Wherein I take three songs that – for whatever reason – are floating around in my head and post them, DJ-like, for your dining and dancing pleasure.
Focus (pictured above) is a Dutch rock band that originally formed in 1969 and is still around today. Their styles, it says here, are prog-rock, jazz fusion, instrumental rock and hard rock. Founded by multi-instrumentalist, composer and – as we shall see – yodeler, Thijs van Leer, they really started to get “focused” when joined by guitar whiz Jan Akkerman. (Van Leer is still with them.)
Interestingly, they got hired to be part of the pit band in the 1970 Dutch production of the play Hair. (Produced by actor Victor Spinetti, best known (to me anyway) as having acted in A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour.)
The band kicked around for a while mostly in Europe, releasing in 1970 their first album Focus Plays Focus (aka In and Out of Focus.) But it was their second album, 1971’s Moving Waves and its compellingly weird but great hit “Hocus Pocus” that put them on the map.
Written by Akkerman and Van Leer, it includes “yodeling, organ playing, accordion, scat singing, flute riffs, and whistling.” (I ask you, where, oh where can you get entertainment like that these days? You bloody well can’t.)
“Hocus Pocus” was a pretty freakin’ big hit. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. (That’s Van Leer on flute proving that Ian Anderson was not alone.)
In 1978, the great New Wave band Talking Heads released their second album More Songs About Buildings and Food. It was their first collaboration with uber-producer Brian Eno. The band, always quirky, veered off into a more danceable R&B direction. (If you ever get a chance to see the Jonathan Demme-directed live concert, Stop Making Sense, do it. I saw it for the first time (!) just a few months ago at a revival theater. Funky.)
The band did a slow jam version of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” (There weren’t too many soul men hotter than Al in the Seventies.) As much as I like Al’s version, there’s something slinky, seductive and mysterious about the Heads’ version:
I don’t know why I love you like I do
All the changes you put me through
Take my money, my cigarettes
I haven’t seen the worst of it yet
Take me to the river
Drop me in the water
Take me to the river
Dip me in the water
In my series on Al Kooper, I mentioned Gene Pitney who was mostly a Sixties pop-meister. (And good friend of Al’s.) In 1961, a movie called Stadt Ohne Mitleid starring Kirk Douglas and E.G. Marshall was released. History doesn’t seem to remember much about this movie.
But the song with, its title in English – “Town Without Pity” – became an international hit for Pitney. The tune was co-written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, who also co-wrote “The Ballad of High Noon,” aka “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin.'” (Check out fellow blogger Cincinnati Babyhead’s recent post on the classic flick High Noon.)
In 1978, the late Ronnie Montrose released an all-instrumental album called Open Fire which mined similar jazzy territory to Jeff Beck’s 1975 Blow By Blow. Produced by Edgar Winter, Ronnie’s killer cover of “Town Without Pity” chewed up the FM airwaves for a while. Great, long-lost tune with Edgar on piano. (Montrose had been a member of the Edgar Winter Group.) Check it out.
No, it isn’t very pretty what a
Town without pity