UFO (1971–PRESENT). Classic lineup: Phil Mogg (vocals), Michael Schenker (guitar), Pete Way (bass), Andy Parker (drums), Paul Raymond (keyboards/guitar).
While never a huge draw in the States, UFO reached legendary status in Europe and remain one of the more solid metal acts of the seventies still active in the new millennium.
Debuting in 1971 with a “space rock” sound featuring extended song structures, UFO at first found little success in their native U.K., although they generated significant interest in Japan. After three albums, the band decided on a more straightforward rock direction and replaced their original guitarist, Mick Bolton, with a more rock-oriented player, eventually settling on Bernie Marsden (who would go on to become a founding member of Whitesnake).
Before the band would release their fourth album, however, a chance encounter brought them to the guitarist whose addition would help them enter the big leagues of seventies Euro-metal. On a gig in Germany, guitarist Bolton either went missing or was unable to make the trip due to a missing passport (the story seems to vary with the teller). At any rate, when UFO heard the support band on the gig at their soundcheck (the Scorpions), they were impressed by the 19-year-old guitarist playing lead. Asking him to fill in on the gig, they ultimately asked him to join the band on a permanent basis.
Schenker, for his part, would ultimately prove to be just what the band needed: a highly refined melodicism that permeated both his writing and his virtuosic lead playing, along with an incendiary guitar style that combined complex scale work with the passion of the blues. With Schenker aboard, the band crafted a unique rock style that was heavy, yet song-oriented and melodic.
Phenomenon (1974), the band’s first with Schenker, was also their first in their newharder rocking incarnation and featured the future classics “Doctor, Doctor” and the guitar workout “Rock Bottom.” While the album wasn’t a huge seller, it established the band’s new direction, one they would mine in the years to come. It also was the first of many albums featuring the enigmatic artwork of the art design group Hipgnosis.
Continuing with their melodic metal, UFO released Force It (1975) and No Heavy Petting (1976), and began to build their reputation in Europe and increasingly in the States. Their biggest breakthrough was the band’s classic 1977 album Lights Out, which, in addition to the title track, featured the songs “Too Hot to Handle,” “Alone Again Or,” and “Love to Love,” and garnered the band a good deal of critical acclaim. The album also featured the contributions of keyboardist/ rhythm guitarist, whose dual talents effectively filled out and complemented the band’s sound.
Lights Out was a watershed moment for the band, which, with an evolving quasi-glam image, would prove one of the most popular and influential heavy bands in Europe throughout the 1970s, ultimately serving as a major influence on the bands of the New Wave of British heavy metal that would emerge in the early eighties.
While the follow-up recording, 1978’s Obsession, wasn’t quite as impressive, it contributed to the band’s upward mobility and featured the classic “Only You Can Rock Me.” After the album’s release, however, Schenker left the band, ultimately forming the Michael Schenker Group, after a short reunion with the Scorpions.
Mechanix (1982) was released the next year, but before long bassist Way had left the band to form Waysted. UFO then began a pattern that would follow for more than a decade, of partial reunions, and a revolving door of musicians collaborating with vocalist Mogg, and most often, Way. Making Contact was released in 1983 after which the band disbanded. They came together again for Misdemeanor, featuring U.S. guitarist Atomik Tommy M (McClendon), and quit again when the album failed to do well.
In 1995 Schenker joined up with the rest of the band’s classic seventies lineup to release Walk on Water, which was something of a return to form for the band, albeit in a new musical era. Nonetheless, with a resurgent interest in classic rock, the band was able to mount a successful tour of the States and Europe in support of the album.
Afterward, the band split up again, coming back together for 2000’s Covenant and then Sharks in 2002. Schenker was then replaced with American guitarist Vinnie Moore and the band released You Are Here (2004) and the live Showtime album in 2005. 2006 saw the release of The Monkey Puzzle.
Discography: Flying (Beacon, 1971); UFO 1 (Rare Earth, 1971); Phenomenon (Chrysalis, 1974); Force It (Chrysalis, 1975); No Heavy Petting (Chrysalis, 1976); Lights Out (Chrysalis, 1977); Obsession (Chrysalis, 1978); Strangers in the Night [live] (Chrysalis, 1979); No Place to Run (Chrysalis, 1980); The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent (Chrysalis, 1981); Mechanix (Chrysalis, 1982); Making Contact (Ariola, 1983); Misdemeanor (Chrysalis, 1985); Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Metal Blade, 1988); Live in Japan (Alex, 1992); TNT (European Import, 1994); Walk on Water (Zero, 1995); On with the Action (Zoom Club/Windsong, 1998); Live in London (Delta, 2000); Covenant (Shrapnel, 2000); Sharks (Shrapnel, 2002); You Are Here (Steamhammer/SPV, 2004); Showtime [live] (Steamhammer/SPV, 2005); The Monkey Puzzle (SPV, 2006); The Best of the Rest (Chrysalis, 1987); The Best of UFO 1974–1983 (EMI/Chrysalis, 2008).