The Chrysalis Years (1973-1979)


Chrysalis, 2011

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


There have been three principal waves of British heavy metal.  The first one at the end of the ’60s was led by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and the third one at the start of the ’80s was led by Saxon, Motorhead and Iron Maiden.  The second, mid-’70s wave—easily the least heralded—included groups such as Judas Priest and UFO.

The original UFO lineup circa 1969 included Phil Moog on vocals, Pete Way on bass, drummer Andy Parker and guitarist Mick Bolton.  This initial quartet recorded two somewhat unfocused studio albums and a live disc that were notable mostly for being ignored in England while catching moderate interest in Japan and Germany.  In early 1974 Bolton departed, leading the remaining trio to try out a series of replacements until at last one night in Germany they spotted the right guy for the job playing in the band that was opening for them.  The flashy young guitarist was Michael Schenker, and the band was his big brother Rudolf’s group Scorpions.

With Schenker thus in the fold, UFO entered the golden age chronicled herein.  This five-CD set collects the five studio albums plus double live LP recorded between 1973 and 1979 by Mogg, Schenker, Way and Parker, accompanied along the way by Danny Peyronel on keys (for one album, 1976’s rather tepid No Heavy Petting) and Paul Raymond on keys and rhythm guitar (for the final four discs, and beyond).

The six releases in question are presented here in their entirety, interspersed with various single edits, b-sides and alternate studio versions, along with eight tracks culled from a 1974 live date.  None of these additions could be termed revelatory or essential; they’re really more of the same, which is to say sturdy, melodic hard rock on a blues-boogie base, highlighted by the muscular, assertive guitar lines and often-spectacular solos delivered by Schenker.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The broad strokes and pulsing riffs of songs like “Doctor Doctor” remind you of what a terror Schenker was in his heyday, which coincided with the heyday of this band.  It was an excellent fit and his work on UFO classics like “Let It Roll,” “Natural Thing” and “Lights Out” is among the best of his career, and certainly the best known.  Not to mention the immortal “Rock Bottom,” a seven-minute guitar workout in its 1974 studio form, and a star-making showcase in the eleven-minute version captured on 1979’s Strangers in the Night.

That said, there’s precious little new here for even the most fervent UFO fan to grab onto.  Single edits do nothing for me as a listener—other than perhaps remind me what jerks programming directors could be back in the day, demanding that artists edit their songs to fit format—and the b-sides included here are less than eye-opening; more like more of the same.  The only real interest here in terms of “new” material is eight previously unreleased live tracks from a November 1974 date at the Electric Ballroom in Atlanta on the band’s first American tour.  Here you get a glimpse of the core quartet keeping it simple, live and raw, with no keys and no second guitar, and all of the focus on Schenker and Mogg playing off each other.  It’s solid, meaty stuff, featuring cuts from 1974’s Phenomenon, plus a reminder of their roots as a electrified blues-rock combo in the Zeppelin vein, in the form of a cover of a Willie Dixon number (“Built For Comfort”). 

That said, let’s be honest here.  This is a talented band that had a good run in the ’70s, but The Chrysalis Years is more UFO than just about anyone needs, particularly when you consider the padding of this collection with multiple versions of the same songs.  I mean, “Doctor Doctor” is a terrific tune, surely one of their very best, but five versions of it in one collection?  Seriously?

This release really amounts to Chrysalis cleaning out their closets with a collection that could just as easily have been called The Schenker Years.  They were good years, and deserve to be chronicled with care—but realistically, this one is for completists only.  If you are that UFO superfan, then I expect The Chrysalis Years will please you; it’s got pretty much everything you could ask for from that memorable era.  For everyone else, it’s most likely a bit too much of a good thing.

Rating: B

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© 2011 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.