Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

UFO - UFO 1

UFO
UFO 1


Released 1970 on Rare Earth
Reviewed by Brandon Tenold, 19/08/2008ce


Most people familiar with UFO know them as stadium filling cock-rock pioneers, helping lay the foundation for the spandex clad antics of numerous 80’s hair metal bands during the latter half of the 70’s. However, much like Fleetwood Mac and Journey, they began life as a very different band, and those who only know them from “Strangers in the Night” may be surprised at the downright punky sounds coming from their first album.

Although they would shortly begin conquering arenas all over the world with the help of former Scorpion Michael Schenker, their first record sounds like it came straight from the garage, both in terms of the bands sloppy but dynamic playing and the bare-bones production style, which despite its obvious low budget still manages to create a robust sound. All of the instruments are over-recorded except, oddly enough, Mick Bolton’s guitar, which is fuzzy but a bit faraway sounding. Although many people pick Grand Funk’s self-titled “Red Album” as the only one in history where the bass is louder than the lead guitar, this one is certainly a contender for that honor too. This proves to be a wise decision on the producer’s part though, as bassist Pete Way is the standout musician here, virtually every song being driven by his bass while the rest of the band follows his lead. Way’s bass tone is fat and distorted (although whether said distortion is of his doing or the result of the production I’m not sure) and he meanders when appropriate while still holding the song together, coming off as a combination of the zooming runs of John Entwistle and the knuckle-dragging Godzilla flatulence of Mel Shacher. And while the aforementioned Bolton may lack the finger-flashing technical ability of Michael Schenker, his more blues-based playing is more appropriate for the sound the group creates here.

The album begins with “UFO”, an instrumental filled with “spacey” sound effects that sound straight out of “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. This is the biggest example of the album’s shoestring budget with the exception of the strange, pseudo-krautrock artwork, which looks like group couldn’t afford the pipe cleaners and googly eyes to finish their potato-head crafts so they had to settle for just carving the mouths. While hardly a standout track, it actually provides a good template for the rest of the album: an insistent bass groove from Way carrying the foundation of the song, fuzzy, economical guitar from Bolton floating overtop and periodic bursts of “spacey” effects.

“Boogie for George” is next, and after some crawling, Ron Ashton-esque wah-wah in the intro, the band kicks the energy level into high gear with a head nodding riff and Andy Parker’s flailing drum fills. Front man Phil Mogg is heard for the first time, telling us how much he wants to dance the night away and “Boog” with us, the suitably moronic lyrics complementing the speedy Neanderthal shuffle the group kicks up. The track succeeds in making the listener want to “boog-eh, boog-eh” with Mogg too.

By far the best track on the album is the group’s cover of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody”, joining the ranks of Blue Cheer’s cover of Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” as a classic of fuzzed-out proto-punk-metal-whatever riffola. Unlike Humble Pie’s version, which unwisely slowed the song down to a crawl, this version is an amphetamine- fuelled blast of joy, and it’s obvious how much the group loved to play this song, including it in their set lists long after they had forgotten about all the other songs on their debut. Although the Bolton-era albums didn’t make much of an impact in North America or the U.K., they were big hits in Japan, with “C’mon Everybody” going to the top of the charts. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see why. With it’s somewhat amateurish but energetic sound, fuzzy guitar (and bass and drums) and psychedelic echo effect on the chorus, there is a strong “New Rock” vibe to the song, and it’s easy to see how the Japanese public would fall in love with it. Along with Blue Cheer’s version of “Summertime Blues”, “C’mon Everybody” would make a great addition to a nuggets-style compilation celebrating "Artyfacts from the first hard rock era: 1968-1972".

The groups other oldies cover, Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” isn’t as memorable, primarily because the energy level is significantly lower, the band choosing this song as their “jam” track, extending it to nearly 8 minutes. Still, there is some nice feedback drenched, pseudo-modal soloing from Bolton, and Way and Parker do succeed in creating a hypnotic pulse, even if there are times where their groove shakes bit. The ever-present vocal effects are back on the chorus again, with Mogg milking the “LOOOOOOVVVVEEEEE” for all it’s worth. It’s not bad, but certainly not the garage classic that “C’mon Everybody” is.

“Timothy” begins with a pulsing two-note bass line from Way, Bolton adding some more pseudo-eastern (or is that Ashton?) guitar work over top before Mogg begins the tale of enigmatic title character. Does he come from the sky? The land? The Earth? The Sea? Mogg never does give us the answer, but it doesn’t really matter, as the group gives us another blast of stripped down rawk-action.

“Treacle People” is a slower-paced, druggy number somewhat reminiscent of the Stooges in their hazier moments, primarily due to Bolton’s sludgy, stoned to the bone wah-wah rockings as well as Mogg’s teen angst musings. An abrupt shift towards the end puts on a heavy phase effect, the decidedly un-smooth transition only adding to the damaged atmosphere created by the bands plodding tempo and Mogg’s alienated lyrics.

Those are the standout tracks on the album, the remaining ones largely following the templates set by the ones already mentioned, although the “You Really Got Me” riff and British-invasion inspired chorus of “Follow You Home” and bafflingly arbitrary western movie sound effects at the end of “Melinda” do deserve a mention. After one more studio album and a live album, Bolton would…well, bolt and the band would bring in German wunderkind Michael Schenker, polishing their sound to an arena friendly level. Although there would be some good moments on their remaining albums with Bolton, this debut shows UFO at the rawest and sludgiest, and garage-fuzz enthusiasts will find much to like here.


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