I’m delving into the world of the single! I’ll buy a 7”, 12” or CD single every week and post my findings here. Who knows what musical discoveries will be made?
This week’s single is a short, sharp burst of prog mentalism from Focus. I’m not a huge fan of this band but I really love this track and their other UK hit Sylvia. I have both songs already on the compilation album Hocus Pocus: The Best of Focus and they are easily the standout tracks on the album. But I came across the 7” of Hocus Pocus in Glasgow’s Missing Records for £2 and, even though I already own a recording, the idea of having the single on its own was really appealing.
Excitingly, this 7” version differs from the album version I already owned in that it has been edited down from its 6.42 album length (as featured on the compilation) to just 3.18. That’s quite a chunk of time to cut out of a song and, happily, rather than just fading it out early the song has been rearranged to suit the running time.
A repeated run through of the main riff and yodelling has been removed which means the first guitar solo comes in early. This gives this version a jag of kinetic excitement. You then get a flute solo, more riff, the weird beer-drinking jig thing, and then a round of applause ushers in a final guitar solo and the end of the song. It’s all much more breathless and hilarious than the album version as it barrels restlessly from section to section. The album version has extra soloing and a scat vocal section but it also has more repeats of the main riff and yodelling so you have a chance to acclimatise to the madness as it goes along. By comparison, the single version just rips through in a blaze of craziness and then it’s over. It’s really entertaining to imagine this coming on the radio and people wondering what the fuck just happened.
The tune’s recurring riff and room for improvisation makes Hocus Pocus essential rehearsal fodder for any band with fingers nimble enough to take on the main riff’s tricky chords. So it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s been covered by many bands since its release (Helloween, Gary Hoey and Iron Maiden spring to mind) and its colourful abandon ensures it regularly appears in commercials and soundtracks. It’s also been a favourite of mine since the early 90s so the addition of a new version to the collection is rather satisfying.