Focus: 'Moving Waves'

Rediscovering lost music via the vinyl bins at secondhand stores

Artist: Focus

Album: Moving Waves

Place: 17th Street Goodwill

Price: 50 cents

Some trips to the thrift store yield spectacular results. I still remember a wonderful day in 2002 when the Goodwill Store on Broadway yielded a 20 LP haul including a shrink-wrapped Future by the Seeds, and the MC5's entire oeuvre. Giddy after the haul, I walked to the adjacent Taco Bell and spent 30 minutes in a corner booth devouring tacos and reading liner notes. The mélange of smells I experienced in that booth—the aroma of taco meat, the summer sweat stank emanating from Bell patrons (including me), and the familiar dusty mothball whiff of 30-year old records—lives on in some caliginous corner of my brain.

A recent visit to the 17th Street Goodwill Store began with equal promise. I stumbled upon what I call a "DJ dump"—several boxes of neatly stacked records, all stamped with "FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY." Unfortunately for me (I am 47), the DJ in question worked for a radio station at which Bubba Sparxxx and someone named Petey Pablo were in heavy rotation. But I was in luck; in the corner was a stash of 70s arena rock LPs—Boston, Rainbow, and…Focus.

What is Focus? The album is called Moving Waves. On the cover beneath some (still?) water are four long-haired hippie dudes in a cloud. There's no hint of what kind of music this is. At first I thought Ambrosia-caliber soft rock. But the back cover suggested something far weirder. First, the band's line-up did not comprise any Joeys or Johns, Stevens or Rons, or Peters or Marks. No, the four guys in the cloud are Cyriel, Jan, Thijs, and Pierre. Second, Side 2 consists of one 23-minute song. It became clear—Focus plays progressive rock.

Progressive rock is about baroque instrumentation (every prog-rock band has at least one self-described "classically-trained musician"), really long songs, and symphonic pretensions. Moving Waves leads off with "Hocus Pocus," a catchy instrumental rock song; instrumental, that is, except for the falsetto yodeling. The power-chord guitar riff is actually pretty cool, but the yodeling is kind of silly. The American public thought differently in 1973 when the song reached #9 on the Billboard charts. Side 1 also contains a short classical guitar piece called "Le Clochard," and "Janis" a flute ballad. Both are accessible and very pleasant Hearts of Space fare. Side 2 contains the long opus "Eruption." In many ways it's standard prog-rock—meandering and sporadically self-indulgent. Yet parts are quite wonderful. Clearly guitarist Jan Akkerman is a talent, displaying in turns the chops of a Foxtrot-era Steve Hackett, a jazz-inflected Carlos Santana, and even a straightforward bluesman.

Should you own Moving Waves? Definitely, if you're a fan of Dutch progressive rock (any Kayak fans out there?) or own a lot of King Crimson and Yes records. Yes, if you want more yodeling in your rock n' roll. And yes if you can find it for under a buck. Otherwise, probably not.