According to BBC Radio DJ Bob Harris, demand was so great for Focus LPs by 1972 that the band’s British label, Polydor, simultaneously ran vinyl at all five of its record plants around the clock. The Dutch quartet’s second full-length album, Moving Waves—alternately titled Focus II—is one of the least-probable success stories of the early part of the 1970s. It’s a prime embodiment of what later became known as “progressive rock”: a melding of classical composition elements with rock ’n’ roll tempos in the vein of Frank Zappa, plus jazz fusion passages and a handful of truly masterful guitar licks.
The original version of Focus was too short-lived to make any impact. The lineup that recorded In and Out of Focus (aka Focus Plays Focus) sprang out of the pit orchestra of the Amsterdam staging of Hair and featured flautist/ keyboard player Thijs van Leer as its primary driver. Guitarist Jan Akkerman introduced the final piece after getting the boot from his own band. Focus 2.0 presented the inverse, with Akkerman assembling a new rhythm section of drummer Pierre van der Linden (a childhood friend and former bandmate) and younger bassist Cyril Havermans. This time around, van Leer was the 11th-hour addition. From that point forward, Focus largely became an instrumental act, composed of highly compulsive personalities, seemingly hellbent on breaking down barriers between genres.
Moving Waves owes its unique character to the friction between Akkerman and van Leer as the band’s primary songwriters, something that continued to play out in increasingly dramatic fashion on the band’s 1972 double LP, Focus III. Of course, Akkerman and van Leer were exceptional in writing to each others’ strengths as musicians: Akkerman’s “Janis” is really a showcase for van Leer’s multitracked flute parts, while Akkerman totally steals the show with his guitar arpeggios on van Leer’s fusion track “Focus II.” It’s worth noting that most Focus “greatest hits” compilations are larded with tracks from Moving Waves; pound for pound, it’s the group’s deepest collection of memorable cuts.
Proof that Focus was capable of pulling off pretty much anything in those days can be found in “Eruption,” a 22-minute hard rock rendering of Jacopo Peri’s opera Euridice that canvases the record’s second side. “Eruption” includes tributes to classical composers and other Dutch fusion acts, and an intense drum solo by Buddy Rich disciple van der Linden. But proof that Focus was capable of bending the time-space continuum can be found in the album’s opener—also the band’s biggest hit. “Hocus Pocus” is a sublimely weird rondo that alternates among van Leer’s scat singing, whistling, and yodeling and Akkerman’s incendiary guitar work—a siren song for hard rock fans everywhere. In truth, the riff on “Hocus Pocus” is enough to make the case, but Moving Waves is a masterwork in its own right, and Decibel is proud to recognize the influence of these prog shamans.