NPR logo Old Music Tuesdays: Focus

Old Music Tuesdays: Focus

A friend I can usually count on for Web links to the absurd oddities of the world recently pointed me to a truly bizarre progressive rock group from the 1970s called Focus. I don't know how to describe the music of Focus other than as "Yodel Rock."

Focus is from Amsterdam and formed in 1969. The group was (and still is) fronted by Thijs van Leer, a classically trained pianist and flutist (he's the one sitting at the keyboard, looking possessed in the video). I say "is" because, after nearly 40 years, the band is still together and still putting out albums. Its most recent was a 2006 LP called Focus 9: New Skin.

Focus has gone through a number of lineup changes and split up in 1978. There were a handful of reunions in the '80s and '90s before Focus officially re-formed in 2000, with van Leer back at the helm.

The song featured in the video above, "Hocus Pocus," was actually a pretty big hit. It reached No. 9 on the U.S. pop charts in 1973 — a stunning achievement for a decidedly non-commercial, non-pop, and flat-out strange piece of music. This was at a time when songs such as Diana Ross' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and Bread's "Make it With You" were topping the charts. How there was ever any room for something like "Hocus Pocus" is beyond me.

Here's a recent photo of Focus with its current lineup. That's Thijs van Leer in the glasses.