It was the early 1970s. It was a time when you could hear just about anything on the radio. Playlists hadn’t yet hardened into the genre-specific, focus group-driven, audience-targeted sameness of today, where you know exactly what you are going to get. For perhaps the last time, American popular radio could be full of surprises. And one day, when I was about 16, one of the surprises was the extraordinary song Hocus Pocus by a Dutch group called Focus.
Hocus Pocus is unquestionably one of the greatest air guitar songs of all time. The intro, with its great guitar riffs and drumming, sucks you in — and then you begin to realize that the song is seriously weird. Hocus Pocus is a technically an instrumental, even though the human voice is heard throughout and is, in fact, one of the most important instruments being played. Rather than lyrics, however, the singer is alternately yodeling, straining to perform some kind of musical scales, sounding like a cartoon character that has been at the helium tank, and finally insanely cackling. And the unique vocal gymnastics lead perfectly into the stunning guitar solos and manic drumming. What a great song!
Hocus Pocus reached number 9 on the U.S. charts, but the single version really didn’t do the song justice. I went out and bought the album, Moving Waves, because the extended version of Hocus Pocus — which comes in at close to 7 minutes and is the version in the Youtube clip below — is as close to perfection as music gets. I played that album in my bedroom until the grooves begged for mercy.