In the late 1960s and early seventies, hard-rock guitar-based groups roamed the earth. The best combined memorable riffs, instrumental pyrotechnics and high-energy performances. Near the front of the pack—and paving the way for the new wave of British heavy metal—was UFO. Founded in London in 1968 by singer Phil Mogg, who still leads the band today, UFO churned out an impressive series of albums. The group’s latest, 2017’s cover fest “The Salentino Cuts,” is its twenty-second full-length studio release.
That album is also the final studio offering from the long-running band. After the death of keyboardist and guitarist Paul Raymond in 2019, Mogg announced that UFO would cease operations. But first there’s a final tour, dubbed Last Orders USA, that includes a dozen live dates in the eastern United States, to be followed by a farewell performance as part of the 2020 Rock Legends Cruise departing from Port Everglades, Florida.
UFO songs and albums have long been characterized by searing electric guitar work, a tight, powerful rhythm section and strong vocals, the latter often an area in which many guitar-focused hard-rock acts have failed to shine. Beginning with the band’s third album, 1974’s “Phenomenon,” UFO enjoyed consistent chart success; ten albums in a row would chart in the United States. The band was nearly as popular in its native England, with 1980’s “No Place to Run” earning a Silver certification.
1977’s “Lights Out” represented a high-water mark for UFO. The album featured a faithful reading of Love’s baroque-psychedelic classic “Alone Again Or,” and Kerrang! Magazine listed the LP at number twenty-eight on its list of greatest heavy-metal albums.
After years in the commercial wilderness—a time during which Mogg and his bandmates would witness a raft of successful bands who owed a significant debt to UFO’s hard and heavy approach—the group again gained a presence on the U.K. charts; beginning in 2009. All three successive albums would chart in Great Britain.
Among UFO’s most popular releases, though, is 1979’s “Strangers in the Night,” a live set culled from amphitheater dates in Chicago and Louisville. The band’s onstage firepower has long been a key to its appeal. UFO has released no less than fifteen live albums; the last was a four-CD boxed set, “Live Sightings,” documenting the group at a peak in the early 1980s.
Underscoring the wide appeal of the band, UFO also scored minor hit singles over the years. Their most well-known song is “Doctor, Doctor.” A live recording made the U.S. Top 40 in 1979, but the band also enjoyed a half dozen other charting singles.
Beyond the stadium-ready voice of Phil Mogg, the group has featured an impressive roster of musicians. Former Scorpions guitarist Michael Schenker was with UFO for four different runs, appearing on more than ten of the band’s releases. Acclaimed guitarist Vinnie Moore has handled lead guitar duties on every UFO release from 2004’s “You Are Here” to the present day. And founding drummer Andy Parker remains a key member of the band as it approaches its final performances.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine the careers of bands like Metallica, Slayer, Dokken, Judas Priest or Iron Maiden without acknowledging the impact that UFO had upon their sound. That’s worth remembering as these grand old men of hard-rock and proto-metal take their victory lap.
February 14, 8pm, The Genesee Theatre, 203 North Genesee, Waukegan, (847)263-6300. $42.50 and up.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. His more than 2,500 interviews, essays, and reviews reflect Bill’s keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill’s work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues, and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s final album. His first book, “Reinventing Pink Floyd,” is due from Rowman & Littlefield in February 2018.