Friday, October 22, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Focus's "Hocus Pocus"

You are reading this right now because the Danish progressive rock group Focus made you. Don't believe me? Well, listen to their monstrous 1971 hit "Hocus Pocus" again and you'll find yourself right back here, reading this.

Popular music has long been interested in supernatural forms of magic. Influential acts like Olivia Newton-John, The Cars, Pilot, and America all have songs devoted to the topic. Similarly, Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" (i.e. "hoodoo" you love) and The Steve Miller Band's "Abracadabra" have, like Screamin' Jay Hawkins, tried to "Put a Spell on You" with some of their songs. But no group before or since has maximized the ratio of magic to kick-ass rock as much as Focus does on their epic cut "Hocus Pocus." And this doesn't even come close to qualifying the song's importance. It is also one of the few instrumental hits of the pop-rock era. Its existence unquestionably brought about the mainstream popularity of other instrumentals like Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F." and Perry Botkin, Jr.'s "Nadia's Theme (The Young and the Restless)." Of more importance, though, is the undisputed fact that Focus reclaimed the art of "yodeling" from the Americans. American acts, such as Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Sly and the Family Stone, had co-opted the yodel from Europe for their own financially self-serving purposes. Focus corrects this wrong by including yodeling on their incantatory hit*.

Focus's mesmerizing song begins with a seven-chord riff that will literally tear your pants right off your grandpappy's ass. Why he would be wearing your skinny jeans is an issue for you work to out with your therapist. The first two instrumental breaks--and several that follow--feature keyboardist Thijs van Leer's immortal yodeling, communicating a powerful spell that has led you to this very place. Making the song even more magical is that it attempts, within seven minutes, to incorporate as many aspects of traditional European-derived folk forms into its futuristic progressive rock frame as possible, including solos on accordion, mock pan flute, scat singing, whistling, and, of course, vicious guitar leads (by the song's writer, Jan Akkerman) and yodeling. Not only was this song a profoundly important hit that was internationally famous, it magically leads more people to read my writing!

*-Never mind the fact yodeling originated in the Swiss Alps, which are some more than half a day's drive from the Netherlands.

Below is an audio clip of the song. Keep reading ...

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