When most fans think of UFO, it is as one of the '70s most exciting hard rock bands, sparked by the singular talents of guitarist Michael Schenker. But years before the mercurial German was even invited to join their ranks, the otherwise U.K.-bred group pursued a less celebrated, albeit certainly important first career phase as one of space-rock’s pioneering groups.

The band even took their name from London’s influential UFO Club (replacing the original choice Hocus Pocus), home to Pink Floyd’s earliest sightings behind Syd Barrett, and, later, a popular hangout to the stars of Swinging London. It was there that singer Phil Mogg, guitarist Mick Bolton, bassist Pete Way, and drummer Andy Parker — a.k.a. UFO, the band — were spotted and signed to independent Beacon Records.

Then, in October 1970, the quartet unveiled their long-playing debut, UFO 1, which intertwined a series of intriguing band compositions with covers of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” (nearly as violent as Blue Cheer's take on "Summertime Blues"), Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?,” and the Fred Hellerman/Fran Minkoff ballad “(Come Away) Melinda” (also covered that year by Uriah Heep).

Among the originals, dreamy reveries like the opening "Unidentified Flying Object" and the cryptic "Treacle People" did indeed live up to UFO's reputation. But predominantly heavy rockers like "Boogie," "Timothy" and "Follow You Home" would probably shock first-time listeners with their unhinged feedback fury, while lascivious blues rockers such as "Shake it About" and "Evil" were very much about earthly pursuits.

It wasn't until UFO's sophomore opus, 1971's Flying, that those arty space-rock elements were well and truly pushed to the fore. The two records helped weigh the band's early narrative, marking them as kinsmen to the Floyd, Hawkwind, and other musical galactic travelers.

In any case, due in part to their label’s lack of funds, UFO 1 did very little business in their native U.K., and even less in the U.S., where it was licensed the following year to Motown subsidiary Rare Earth. But, as mentioned earlier, Japan and, to a smaller extent, Germany, unexpectedly embraced the fledgling outfit and gave them enough momentum to carry on a little while longer in this early direction, culminating in 1971's Live, after which Bolton quit their ranks.

After this setback, nearly three years would pass before UFO soared again, now in their more familiar hard rock guise, with 1974's Schenker-enhanced Phenomenon. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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