35 Years Ago: UFO Release ‘Strangers in the Night’
When UFO released their first live album, the poetically named ‘Strangers in the Night,’ in January 1979, they surely couldn’t have guessed it would stand the test of time as one of history’s greatest concert documents — let alone mark the apex of their entire career.
But, for better or worse, that’s the inevitable price paid for making it to the top: The only place to go is down. But that’s another story, and a far less-compelling one than UFO’s hard-fought climb up the rock ‘n’ roll mountain.
Like their fellow U.K. hard rockers in Thin Lizzy, UFO never quite managed to duplicate their considerable European success in the U.S. Throughout the second half of the ‘70s, stalwart studio efforts like ‘Force It,’ ‘No Heavy Petting’ and especially 1977’s ‘Lights Out’ fell just short of the truly wide-scale success enjoyed by bands like Kiss and Queen. And then, when that era-defining double live album finally put UFO in position to break out in the big leagues, their classic lineup was on the verge of collapsing.
From the day he had joined the band for 1974’s ‘Phenomenon’ LP, erstwhile Scorpions guitar wunderkind Michael Schenker had been UFO’s catalyst, helping them transition from the space-rock mediocrity of their first few albums into a heavy-rock force. Schenker’s infinite stores of infectious riffs and inimitable leads spread across those records rose to new levels of shock and awe when presented in a concert environment — particularly on ‘Strangers in the Night.’
Alongside his bandmates — singer Phil Mogg, bassist Pete Way, drummer Andy Parker and keyboardist / rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond — Schenker packed ‘Strangers’ with definitive new versions of fan favorites like ‘Doctor Doctor,’ ‘Love to Love,’ ‘Lights Out’ and ‘I’m a Loser.’ The the guitarist blew out all the stops by turning ‘Rock Bottom’ into an eleven-minute showcase for his incredible six-string skills.
Combined with minor classics like ‘Out in the Street,’ ‘This Kid’s’ and ‘Let It Roll,’ the stage was set for this double live set to achieve rock ‘n’ roll immortality. Even though UFO and their audience were ‘Strangers in the Night’ when these recordings were made (mostly in Chicago and Lousiville), they’d soon settle into a long, lasting relationship.