The Very Best Of UFO (1974-1983)


Chrysalis, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Settle in, won’t you please, for the story of one of the more overlooked bands of the 1970s.

UFO was initially formed in 1969 by vocalist Phil Mogg, bassist Pete Way and drummer Andy Parker, along with one of several long-forgotten souls who kept the lead guitar seat warm in the band’s prehistoric (pre-Teutonic?) era.  From the start the band had a sort of primal thump to it, spacy blues-rock with a strong sense of melody.  Mogg might have been pigeonholed in those early days as a sort of a poor man’s Paul Rodgers, but his voice has enough rough-edged personality of its own to rise above such facile comparisons.

The true beginning of the band’s story -- and the launching point for this collection -- came when young buck / German guitar god Michael Schenker quit his brother’s band the Scorpions to join UFO.  With Schenker’s flashy leads anchoring their sound and his flying V guitar quickly becoming a trademark of their live shows, the group’s sound finally tightened up and took flight.

The first 12 songs on this 19-track collection are made up of the best tunes from Schenker’s 1974-79 tenure with the band, and they are a stellar batch of 70s hard rock.  Kickoff cut “Rock Bottom” would be a staple of the band’s live shows for the rest of the decade, and the studio version offered here shows exactly why.  Often exceeding 10 minutes when played live, even at an abbreviated 6:29, “Rock Bottom” is a showcase for Schenker’s muscular playing and Mogg’s forceful vocals.  The opening volley of the track’s snaking, Zeppelinesque main riff sets the stage and from there the urgency and guitar heroics are unrelenting, include two full minutes of fairly spectacular soloing between 2:45 and 4:45.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From there you get a smorgasbord of tracks from the group’s memorable mid-70s albums Phenomenon, Force It and No Heavy Petting.  “Let It Roll” and “Natural Thing” are the standouts from this era, the first a bludgeoning balls-out rocker, the latter shaping the band’s natural aggression into a much more melodic (and commercial) form.

No Heavy Petting also marked the addition of a formal fifth slot in the band, held initially by keyboard player Danny Peyronel before he gave way to keyboardist / second guitarist Paul Raymond.  This filled-out, more textured sound was the trademark of the band’s two biggest albums Lights Out and Obsession, with “Lights Out,” “Only You Can Rock Me” and “Too Hot To Handle” all earning substantial radio play with their smart, urgent riffs.  “Too Hot” is in some ways the prototypical UFO song -- the lyric might feel a bit obvious, but the band plays the hell out of the song and Schenker’s solos are simply incendiary.

Next up is a single cut (“Doctor, Doctor”) from the band’s underrepresented 1979 double-live LP Strangers In The Night, generally regarded as one of the best live albums of the era.  Strangers presented the band in its natural environment, wringing every last bit of drama and aggression out of their catalog. It was also the stepping-off point for Schenker, who walked away during the album’s mixing sessions to start his own Michael Schenker Group.

Thus began a revolving door of members which continues to this day (yes, they’re still at it -- and thankfully, the latest lineup actually includes four longtime members in Mogg, Way, Parker and Raymond).  Guitarist Paul Chapman was recruited to replace Schenker.  Raymond’s first tenure with the band ended in 1981, when he was replaced by Neil Carter.  And Pete Way left before the completion of the last studio album represented here, 1983’s Making Contact.

That description might suggest the latter half of this disc is a major letdown, which isn't the case. “Lettin’ Go,” “Let It Rain,” and “We Belong To The Night” are all solid tracks.  Guitar heroics are less of a focus, but the songs still rock hard while leaving room for melody.

In addition to collecting the best cuts from the band’s commercial heyday, this collection features digitally remastered versions of all of these cuts.  I’ve heard a lot of remasters where it’s tough to tell the difference, but not here.  A prime example: on the original album, “Lights Out” thunders along but the mix is rather sludgy; here it’s been cleaned up so that you get clear differentiation between each player, and the song sounds as tight and fresh as if it was cut yesterday.

The Very Best of UFO (1974-1983) is a strong collection of the strongest period of one of the era’s more underrated bands.  This album won’t change your life, but it’s an hour well-spent for fans of 70s hard rock.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Chrysalis, and is used for informational purposes only.