Originally released in 1974 through Chrysalis, the album Phenomenon was a watershed moment in the trajectory of fledgling English band UFO and tracks such as Doctor Doctor and Rock Bottom are still a much loved staple of the live setlist even now, 45 years later, of both UFO and Michael Schenker Fest.
The album signified a move away from the “Space Rock” of the first two albums, UFO1 and Flying, along with a new recruit in the form of wunderkind guitarist Michael Schenker, still only 19 years old, unceremoniously stolen from another fledgling band from Germany, going by the name of The Scorpions. Over the years the fortunes of these two bands went very different ways, but for pure talent and a band chemistry, that whilst always volatile, produced outstanding music, it is UFO that has held a very special place in rock music history and cited by many latter musicians as an influence. Not least Pete Way for his antics both on and off stage, but this album highlights the early days of Phil Mogg’s lyrical and vocal prowess, still going strong in 2019, and Andy Parker, also still going strong in UFO in 2019! Indeed, it is to my shame, that it wasn’t actually until this year when I got to watch UFO’s set from a good vantage point that I really appreciated just what a powerhouse Andy Parker is behind the tubs!
The original album (remastered) in its entirety is contained on the first disc, and there probably isn’t much more to say about it that hasn’t already been written. For UFO fans this album, Force It, No Heavy Petting, Lights Out and Obsession are the golden five albums from the Schenker era, showcased brilliantly by the live double Strangers in the Night, which signified the end of that era, and the start of a new one for both UFO and Schenker. Ranking those five studio albums in order of merit has caused countless arguments between fans for years, so I won’t try to do that here, but what one can certainly say is that Phenomenon was the first, and set the bar extremely high. It’s hard not to wax lyrical over the young Michael Schenker’s outstanding guitar work, but that would overshadow the similarly stunning contribution from all the other band members to make this a real collective masterpiece that set the foundations for the what was to follow. If it weren’t for some “personnel problems” that saw things take a different path by the end of the decade, surely the band were set for mega-stardom.
What makes this 3CD set worth purchasing however (if you already have a copy of the album itself) is the accompanying discs. Disc 2 in particular contains some real gems from the original master tapes. Forget the single A and B sides of Give Her The Gun, Sweet Little Thing and Sixteen, these used to be rarities back in the day, but are now easy enough to get hold of on various “best of” compilations. Similarly the single edits of Doctor Doctor and Rock Bottom, the latter of which is actually mildly irritating by what’s omitted to cut down the length. What’s more interesting are the demos and master copies of the remaining songs which give slightly different takes on the versions we all know and love, giving an insight into how they developed, and how they may have ended up being quite different beasts. Built for Comfort is one of my favourites, a Willie Dixon cover exposing Phil’s blues influences that can be found woven throughout the bands back catalogue (sometimes more obviously than others). The demo of Sixteen sounds like it may feature predecessor Bernie Marsden rather than Schenker; I can’t find any corroboration of that (certainly the credits have “UFO” rather than “mogg/schenker/way” for both the other earlier offerings Give Her The Gun and Sweet Little Thing).
Finally CD3 is a copy of the Live At The Electric Ballroom bootleg, again, this has been doing the rounds for many years and is not difficult to find a copy, but here it has been cleaned up a bit, and put in context with the other discs reminds you how soon this gig was after the album was recorded. With that in mind you notice the added energy of the band, showcasing what were then new songs to an unexpecting audience in what was still a fairly new lineup. Also a rare example of Schenker playing pre-Phenomenon tracks such as Prince Kujuku.
So my verdict: if you don’t already have Phenomenon then you should do, and this is a better way than most to get hold of a copy. If you do already have a copy, then this deluxe edition is still worth it for the other two discs, and being an official Chrysalis release it’s not hideously overpriced.
Phil Mogg (vocals)
Andy Parker (drums)
Pete Way (bass)
Michael Schenker (guitar)
Disc 1: Phenomenon
1 Too Young To Know
2 Crystal Light
3 Doctor Doctor
4 Space Child
5 Rock Bottom
6 Oh My
7 Time On My Hands
8 Built For Comfort
9 Lipstick Traces
10 Queen Of The Deep
Disc 2: Phenomenon Bonus Disc
1 Sixteen (Demo)
2 Oh My (Demo)
3 Give Her The Gun (Non-album A-Side Single)
4 Sweet Little Thing (Non-album B-Side Single)
5 Sixteen (Outtake)
6 Doctor Doctor (Single Edit)
7 Rock Bottom (Single Edit)
8 Doctor Doctor (Mono Single Edit)
9 Oh My (Instrumental Run Through)
10 Sixteen (Instrumental)
11 Doctor Doctor (Take 2 – Instrumental)
12 Rock Bottom (Double Tracked Vocal)
13 Time On My Hands (Work-in-progress version; alternate lyrics, no guitar solo)
14 Built For Comfort (Master w/ Full Vocal)
15 Lipstick Application (Lipstick Traces Backing Track)
16 D minor G Minor (Queen Of The Deep Master w/ Full Vocals and Full Ending)
Disc 3: Live at the Electric Ballroom, Atlanta GA, 5th November 1974
1 Oh My
2 Doctor Doctor
3 Built For Comfort
4 Give Her The Gun
5 Cold Turkey
6 Space Child
7 Rock Bottom
8 Prince Kujuku