In his Forward to Neil Daniels' new High Stakes & Dangerous Men: The UFO Story, Eddie Trunk states that the band's Strangers in the Night (1979) is not only his favorite live album, it is his favorite album ever made. Now Trunk is not just your average fan, he is currently the host of two radio shows, as well as the VH1 program That Metal Show. I would say that he knows his stuff, and to call Strangers in the Night the greatest album of all-time is really saying something.
Whether you agree with him or not, there is no question that they were one of the premiere hard rock/ heavy metal bands of their day. With this in mind, what I have always wondered is how come UFO never reached the heights of a Deep Purple, Judas Priest, or any of the other major groups of the era?
The author interviewed scores of people to get the story, and the answer seems to be the sad cliché of too much drink, drugs, ego, and bad luck. Much like Deep Purple, UFO had various lineups, but the "classic" configuration revolved around their star guitarist. In Purple's case it was Ritchie Blackmore, for UFO it was Michael Schenker. He first joined the band in 1973, at the ripe old age of 18. Schenker joined Phil Mogg (vocals), Pete Way (bass), and Andy Parker (drums) for the classic Phenomenon (1974).
Phenomenon was the third UFO album, all of which were on the Chrysalis label. Prior to the arrival of Schenker, the band had had trouble finding their sound. UFO 1 and UFO 2 were a mixed bag of covers, ballads, and space-rock epics such as the 26:30 "Flying." With instant classics such as "Doctor Doctor," and "Rock Bottom," it is no surprise that many people (including the band themselves) consider Phenomenon their true "first" album.
There is always some joker in the pack who will defend something like the disastrous Ain't Misbehavin' (1988), but for most fans the ones to own are Phenomenon, Force It (1975), No Heavy Pettin' (1976), Lights Out (1977), Obsession (1978) and the previously mentioned Strangers in the Night. As Daniels points out, the live set works as a de facto greatest hits collection, plus their live sound is incredibly dynamic. There are people who have called the album Strangers in the Studio, in reference to rumored overdubbing after the fact. I could care less, Strangers is a fantastic record no matter how it was made.
My biggest problem is that all the good stuff is dispensed with less than halfway through the book. Then things just get depressing. Honestly, who the hell cares what happened after 1980? They tried synthesizers, they broke up, they got back together, Schenker came back, left, returned, and left again. It just drags on and on. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would care to spend so much time on so little substance. Sure, music is subjective, but come on, this is rock and roll. Whatever magic UFO had lasted from 1973 to 1979, about as long as The Beatles' run. Talk about flogging a dead horse!
Still, it is the way the author chose to tell the tale. I know that there are some crazies out there who really do want to know all the details behind something like Sharks (2002). That title is a little too reminiscent of Spinal Tap's Shark Sandwich for my taste however. Remember the two-word review of that one in This is Spinal Tap (1984)? "Shit Sandwich."
Mr. Daniels is an engaging and prolific writer, and as far as I know, there has only been one other book written about UFO, which I have not read. So High Stakes & Dangerous Men held a great deal of appeal for me. The book is titled after the 1992 UFO album, by the way. Call me narrow-minded if you want, but I would have preferred more about the '70s, and less post 1980 material. Having said that, I did enjoy the book, and do recommend it to other die-hard UFO fans.