To contemporary Metal fans.the name UFO may sit uncomfortably alongside such modern day luminaries as Guns N'Roses, Nirvana and Metaliica. Yet, without them hard rock would have most certainly taken a rather different path, and today's heroes might never have existed.
Looking back in hindsight, UFO could have been as big as Led Zeppelin, had circumstances prevailed. Sadly, all we are left with are the memories of the glory days of 1974-78 when UFO ruled supreme courtesy of a collective chemistry that spontaneously backfired just as they were making headline waves.
'Too Hot To Handle' charts their years on the Chryasalis label and features choice cuts from all tjier albums. From the definitive hard rock of their label debut 'Phenomenon' to the metallic strains of the underrated 'misdemeanour' it's a concise collection, none the less.
From their very early beginnings in the late '60s, life was a struggle and it took several years of hard graft before UFO were fully accepted as one of Britain's premier rock outfits.
Taking their name from a London club, they got off the ground and into orbit in 1969, when drummer Andy Parker joined Hocus pocus, a band that featured the erstwhile juvenile talents of vocalist Phil Mogg, bassist Pete Way and guitarist Mick Bolton. With a musical style taht verged on Space Metal, fusing progressive experimental hard rock with good time boogie, UFO released three albums, 'UFO', "UFO2/Flying' and 'UFO Live' on the Beacon label, all achieving success in the German and Japanese markets.
In 1974 Bolton left to be repaced by Larry Wallis (ex Pink Faries), followed by Bernie Marsden (he of Whitesnake feme) before UFO snatched 16 year old wizkid guitarist Michael Schenker from German rockers The Scorpions. UFO duley signed to Chrysalis Records in 1974.
With Schenker in tow, they quickly matured into a premier melodic hard rock act, adopting a far more substantial sound that was louder, more direct and overflowing with dextrous fret work. Schenker's presence helped to forge an identity that was to become their trademark, hitting a creative peak they released a string of definitive hard rock albums, each holding classic rock anthems that would set standards to shape the genre for years to come.
Their 1974 debut for Chrysalis, 'Phenomenon', proved a stunner and served up two major Metal classics, 'Doctor Doctor' and Rock Bottom', songs that would have many a budding headbangin' youth mimicking their idols in rock clubs worldwide, air guitar in hand.
The melodic side to UFO became more prominent on the 1975 follow up 'Force It', the foot stomping swirl of tracks such as 'Let It Roll' and 'Shoot Shoot' proving that UFO were hardly fly-by-night one hit wonders. At Mogg's reccommendation Paul Chapman was hired as a second guitarist to augment their live sound, but left on the completion of a European jaunt due to personal differences with Michael Schenker.
They expanded to a five piece again in 1976, with the addition of Heavy Metal kid Danny Peyronel on keyboards for the album 'No Heavy Petting'. Unfortunately the album failed to gain major commercial recognition, 'Natural Thing' being the only song to make it as a UFO set standard. Peyronel was made the scapegoat and accordingly fired.
However the idea of a guitarist/keyboard player as a welcome addition to the axe weilding Schenker was still attractive and Paul Raymond (previously of savoy Brown) was brought in for the album 'Lights Out' released in 1977, bringing UFO the breakthrough they needed in America. Guided by top American producer Ron Nevison, tracks such as 'Too Hot To Handle', 'Lights out' and 'Love To Love' proved to be some of the best UFO were to write.
Creativity though, had to have its price and Schenker, although an extremely gifted six-stringer, was an eccentric with a rather unpredictable character and was prone to dissapearances, one on the eve of a major US tour in 1977 following the release of 'lights Out'. Lone Star guitarist Paul Chapman was again drafted in and took over axe duties for the remaining dates before Schenker re-emerged part-way through the tour.
Thus, 1978's 'Obsession' was to be the UFO's last studio album to feature the mercurial German axeman, who after personal problems and long-standing internal disagreements with the band quit to rejoin The Scorpions and later to form his own band MSG. 'Obsession', however, was another heavyweight classic, yielding the enigmatic rocker 'Only You Can Rock Me' which remains part of thier live set to this day.
Schenker's departure couldn't have come at a more inopportune moment - UFO were on the verge of becoming massive, and it was only ironic that their piece de risistance, the highly acclaimed live double 'Strangers In The Night', recorded on their sell-out US tour of 1978, gave them lating glory in 1979 after Schenker quit. From then on, despite a series of competant album releases it was to be downhill all the way for UFO.
Schenker's surprise departure left an unrepairable void in the ranks, sparking a series of line-up changes which strove valliantly to capture an irreplaceable magic, but UFO were never to recapture that level of success and recognition they had attained with Schenker.
Paul 'Tonka' Chapman was the obvious choice to fill Schenker's shoes, having played with the band on numerous occasions and with him UFO recorded their 1980 comeback album 'No Place To Run', which managed to silence the cynics with a strength of material including rockin' gems like 'Lettin' Go' and 'Young Blood'.
Following a headlining appearance at the Reading festival in 1980, Paul Raymond left and soon after teamed up with Michael Schenker in the formative MSG, while UFO acquired ex-Wild Horses man Neil Carter to take his place on 1981's 'The Wild, The Willing and the Innocent', which had its moments on tracks such as 'Long Gone', 'Lonely Heart' and the chillingly emotive 'Profession Of Violence'.
Slowly but steadily, however, UFO's classic identity was being diluted by ongoing line-up changes. Bassist Pete Way, whose manicly energetic performances were hugely important to UFO's live act, departed after the release of 'Mechanix' in 1982, apparantly dissastisfied with the band's overtly commercial musical direction exemplified by tracks like 'We Belong To The Night' and 'Let It Rain'. Way momentarily joined Ozzy Osbourne's touring line-up after an abortive link up with ex-Motorhead guitarist 'Fast' Eddie Clarke. He then went on to form his own band Waysted which was to later feature UFO stalwarts Paul Chapman and Andy Parker.
Talas bassist Billy Sheehan (yes, he of Dave Lee Roth and Mr. Big fame) fulfilled bass duties for a UFO European tour while Mogg & Co. searching for a suitable replacement for Way. Unable to find one UFO thus recorded 1983's 'Making Contact' album as a four piece, only Mogg and Parker remaining from the original classic 74-78 line-up. Standout cuts 'Blinded By A Lie' and 'When It's Time To Rock' managed to hold UFO above water but failed to cement the missing gaps.
It was time to abandon ship, UFO were in serious trouble and the strain of constant work was beginning to show. Mogg suffered a nervous breakdown and a European tour was pulled to allow him complete recovery. His onstage problems in Athens provoking a near riot. It was time to call a halt to proceedings and a farewell UK tour was therefore undertaken in 1983 with ex-Damned bassist Paul Gray in tow, after which the band disbanded leaving Mogg to his own devices.
However to everyone's surprise Mogg revived the name UFO in 1985 with former members Paul Raymond and Paul Gray, plus ex-Magnum skinsman Jim Simpson and Japanese guitarist Atomic Tommy M, for the album 'Misdemeanour', which was a brave attempt to rekindle former glories by fanning the old UFO flame with its superlative guitarwork. Though it received excellent critical acclaim, and despite an astounding performance supporting Deep Purple at Knebworth Park in the Summer of that year, success eluded them. They inevitably all went thier separate ways and 'Misdemeanor' ended their long standing relationship with the Chrysalis label.
However, UFO are still in existance, in 1991 Mogg teamed up once more with bassist Pete Way to set the foundations for a possible reunion of the classic 74-78 line-up. With ex-Grand Slam guitarist Lawrence Archer and ex-Wild Horses drummer Clive Edwards they released the traditionally rooted 'High Stakes And Dangerous Men', via Castle Communications and toured heavily in it's support, bringing if anything a foreboding sense of nostalgia to many. Then, just as 1993 was drawing to a close, the amazing news came through that the classic line-up was indeed back together and touring Germany. yep, Mogg, Schenker, Way, Raymond and Parker were once again sharing a stage. No-one knows what will happen next - UFO is hardly a predictable entity - but of course a new album would make a fascinating listen.
For further information please see http://ufo.dave-wood.org/index.html from where the main history details were taken from