The music of UFO, while popular, still was vastly underrated in their time, even at their highest peak. They enjoyed a string of moderate successes mostly after having added guitar whiz, Michael Schenker, who was “borrowed” from Scorpions due to a no-show by then guitarist Bernie Marsden (Hammer/Whitesnake), and eventually recruited to full-time status. But soon, even that relationship would strain due to differences and a rumoured religious hiatus at the peak of UFO’s success. But a listen to any Schenker-involved UFO album beginning with their Chrysalis debut, Phenomenon, will convince anyone that not only was UFO a musically strong unit, they also had one of the better guitarists in their possession. But they knew that; they just couldn’t create a lasting relationship strong enough to carry them into the history books alongside other better known emerging bands of the time.
Phenomenon (1974) is a developing UFO album although there are some classic tunes on it. For a debut release, the songs, which include “Doctor Doctor,” the stunning 2-minute instrumental that gives Schenker some guitar space in “Lipstick Traces,” and the obligatory blues cover of Willie Dixon’s “Built for Comfort.” Phenomenon would also mark a departure from the early sounds of their first two albums, which were harder-edged – UFO 1 (1970), UFO 2 (1971).
Phenomenon, as is the case with the other two UFO albums of this review, has been remastered in 2007, expanded with more songs, and capped by a solid booklet production that makes this album reissue a “must add” to a UFO library. The sound on this disc is clear and clean if not a little loud. The six bonus tracks include a live performance of “Doctor Doctor” at the Golders Green Hippodrome in London on 06/06/1974. Other tracks include two Dave Edmunds-produced demos (“Sixteen,” “Oh My”), two German non-LP single flips (A-side/B-side) in “Give Her the Gun” (Chrysalis single A-side), and “Sweet Little Thing” (Chrysalis single B-side), and a previously unreleased Leo Lyons-produced sessions track of “Sixteen.”
The live version of “Doctor Doctor” is what it is, a ‘for-the-moment’ replication of a great song, and a little blusier than the album cut. However, the real gems come in the inclusion of the demos, the singles tracks, and the unreleased cut of “Sixteen” with their usual producer. The demos are good, discernible, if a tad different than the album cut. Edmunds, the producer of the demos, is a more basic, rawer musician and his production would reveal that. Leo Lyons from Ten Years After is a different kind of musician, and UFO’s style of music is the better for his production work. You hear this on these songs. The additional songs found on the non-LP singles and included here are good attempts at better exposure.
In addition to the great songs, the class act is in the 16 pages of the booklet. Stuffed with a huge Neil Jeffries essay on the band, photos, original album artwork, original reviews and articles, and track-listing, this booklet should be used as a template to other reissuers. Even the CD itself is painted with the colours and logo of the original Chrysalis label.
The following year, UFO would release Force It (1975), clarifying their sound further to match the sound of the emerged heavy rock bands of the time. “Let it Roll,” the first song off the new album, unleashes its energy like a Led Zeppelin tune. Michael Schenker is a better guitarist at this point, while Mogg’s vocals notches perfectly with what the band is doing as it searches for – and locates – its place amongst the notables of their time. ”Shoot Shoot” is a perfect rock song, a signature for the band. But you cannot dismiss the rock feel of “Out in the Street.” Force It is an excellent rock album from a band who was still in a state of flux, still heading at a hundred miles an hour toward their yet to be made career-best album, Lights Out.
The remastered sound on this album serves Force It even better than Phenomenon. But then Force It is a different work. The six bonus tracks on this expanded reissue include five live performance tracks and a previously unreleased studio track. I absolutely love “A Million Miles,” the bluesy acoustic bonus studio song and feel a sense of loss that it was not included on the original album. With this slight rectified here, the five live cuts are very good as the band knows where they are and how to deliver to their audience.
The 16-page booklet, with the controversial cover, ‘un-steamed’ for US audiences, is filled with a, by now expected, lengthy essay, this one by Dave Ling. In addition, there are photos, LP label shot, singles sleeves, etc that make this booklet as good as the reissue booklet before it.
Following Force It, the band would release No Heavy Petting (1976). No Heavy Petting is a natural maturation of the music found on their previous album. With the noticeable addition of up-front keyboards to the music, No Heavy Petting shows the band continuing to escalate their skills to climb further into the ranks of history. You can sense the determined drive of the band but, even more so, you can sense their focused musical adjustments. It’s like adding accessories to a set of clothes that works. But the changes were even evident in the kind of lyrics that were being crafted at this time, (“I’m a Loser,” “Belladonna”). Despite this, No Heavy Petting cannot be referred to as a better work than the previous two were, but I’m betting that there is not a UFO fan that will complain about it.
The mix in this remaster is a bit loud but still clear and serviceable. The five bonus tracks that expand this reissue are previously unreleased studio tracks from the No Heavy Petting sessions. “All or Nothing” is a decent cover of a Small Faces tune written by Ronnie Lane/Steve Marriott that heads up this collection of extra songs. “French Kisses” could have fit easily on the album it was recorded for. “Have You Seen Me Lately Joan” was another decent UFO cover of a Frankie Miller song (they recorded “A Fool in Love” for this album). The remaining two originals (“Do It If You Can,” “All the Strings”) are songs that are good to have here for this reissue release. Although “All the Strings” doesn’t really ‘fit’ the album, I quite enjoy listening to it.
The 16-page booklet has all the photos, a huge Mark Blake perspective of the band, plenty of singles sleeves shots and posters, etc to make it a solid part of the reissue, as the previous two are.
UFO would climb further, gaining more success with the next few Schenker-involved albums, Lights Out (1977), and Obsession (1978). After Obsession, Schenker would part ways with UFO and his absence would impact the band greatly. However, with these albums and the two that followed it, UFO would become a vital part of a Rock-n-Roll legacy that carries today. These reissues are good value for the fans and collectors.