Thursday 22 February 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - F: Focus - Hocus Pocus, The Best Of Focus

6 posts in to this ongoing activity, and we arrive at the first compilation album

But first .. a musing on the purpose and/or greatness of compilation albums

A compilation album tends to be viewed in two ways:
1.  An introduction to a band you may have a fleeting interest in (ie one or two songs)
2.  A Bit of a cop-out, and not necessarily the way the artist intended their art to be consume

Me?  I'm firmly in the former camp, and do love a good compilation.
It's a way in, a path if discovery, and when they're good may lead to open wallet surgery as you seek to fill your shelves with the entire catalogue.  Alternatively, a compilation may also lead to disappointment where the couple of tracks you do know remain brilliant, but the rest is all a bit "meh!".

At the risk of sounding like an old fart, the compilation album used to appear at the end of a bands career, or if they moved labels at the end of their tenure, often as a simple easy method of (a) signing off their career, and/or (b) fulfilling contractual obligations.
Fancy a bit of time off?  That used to signal a Live album as a "space filler" whilst the band had a rest and then re-grouped for a new assault on the listening public.
Now it seems the compilation can appear at any time, often bulked out by new and exclusive tracks, and often early in a bands career, so the title "Greatest Hits" really doesn't apply
(If you can find it (I can't find a link), Dave Gorman in Series 2 Episode 7 (I Like Hot Bananas) does a good job of explaining this using Scouting For Girls as his reference text)

Whether you consider compilations good or bad, there are 3 or 4 which are pretty much essential, and every home should have a copy.
These are:
  • The Beatles 1962-66 (Red Album)
  • The Beatles 1967-70 (Blue Album)
  • The Jam - Snap
  • Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady
  • Squeeze - 45s And Under
(and according to recent(ish) research, every home does have a copy of Abba Gold and Queens Greatest Hits *)

I've got 3 (4 if you include the copy bundled in the CD Box of Greatest Hits I II & III (The Platinum Collection))

Anyway, back to Focus ...

Holland hasn't produced that many BIG bands - Golden Earring being perhaps the best known.  Also mentioned in dispatches are Bolland & Bolland (writers of and original performers 'In The Army Now') and Jaap Eggermont (of Stars On 45 fame).

Focus formed in 1969.  Their early career included time as the band for a production of Hair in Amsterdam.  As a result, the first commercially available recording of Focus is on the soundtrack album of the production.
When the Musical ended, Focus had enough local gigs and a following to warrant a publishing deal and the chance to record their debut album ('Focus Plays Focus' (revised title in UK and US: 'In And Out Of Focus'). The album sold little outside of Holland, until the single "House Of The King" hit the Top 10 in the UK.
The single was added to the album, and relatively respectable (if not massive) sales achieved in the UK and US.The next single was "Hocus Pocus" and provided the commercial breakthrough.
Parent album 'Focus II / Moving Waves' sold in large numbers, and was followed by 3 more albums ('Focus 3', 'Hamburger Concerto', 'Mother Focus') before band relationships deteriorated, and the creative element of  vocalist (yodellist?), organist & flautist Thijs van Leer and guitarist Jan Akkermann parted company.

This compilation draws tracks from their five 1970s albums, and opens with their best known track "Hocus Pocus".
This is the full album version, and not the 3 minute single edit I knew previously, and contains more mad, possibly unhinged yodelling, flute blowing and Hammond organ interludes beneath the insistent guitar riff - a riff that will pummel it's way into your head.

16 instrumental tracks entrenched in moods of Prog, Jazz, Blues jams, more yodelling (the closest you'll get to lyrics on this wholly instrumental album).  A bit of a curates egg affair - something grabbing your attention, and then floating off somewhere in the middle of the next track, and then returning again at some random moment of listening.
In a neat circular thing, the album closes with the single version of "Hocus Pocus", but for me the key track (and the best they've done, if not the best instrumental rock track ever) is "Sylvia" placed slap bang in the middle of the album.

Personally, I prefer compilations with a chronological track listing.  This one isn't, but what the track , something as snappy and direct as "House Of The King" comes along and you're salivating for the next slab of Dutch invention.
I only own one other Focus album ('Focus 3') which I have not listened to for some time, but do remember it being "quite hard work".
Is this the best way to consume Focus?  In my limited experience, Yes.
It's a bit of a roller coaster, with some moments of lost interest or distraction, but like White Water Rafting, or Charity Volunteer work, it's ultimately rewarding.



  1. I'd add Tom Petty's greatest hits to the essential list.

    Great use of Hocus Pocus in the movie Baby Driver.

    1. Agree with your Tom Petty suggestion.
      The Anthology - Through The Years collection is (possibly) all the Tom Petty the casual observer needs. And in a nice bit of circularity, includes "Mary Jane's Last Dance" - a stand alone single from the previously released Greatest Hits album