The story behind the Focus hit Hocus Pocus

Focus mainman Thijs Van Leer recalls the yodelling prog rock single that never seems to lose its appeal…

Hocus Pocus b/w Janis

(Sire, 1971)

Highest UK Chart Position: No. 20

Yodelling might not feature much in the annals of prog, but Focus turned this art into a commercial success with Hocus Pocus. Not only was it successful in the UK, but it also got to no. 9 in America – the band’s only Top 10 hit over there. It was reissued as a single in Britain during 2010, getting to no. 57 the second time around. Interestingly, at the same time as Hocus Pocus was in the charts, the band also had their ever bigger hit with Sylvia.

Where did the inspiration for the song come from?

“Most Focus compositions were created in a slow process over a period of weeks, even months, before they were ready to be played to the other members of the group and, finally, we got to develop them as a band. Hocus Pocus, however, was an exception; this tune was composed instantly, during a rehearsal. It was just a case of going with the flow. First came the genius guitar riff from Jan Akkerman, then the four bar drum solo and finally the yodel. The single version we did was faster than the original; that latter was done two years after what you hear on the Moving Waves album.”

What was the reaction to it?

“It became our first world-wide hit. As a result, we started to get booked into big venues and added to festivals everywhere. People loved the song, and it turned us into an international band. So, the reaction was amazing.”

Did you feel like pop stars? 

“We never felt like pop stars, but of course we were. And it’s still getting us a lot of attention even today. For instance, in 2010 Hocus Pocus was used as the track for the Nike ad campaign during the World Cup. And in 2014 it was used in the remake of the film Robocop. The song never seems to lose its appeal.”

Was having a hit a blessing or curse?

“Having a hit like Hocus Pocus was, and is, a blessing. It opens all doors and gives us the opportunity to play to big audiences across the world. We owe a huge debt to this song, as it gave us the impetus for a long running career. You could say that yodelling made Focus a major band.”

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021