This particular reissue is bolstered by the presence of two vinyl discs of an April 1977 Roundhouse, London show – the first on the tour … That live show is superbly well recorded, and demonstrates a fine level of tightness for a tour opener, from a band clearly very well-rehearsed – especially as Paul Raymond on guitar and keyboards was new to the band at the time.
Now this one is a tasty reissue and no mistake. It’s an album which has been jostling for position at the forefront of UFO’s output for me ever since I first got it on release in 1977, and it still holds up strongly to this day. It’s worth noting that 1977 release date in passing, since while many old-school ‘classic rock’ bands across the prog-hard rock spectrum were being buffeted by the backlash from the punk and new wave movement, UFO were one of those who escaped pretty much unscathed. That’s not because they purveyed a dumbed-down or simplified heavy rock variant – on the contrary, they possessed not only keyboards but also a penchant for longer, prog-tinged ‘epics’ (not least Love To Love from this album, or Martian Landscape from the preceding No Heavy Petting). No, this tacit acceptance by the back-to-basics brigade was more an acknowledgement that UFO were a band devoid of pretension or ‘sixth form poetry’ lyrics, and driven by the power of the music rather than grandstanding virtuoso musicianship for the sake of it. Indeed, despite all of the band being fine players creating a cohesive chain without a weak link, none of them – with the exception of up-and-coming guitar prodigy Michael Schenker – would be regulars in the end-of-year ‘best musician’ polls. Phil Mogg’s vocals are a fine example of this – while he was and remains the perfect frontman to deliver UFO’s particular brand of beefy hard rock, there’s never a Dio, Plant or Jon Anderson sort of awe to it, as he just gets on with the job of delivering the goods without flash. The prime example here is the bit in Love To Love where his voice just wavers and almost cracks on the ‘misty green and blue’ line, which gives a vulnerable and human side to the delivery that simply can’t be bought. That’s why the punks, for the most part, simply nodded their heads acceptingly and continued to vilify Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
This particular reissue is bolstered by the presence of two vinyl discs of an April 1977 Roundhouse, London show – the first on the tour. The package is also available as a double CD, but I’ll be mainly focusing on the vinyl option here, for reasons which I will expand on later. That live show is superbly well recorded, and demonstrates a fine level of tightness for a tour opener, from a band clearly very well-rehearsed – especially as Paul Raymond on guitar and keyboards was new to the band at the time. But let’s look at the core album first and see how it’s held up over the almost 50 years since (good Lord, half a century since this appeared is truly a thought to make those who remember its release, and the Summer Of Punk itself, feel as old as Methuselah himself!)
The track most people think of when calling this album to mind is the steam-train momentum of the peerless title track – so much so that it almost comes as a shock to remember that it comes tucked away at the end of Side One rather than opening proceedings out of the traps! That honour actually goes to another track destined to become a stage favourite, Too Hot To Handle. One of the more basic, meat-and-potatoes songs here, it does its job perfectly, kicking out its catchy chorus, engaging riffery and nice-sounding if not exactly deep lyrical content in a snappy and concise way that draws you into the record. Following on from that is one of the tracks most often overlooked on the album among the populist cuts, Just Another Suicide. It’s perfectly placed at number two in the running order, going just a little deeper and less immediate than the cocksure strutting of the opener, but still rocking nicely with some good melodic invention. Up after that, however, is a track which really underlines the crucial difference between 1970s hard/heavy rock albums and what would come from the next decade: the beautifully orchestrated piano/vocal ballad Try Me, which sees Mogg deliver one of his best ever vocal performances with a masterpiece of longing and despairing romantic vulnerability. This sort of thing was par for the course at the time, with Black Sabbath giving us Changes and Solitude, Deep Purple delving into the magnificent Soldier Of Fortune, and Judas Priest with early cuts like Epitaph or Here Come The Tears. Fast forward a decade, and Judas Priest albums of that time would run a mile before including an Epitaph, while the likes of Saxon were a long way from their own late-’70s beginnings with things like Frozen Rainbow. This, to me, was a shame, as heavy rock, or ‘metal’ as it tended to be branded more and more following the NWOBHM movement, distanced itself from such deviations, and young metal fans often grew up sneering at ‘soft’ music as a kind of weakness (even though Metallica, for example, stretched out even early, on with Fade To Black or Sanitarium at least containing commendable light and shade, and recognising the value of contrast). Leaving all of that aside and taking the song as it was, Try Me remains a thing of quiet beauty, and a continuing high point in the band’s career development at the time.
At this point, the horses gallop in through the crashed-open door as Lights Out itself enters, its intro alone a tidal wave of adrenaline. It’s a good thing that this track wasn’t targeted by the punk musicians of the time, as quite simply a challenge to play this hard, this fast and this precisely would have resulted in a win for UFO every day of the week, and it wouldn’t even go to a points decision. Becoming even more iconic on the live Strangers In The Night album, with its now familiar home-town cry of ‘Lights Out, Lights Out in… Chicago!’ being remembered almost as that decade’s very own ‘Scream for me Long Beach!’ moment, as soon as this album was released, it was obvious to anyone that the track would cement itself into UFO set-lists in perpetuity, and so it has proved. Side Two follows with another slightly ‘deep cut’ selection in Gettin’ Ready, but it’s no slouch to say the least, containing some distinct echoes of the contemporary output of Rush in among the nicely accessible contents. It was rewarded, deservedly, with a place in the set for the subsequent tour at least.
Things go very much left field after that with the entirely unexpected and still frankly head-scratching choice of Love’s 1960s anthem Alone Again Or as a cover. It really shouldn’t work, and was crying out to be a train wreck of lamentable proportions, especially with the brass accompaniment it is given, but remarkably, somehow, it works brilliantly. To these ears it’s a refreshing take on the original, given a new and sleeker sheen which leaves it surprisingly not out of place among its surroundings. File under: ‘how on earth did they pull that off?’, I would say. It’s into the final couple of tracks now, and a really strong tail to the album: Electric Phase is one of the most undervalued UFO songs of all in my book, a great track superbly delivered by Mogg which seems to have become all but forgotten over the years, even by the band themselves. The same cannot be said for the closer Love To Love, of course, which has followed Lights Out into the pantheon of ‘live classics’, despite its more sprawling and almost proggy nature at over seven minutes. Opening with a pomp-laden opening which evokes the grandiosity of very early Queen (in a good way), and which would tend to be omitted from live performances of the song, it settles into a stately power-ballad, with Mogg’s vocals not entering until after three minutes have elapsed. The coda of the song, and closing the album, consists of a superlative Schenker guitar solo, displaying just how much he was improving over each and every album. It puts the seal on an album which really doesn’t have a truly weak track on it – something which often could not be said for UFO studio records, as the odd misstep would frequently creep in among the highlights.
So, an album well worth a reissue and a reacquaintance with for sure, but what of that bonus material? Thumbs up there once again, as the 13 live tracks from that Roundhouse show hold their heads up surprisingly favourably alongside the benchmark provided two years later with the Strangers In The Night double. Unsurprisingly, the spine of the tracklist overlaps with that album, but there are four songs here not on it, plus the version of the awkwardly-titled This Kid’s is a genuine live performance, whereas on Strangers it is, bafflingly, an uncredited studio recording with audience noise added. Anyhow, despite its own merits, we are discussing this 1977 recording rather than that live album, and there are several notable cuts. For a start, the No Heavy Petting track On With The Action (omitted from Strangers) is an outstanding version, and perhaps the standout on the recording. Also a marvellous addition is the live recording of Try Me, perhaps surprisingly played, but very well done with the added bonus of a new arrangement with the full band joining for the coda. It’s one of four tracks from the show which had previously surfaced on another reissue some years ago, but if anything it sounds even better in this new mix. Gettin’ Ready is also included, following on the heels of the galloping rush of the opening Lights Out. Doctor Doctor is earlier in proceedings than it would become later, but as irresistibly powerful as ever, while Love To Love, Out In The Street and Let It Roll are particularly strong versions. Of course there is the usual extended showcase of Rock Bottom, though I must admit it is a track which has never been among my favourites by the band – but the crowd lap it up needless to say. For the encore, the band take the only look back to their pre-Schenker period for their cover of Eddie Cochran’s C’Mon Everybody, featured on the debut album and the early UFO Live. It’s a ramshackle but exhilarating romp, though its runtime of over eight minutes does incorporate some ‘you had to be there’ audience participation. For a nod back, I would have liked to hear their old encore song Boogie For George – or in a perfect world, even Prince Kajuku or Timothy – but the set is what it is! It’s a fine live show though, and viewed as a ‘bonus’, absolutely unmissable. One thing which is immediately clear is what a masterstroke the addition of Paul Raymond was in the live setting, as his ability to switch between keyboards and rhythm guitar provides a massive bedrock to the sound particularly while Schenker is soloing. The CD version of the release tacks on three additional tracks to the studio disc, but two are single edits and the only one of real interest is the acoustic version of Alone Again Or, which sounds as if it is going to be inessential indeed, but with just acoustic guitar and vocals it’s a quite charmingly enjoyable take which succeeds against the odds once again.
As stated earlier, while there is an excellent CD version of this release, I am concentrating on the vinyl as, in this instance, it is an absolutely textbook example of how to do a vinyl reissue right. As a vinyl aficionado going back to my earliest record-buying days in 1972, I am naturally delighted by the sheer volume of the format being released and, more importantly, sold once again. However, much of the time this (expensive, lest we forget) format is often sold short with poorly thought out or cheaply designed packaging. Take for example, the recent reworkings of the Beatles compilation ‘red’ and ‘blue’ albums. Not only were they eye-wateringly priced, but the original single gatefolds were left unaltered, so that the third vinyl disc added to each had to be unceremoniously stuffed into the second opening along with Disc Two. A triple gatefold design is the absolute least that project should have had, and it did no-one any favours. Also, when CD and vinyl reissues of classic albums are put out together, in many many cases the vinyl omits most or all of the CD bonus material, meaning that those preferring the format have to sacrifice the desired new material. With this release, all of those issues are resolved beautifully. Firstly, the live show is included with no tracks omitted, over two discs, and only the three bonus studio tracks are absent, which is a breath of fresh air for sure. Secondly, this is a tremendously designed and weighty package; the intriguingly enigmatic Hipgnosis front cover is still present (trivia fact: the blonde figure in the background unnervingly disrobing in front of heavy machinery is Schenker, while the headless person in the foreground is Phil Mogg), as is the original back cover design with band photos. However, it has been expanded from a basic non-opening sleeve into a triple gatefold beauty with another band photo, sleeve artwork from related singles and a new essay which is normally only the province of CD booklets. There are also expanded and detailed credits, and even three new inner sleeve designs featuring tape boxes from the original recording sessions complete with scrawled engineer notes. It’s the best the album has ever looked, and should be rightly applauded for its meticulous attention to both detail and value.
With UFO, the 1970s are, for the most part, still the era the fans still hold in the highest regard (despite the excellence of most of the 1980s Paul Chapman output after he succeeded Schenker), and while you really can’t go wrong with any of the studio albums from Phenomenon up to Obsession, this one, closely followed by No Heavy Petting and Force It, remains for me just about as good as it got. There will never be a better way to revisit it, or to remind yourself of just how good a live band UFO were on their day. A fine reissue indeed.