Thursday, June 6, 2013
UFO - Lights Out
I've been listening to and enjoying a lot of the new music that comes my way via Ripple but the album that I have been cranking the most at home, in my car and on my iPod right now is UFO's 1977 album Lights Out. I need to work out this "obsession" before I can move on and start writing up some of the deserving new discs of this year. One of the biggest things that got me involved with Ripple six years ago (!) is that Racer and Pope are old fucks like me who haven't given up the desire for new kicks. Another big reason is that Racer is an even bigger UFO fanatic than me.
UFO has always been a favorite of mine but, like Thin Lizzy, every few months I pick up on a song or album that I've overlooked the past 3 decades. Right now that would be the song "Electric Phase," the second to last song on side B of Lights Out. It had been a while since I listened to the entire album and "Electric Phase" jumped out of the speakers and made me take notice like never before. I played it a few times in a row noticing things that I'd never heard. On the surface it's a great song with a heavy stomping beat but there's some brilliant layers going on underneath. It starts off with some heavy riffing from the multi-talented Paul Raymond on guitar before Michael Schenker joins in on slide guitar, something he rarely plays on UFO albums. Phil Mogg's voice soars in, then the extremely underrated rhythm section of Pete Way on bass and Andy Parker on drums thump in with major authority. This song has such a unique quality to it (I refuse to use the term "vibe"). It's exotic kinda like Zeppelin's "Kashmir" or Rainbow's "Stargazer" but with a much more "down on the street" feel. As Schenker plays wooshy slide parts Raymond plays a stuttering guitar riff that locks in with a tight pattern laid down by the bass and drums. Phil's powerful vocals deliver his risqué verses of teenage lust. All of this is just a warm up for one of Schenker's best soaring guitar solos.
"Electric Phase" merges with the 7 minute mammoth "Love To Love" to close out the album on a real high note. "Love To Love" is sort of UFO's "Stairway To Heaven." It starts out with a huge crash of the gong followed by an ominous keyboard line similar to the theme from Rosemary's Baby. The band comes in with a jam that's heavy as hell before switching to an orchestral ballad 2 minutes into the song. There are fancy string arrangements and orchestration. Tension builds throughout the song before climaxing with a memorable guitar solo. It's no surprise that this is Steve Harris from Iron Maiden's favorite song. UFO were a huge influence on just about every New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band but especially Maiden.
How's the rest of the album, you say? Let's see, it has all time classics like "Too Hot To Handle" (that title's a nice rip on Otis Redding's "Too Hard To Handle") and, of course, the incredible title track "Lights Out." It's impossible to listen to "Lights Out" without singing the chorus of "Lights out, lights out in London" without changing it to whatever city you happen to be in. Or singing "Lights out, lights out Chicago" following it with a massive cheer like on the awesome live version from Strangers In The Night. "Just Another Suicide" is a great album track that's often overlooked because of how strong some of the other songs are. There's a nice ballad for the ladies called "Try Me" and a cover of Love's "Alone Again Or" that will impress your hipster music snob friends. Feel free to point out that UFO's cover of this song predates The Damned's version by ten years. They'll probably get upset.
Lights Out might be the definitive UFO studio album. It was their 6th studio album and 4th with Michael Schenker. The addition of Paul Raymond seems to be the missing link they had been looking for. They had experimented with adding second guitarist Paul Chapman while touring 1974's Phenomenon but only for a few months. There's a killer BBC radio recording of this line up but Michael Schenker didn't want to have share the spotlight with another guitarist. Chick Churchill from Ten Years After played keyboards on 75's Force It and full time keyboardist Danny Peyronel was on board for 76's No Heavy Petting. It wasn't until they poached Paul Raymond from Savoy Brown to play guitar and keyboards that UFO's sound really began to take shape. With Paul they could now reproduce whatever was on their albums at live shows and he could also team up with Schenker for a powerhouse guitar assault when needed. Producer Ron Nevison made the sound more radio friendly but still kick ass. Guitar freaks will be interested to know that Nevison recorded Schenker's guitar solos through a Pignose practice amp with his wah-wah pedal at a certain angle to give it that distinctive tone. Schenker would record UFO's next album Obsession using only a Pignose amp! In 1977 England, punk was the big thing in the press but bands like UFO, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Judas Priest and Nazareth were playing to rowdy crowds of dudes in denim who didn't believe that The Clash were the "only band that mattered."
The 2008 CD reissue comes with great liner notes by former Kerrang writer Derek Oliver with lots of cool stories. Not long after Lights Out was released in May, 1977 Michael Schenker disappeared. There was a rumor that he had joined the religious cult the Moonies but the fact was that he just freaked out and quit the band. Paul Chapman filled in on tour for awhile before Pete Way was able to convince him to return. The booklet photos are classic. It's obvious KK Downing of Judas Priest based a big part of his look on Michael Schenker. Pete Way's stripey jumpsuits were blatantly imitated by Steve Harris as well as Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue. Nikki still plays a Gibson Thunderbird bass inspired by him. Pete was heavily influenced by Pete "Overend" Watts of Mott The Hoople, so there you go. Back On Black has also reissued Lights Out on double vinyl including the 4 kick ass live bonus tracks from 1976 that are also on the CD. You can probably find the original LP for a decent price, too. It doesn't really matter what format you have, Lights Out is just a kick ass classic rock album that everyone needs.
"Lights Out" live 1977