Golden Earring’s “When the Lady Smiles”: The controversial 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign rally song

By on August 8, 2016

Night Flight’s “Take Off to European Rock” — which originally aired on April 14, 1984, and is now streaming on Night Flight Plus — features the uncensored version of Golden Earring’s “When the Lady Smiles,” which also briefly aired in an edited form on MTV before being dropped by the network completely due to content. The song caused unexpected controversy again in 2008, when it was played at a Hillary Clinton campaign rally.

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Dutch band Golden Earring only had a few hits in America in comparison to their larger following overseas, but when they had stateside success, they always made a big impression, along with raised eyebrows.

The cover for their 1973 breakout album Moontan, which featured their first U.S. chart hit “Candy’s Going Bad” and their smash followup “Radar Love,” originally featured a naked dancer on the front and another naked woman interlocked with a similarly-posed model in a hazmat suit.

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While this has remained the standard in all other countries, in the U.S. it was quickly withdrawn and replaced with a generic, less inflammatory cover.

In 1982, their album Cut delivered their biggest American hit, “Twilight Zone.” The song reached #10 on the singles chart, and #1 on the AOR tracks chart. Much of that success was credited to its compelling video, directed by Dick Maas, starring lead singer Barry Hay as a spy beset by pursuing enemies and sexy inquisitors.

Though MTV put the video in heavy rotation, they also made edits to the content, optically cropping out a topless lady assassin, and removing frames of Hay being injected with a syringe and then reacting in pain.

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Golden Earring reunited with Maas to make the video for their 1984 single “When the Lady Smiles,” from their subsequent album N.E.W.S.

While the song was a hit in other parts of the world, reaching #1 in the Netherlands and #3 in Canada, it only reached #76 in America, and in a reversal of their previous fortune, the video was cited as the reason for the single’s lack of popularity in the U.S.

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“When the Lady Smiles” portrays Hay as a disturbed man who hallucinates a beautiful redhead — played by model Sandra van Echten — inhabiting the bodies of ordinary women he meets in public.

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In his delusional state, what he thinks are welcome passionate encounters with his fantasy woman are revealed to be unhinged attacks on terrified victims.

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The man is put on trial and sentenced to a Grand Guignol-esque lobotomy, which features the return of the sultry dancers from “Twilight Zone” as nurses.

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Founding member and bassist Rinus Gerritsen remembered the production for the band’s The Devil Made Us Do It DVD compilation (translated from Dutch):

“Here we pulled out all the stops with Dick Maas as far as the story goes; Acting, costume changes, Monty Python-style humor…The wife of our truck driver wanted to play the old nun who was molested in the train.”

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Many were not amused by the video, especially MTV. Scenes of Echten as the nun having her habit ripped to reveal a red bra, of Hay’s brain matter being tossed to a hungry dog by a drunken doctor, and other violent images were ordered removed.

Even after cuts were made, the clip was only aired after midnight, and disappeared from the network shortly after.

The censored version of video that aired on MTV and other video shows

Decades later in 2008, at a New Year’s Day rally for Hillary Clinton in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the candidate was late for her appearance. Campaign staffers played music to placate the crowd as they waited. Among familiar hits like “I’m a Believer” and “9 to 5” was “When the Lady Smiles.”

Initially, most in attendance paid no notice, since it was not a well-known song to them. However, Ron Linker, a Dutch reporter at the rally, definitely remembered the song and the attendant notoriety, and in his coverage of the event, asked incredulously if anyone in Clinton’s organization had ever seen the video.

Netherlands media picked up the story, which led to lots of amused reactions.

Dutch humor website lachvandedag.com posted a photoshopped image in response to the story reading: “I have that Golden Earring clip and checked it once again, and indeed; the role of the nun … that was her …”

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In weird timing, the incident happened just as the legendary porn film Deep Throat was about to be broadcast on Netherlands public television despite political objections, leading to wild tabloid coverage of both events.

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De Pers covering “When The Lady Smiles” while DAG covers Deep Throat (photo courtesy of Jeroen Mirck)

The news reached English-language websites like Boing Boing and Daily Kos, who also mused about the Clinton camp’s lack of awareness of its checkered history.

When the band found out from a stateside fan about the song being played, they too were surprised, and their manager replied, “There’s been no contact between Clinton’s team and us. But no doubt we’ll receive royalties.”

While they have not since matched the highs of “Twilight Zone” or the shock value of “When the Lady Smiles,” both artists have enjoyed career longevity.

Golden Earring recent marked their 50th anniversary as a band, putting out their last album in 2012.

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Dick Maas would be best known for directing the ‘80s killer elevator movie The Lift, as well as a 2001 English-language remake The Shaft, with Naomi Watts.

That being said, to the best of our knowledge, not a single candidate for public office of any political party has attempted to use Golden Earring’s music ever since. Nobody wants to go that deep into the Twilight Zone!

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See the uncensored version of “When the Lady Smiles” along with rare videos from Nina Hagen, Yello, Chagrin D’Amour and more in Night Flight’s “Take Off to European Rock,” available now on Night Flight Plus!

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About Marc Edward Heuck

Marc Edward Heuck is a writer and cultural historian best known as the Movie Geek from Comedy Central's "Beat the Geeks." He was an associate producer and researcher for Robert Rodriguez' "The Director's Chair" interview series on the El Rey network. He created the eclectic blog The Projector Has Been Drinking, and his screening series Cinema Tremens revived many rarely-exhibited films, featuring interviews with their creators and champions. He has recorded more than ten DVD commentary tracks, and has been a memorable guest on many podcasts. He cites discovering "Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains" on "Night Flight" as one of the significant milestones of his cultural evolution.
  • Marc Edward Heuck

    As the writer, I’ll take that knock. My cursory research on the history of the album did not turn up that information, and since my primary focus was this song, that detail fell by the wayside. Apologies to you as a devoted and obviously better-schooled Golden Earring fan.

  • Amnon

    The Golden Earring (starting as Golden Earrings) is also the longest running rock band in the world. Yes, longer than the Rolling Stones. And still active in 2016. https://nobrownmandms.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/golden-earring-is-the-longest-running-rock-band/