Back in 1971, a four-piece Dutch band by the name of Focus released a studio album by the name of Moving Waves (US. Moving Waves was released as Focus II elsewhere). On that album, a resilient international hit was released. The cleverly titled “Hocus Pocus” with its signature Akkerman guitar chord progressions, and its Leer-sung yodels, set a tone for the band that would prove to be impossible to reprise in future albums.
Focus’ first album, In And Out of Focus (US – 1970) became a coveted title after the band broke wide open with “Hocus Pocus”. Naturally, if a band breaks after a few albums have been released, fans will want to explore backwards. This was certainly the case with In And Out of Focus, which contained the lengthy (but oh so good) instrumental, “Focus”. That album had its fans, especially after the band made their mark, but nothing like the hit song mentioned above.
I don’t want to spend too much time on “Hocus Pocus” but it deserves a bit of space. The album version, six-plus minutes in length is a satisfying expansion of the three-plus minute radio edit, which, surprisingly was as artistic a cut as the full cut is on its own two feet. What made “Hocus Pocus” interesting was not only Akkerman’s guitar but Thijs van Leer’s inventive and unusual vocals that made the song even more interesting than it already was. And we will not discount the bass work of Martin Dresden or the energetic drumming of Hans Cleuver. Together, this band clicked.
For sure, there are few who have not heard, at the very least, the radio-edit version of the song. More interesting are the few cover versions by notable bands (Helloween, Marillion, and a few others) that fit well.
After Moving Waves, the band tried to maintain the promise of that album but failed largely to create something as earth shattering as “Hocus Pocus”. Their progressive hit, “Sylvia” was a blissful track that has similarities to the aforementioned song, but even as good as it was, it did not capture the fancy of a large-scale audience. Nevertheless, for several albums after Focus II, the band would produce worthy albums that would please fans of the band.
Focus was/is a solid performer in the world of progressive music. Today, all of their albums stand as solid, timeless works that deserve more than a nostalgic period appreciation. Focus was not afraid to create music that changed dramatically from album to album.
Recently, Focus released several albums to critical success including their latest, Focus X (2012). With its release, and its self-contained brilliance, it bears a trip back a few decades to remember the brilliance that came before. If you haven’t heard it, and you’re a fan of the band from several decades back (especially if you enjoyed “Hocus Pocus”, then it cannot be recommended enough that you explore Focus X. If you have done that (because you ARE a fan), then you should take a few steps back and revisit all that the band produced before. You won’t regret a single moment! Not one!
What are your memories of Focus, “Hocus Pocus”, Jan Akkerman, or any other Focus-related observations (like “Sylvia”, Focus – Live at The Rainbow, etc.)