilly-pop singer, and her song, “Coming On Strong,” hit No. 11 in the US in 1966. I was too young to know or care, but Lee’s music must have caught the ears of these young guys. The band was formed by Kooymans in The Hague in 1961 at age 13. (Well, it was called the Tornados then; it didn’t become Golden Earring, sometimes The Golden Earring, until 1967.)

I got no hint from the song or anything on the album it came from, Moontan, but, yes, Golden Earring was Dutch and “Radar Love” went No. 1 in its native land and top ten most everywhere else. I’m using past tense here for the band, but I could have used present tense right up through 2021, because it was the same four guys since 1970. Hay was not an original; he replaced Frans Krassenburg in 1968. 

Moontan, the group’s ninth album, was A-level all the way and the only one to turn gold in the United States. There was a painting of an emotive nude woman in a blue headdress on the cover – well, the first edition at least. (It was later boringly repackaged.) Eerie hard rock with some sexy, but unsettling story-songs and fantastic long instrumental jams. And then, the two subsequent LPs, Switch (1975) and To the Hilt (1976), which both hit the mark. Skip forward a few years – well, six – and then came the other bona fide US hit, “Twilight Zone” from Cut. If you know just two songs, that’s the other one.  

I liked “Twilight Zone” just fine, a great radio hit, but for me, Golden Earring got kicked to the curb – albeit gently, with some respect and regret – not long after punk rock crashed our world. For that matter, so did Deep Purple. But I have to say – and I’m far from the only punk fan who’s revisited his pre-punk faves this way– I returned to the Golden Earring of my youth and rediscovered the love. So much so I just Spotified their 1969 album, Eight Miles High, and a 1977 live album (eh, Live) and listened to both versions of the Byrds’ song. The song takes up an entire album side of the studio record and 10 minutes of Live. Is it heresy to say I think they outdid the original? It may be, but I do, dammit.

They toured the U.S. 13 times – with Jimi Hendrix, Santana, The Who and more – but never came to my neck of the woods, making Golden Earring one of the few bands I haven’t previously reviewed or interviewed for stories done in this space. They were shooting stars on my stereo system – the crap one in high school, the expensive-ish one in college.

Golden Earring played power rock with pop hooks and progressive bent. They weren’t a “singles” band, really. They liked to go deep into a song and sometimes get a tad nasty – not sexist/stupid nasty but flirting with some violent and disturbing scenarios. They liked extending a song. Remember, this took shape during the hippie era after all

I’m going to pick five of their best from that ‘70s era:


1. “Candy’s Going Bad” from Moontan – It’s saucy, headstrong daughter vs. protective, angry parents in a song that explains what the daughter’s doing in the title. For Candy, going bad means she’s a prossy who “got sucked into a champagne desert.” Lured into the life. She’s got a pimp named Ted. Also “a room to rent” along with “stars in her head.” That is, I gather, that Candy thinks hooking – high-class hooking mind you – is going to be a stairway to the stars. Her father’s got violence in his head – he’ll break her bones if she comes home “dressed in peacock clothes.” Mother’s concerned about what the neighbors think. Verses break with the repeated call of “Are you satisfied?” 

The 45 version was around three minutes but the proper, album version went six-plus. It needs that time to stretch out, tell the story, musically as well as lyrically, to build the conflict. There’s no answer provided to the “satisfaction” question. Me, I was satisfied (and more) by the song, but guessed neither Candy nor her parents (nor for that matter Ted) were satisfied by what might be coming down the line. Unless …?


AUDIO: Golden Earring “Candy’s Going Bad”


2. “The Vanilla Queen” from Moontan – Is this Candy all grown up? It’s a nine-minute trip through the hills and valleys, set initially in 1957 where this queen was “sweetheart of the year.” Hay observes she has “been a dancer at some famous Paris show/And million-dollar lovers showed you to your door.” She’s alluring, for sure. What is it about her? Answer: The “secret of your beauty was your moontan and your fear.” Got me there, but I’m assuming as you can’t get a tan from the moon – it not being the sun and all, being a reflector of light – so a moontan would mean alabaster. As to the fear? Dunno. All I can tell you is John Cale sang “Fear is a man’s best friend.” Maybe the queen leveraged fear. Or was fearsome. Or fearful.

Halfway through, the song breaks down, instruments skittering about, creaking, background murmuring. Unsettling scenario. There’s a female voice, “Well in simple English …” as strange noises bounce around her. Then, as a car pulls away and accelerates, she purrs, “What’s your name, honey?’ and the song resumes its stentorian climb. The voice: Sampled from Marilyn Monroe. It is, I guess, a dream sequence, the narrator hooking up with the queen in some fantasy world. But the fantasy twists: “I knew you would drag me down and knock me off my feet/You blew down my fences with your natural make-believe …You haunt me even in my dreams.” Trust me, it’s a haunting song.


AUDIO: Golden Earring “The Vanilla Queen”


3. “(Kill Me) Ce Soir” from Switch – This came out seven years before John Lennon’s murder but the scenario is eerily prescient: “Ce soir, ce  soir, assassination d’un rock and roll star.”  The language is different (French) and the setup is different. The star is Vick Timms and he’s written this song called “Kill Me” – how pre-Richard Hell! – and he is indeed shot on stage.  Then the story shifts to the rape of America by Richard Nixon (“recorded on tape”), then to Jesus’s crucifixion (who, like Vick Timms, spun out his own version of “kill me”). Sang Hay: “He had nothing to lose/He was king of the Jews/Secured his place in history.” Another haunting song.


VIDEO: Golden Earring “(Kill Me) Ce Soir”


4. “Lonesome DJ” – Switch You think, that I, handling the 8 pm to midnight Thursday shift at my college radio station every didn’t spin “Lonesome DJ” as the last song of the night a few (dozen) times? You betcha. Seems the DJs girl snuck out, left a note and he’s playing their song. “Alone. With a phone. And a stack of black vinyl. And I know that home could be just as futile/Without your presence, it doesn’t make any sense.”

He hopes she’s within the station’s range, tuned in. (I’m thinking she’s not.) Kooymans and the crew let it rip, the music cycling and churning, building the tension – giving her time to call – before exploding with Hay singing, “Well, let me tell you all/She didn’t call/A finger to you all/I might as well have a ball/And play some … rock and roll!” Well, the DJ’s closing his shift of a high note, a fuck you, and a big blast of Golden Earring rock, so you’re left with him by your side, lonely but turning to that old rock and roll for the salve/salvation. I’ve been there.


AUDIO: Golden Earring “Lonesome DJ”


5. “To The Hilt” from To the Hilt – “Why didn’t I do this?/How come I didn’t do that?” Is there a more universal (and useless) lament than that? In this song, the singer, using second person, imagines you – yes, you! – in a slightly more precarious position than idle wonder as you think those thoughts. You’re “buried up to your elbows in the sand/And there’s honey glowing/Down your cheeks it’s flowing/You’ll find some time to reflect/Before the ants are crawling over your head.” 

I’m sure there’s countless torture porn songs in the world of death metal that I don’t care to visit, and Alice Cooper and Screaming Lord Sutch certainly had previous grisly songs in their repertoire, but this, for me, was the most explicit torture I’d heard in song. I’d read about this sort of thing in a book about Apache torture in the American west. (It wasn’t specific to them, really; the world has a long history of executing people via insects. Check out what happened in ancient Persia. Or, really, don’t.)



And now, the really fucking sad part: In February 2021, news came that Kooymans was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, one of the most awful of them all, elements of your body inexorably shutting down bit by bit. He’d been fighting it since the summer of 2020.

Kooymans talked (very briefly it seems) to the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Daglad: “It’s a horrid message and I am not in the mood to say anything else about it. I’m being treated at the university hospital in Louvain. That’s it.’ 

Hays: “This is a hammer blow. We always said we would play on until one of us dropped dead. I would never have expected George to be the first. He was always the toughest of the four of us.”

In November 2021, Hays told Radio Veronica, as reported in World Today, “The last time I spoke to him he was quite cheerful.” They’d talked on the phone, Hay adding that Kooymans was out and about, probably in Italy, with saxophonist and sometime Golden Earring sideman, Bertus Borgers. “You could hear that they had had a glass of wine. That’s the best remedy. He actually sounded good.

“You know, I think you’re going to have ups and downs with that disease. If you want to hear from him about that, you have to call him, you understand? And I think he doesn’t feel like it that much. He’s still walking around and everything. He can still laugh.”

Golden Earring released 25 studio albums and their tenth live album, the double-CD You Know We Love You – Live Ahoy 2019, came out last year. It was taken from their final concert, in Rotterdam at Ahoy Nov. 16, 2019. It went to No. 2 in the Netherlands.




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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

One thought on “Golden Earring: Five Great Songs

  • March 16, 2023 at 5:19 am

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