Focus Performs Magic on ‘Hocus Pocus,’ From TV’s ‘The Midnight Special’

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Focus performing “Hocus Pocus” on The Midnight Special, Oct. 5, 1973

It was one of the more unique radio hits of 1973. A rock song with vocals that were solely performed by yodeling. The track, “Hocus Pocus,” by the Dutch band, Focus, was originally released in 1971 but failed to chart outside of the Netherlands. It was re-recorded the next year, at a faster pace, and was met with broader success in other European markets. In January 1973, it reached #20 in the U.K.

Sire Records picked it up for the U.S. and released it that February but by March 17, it had stalled at #93 in just its second week on the chart. The label pressed on, and three weeks later, it jumped from #80 to #61. The single continued taking solid leaps up the chart and by April 21 it had entered the national Top 40.

At that point, the “Dutch Masters of Progressive Rock” had just completed their first American tour, including a performance at New York’s Philharmonic Hall, and an appearance on ABC-TV’s In Concert. All of that attention led to two albums on the U.S. sales chart. The single entered on the Top 20 on May 12.

“Hocus Pocus” achieved its U.S. chart peak on June 2, when it reached #9. Four months later, Focus performed their international hit on The Midnight Special. The clip was shared 50 years later on June 15, 2023.

An official YouTube Channel has been created for The Midnight Special TV series, celebrating the legendary late-night show with restored performances featuring the biggest names in music, comedy and entertainment from the 70s and early 80s. The 2023 launch is from producer Burt Sugarman.

Focus emerged in 1970 with a debut album, Focus Plays Focus, which became better known as In and Out of Focus. Their breakthrough came with the worldwide success of singles “Hocus Pocus” and “Sylvia” in the early seventies with a line-up which included founder member Thijs van Leer (keyboard, flute and vocals), Pierre van der Linden (drums) and Jan Akkerman (guitar). The albums Focus II/Moving Waves and Focus 3 put the band at the very forefront of the progressive music scene.

Beloved by the student population, Focus’ music fused van Leer’s love of jazz and classical music and he employed a unique vocal style of yodeling and scat, using the voice as another form of instrumentation rather than singing in a conventional style.

Through many line-up changes across the years van Leer consistently sourced great musicians to join the Focus ranks. Focus went their separate ways in 1978, occasionally reuniting to perform on stage or record together on solo projects. Van Leer officially reformed Focus with a new line-up in 2001 and released the Focus 8 album the following year. Drummer van der Linden returned in 2004 while current guitarist Menno Gootjes joined the band in 2010. Udo Pannekeet completed the current Focus line-up in 2016, and the band returned to the studio to record Focus 11.

To celebrate 50 years of the ground-breaking progressive rock band, Cherry Red Records the Dutch band Focus released Focus 50, a 3-CD/Blu-ray collection in 2021. At the heart of the package is “Focus Live in Rio,” a concert recorded in Nitteroi, Rio de Janeiro, in 2017. The performance features music from across the history of the band from “Focus 1” and “House of the King,” on their very first album, through the classics “Hocus Pocus,” “Sylvia” and “Focus III” to “Song For Eva,” released in 2017.

Focus 50 includes a bonus CD, Completely Focused, with the classic Focus tracks numbered 1 through 12 re-recorded by the current Focus line-up. The album cover comes from legendary artist Roger Dean.

Watch Roger Dean and the band talk about the album package design

Focus have a busy tour schedule. Tickets are available here.

Related: “Hocus Pocus” was one of the biggest radio hits of 1973

Best Classic Bands Staff

3 Comments so far

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  1. stephen willard
    #1 stephen willard 16 June, 2023, 08:53

    If this song doesn’t set an example of the 70s music scene nothing will. Great song.

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  2. carlsagan lives
    #2 carlsagan lives 17 June, 2023, 11:22

    Focus III is one fine album… that’s not a question, it’s an answer! BTW – ‘House of the King’ is one of the chestnuts on it, not their first record.

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  3. Baybluesman
    #3 Baybluesman 5 October, 2023, 20:29

    Jan Akkerman was then, and has long been, an underappreciated virtuoso guitarist.

    Akkerman has exquisitely traversed the genres of Rock, Progressive Rock, Jazz-Rock, New Age, and Blues-Rock, to mention a few.

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