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.

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Comments » 1

TomB writes:

I had this album on 8-track tape back in the day. "Hocus Pocus" was spread across two channels so it faded on one then the tape head moved to the next one and the second half of the song resumed, fading back in.

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