Unbelievably Frustrating Object

!!Spoiler Warning!!

If you’re a fan of UFO’s classic live album ‘Strangers in the Night’, be aware: the following analysis contains information that could really harsh your buzz. Like, wicked bad.

If you’re not, what the hell is wrong with you??

Released in January of 1979, UFO’s bid for 70’s double-live gatefold gonzo, entitled ‘Strangers in the Night’, was a cut above most of the 2-record live sets released by their contemporaries in the 70’s. Several of their hard rocking brethren had opted to release singe-lp live albums the previous year; AC/DC, Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult among them. But UFO went for broke, doubled down, and the gamble paid off. Shows recorded in the fall of 1978 in Chicago and Louisville were compiled into what is now regarded as one of the greatest live rock albums of all time.

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‘SitN’ hit number 7 in the UK and number 42 in the US, a territory that the band had been working hard to break open since the top 40 stateside success of their 4th Schenker-Era studio album, ‘Lights Out’. The live album’s success shouldn’t have surprised anyone; ‘SitN’ displayed better chops than Kiss did on ‘Alive!’, was more consistent than Thin Lizzy’s patchwork ‘Live and Dangerous’, and more coherent than Aerosmith’s ‘Live! Bootleg’. Simply stated, it’s a masterpiece of live hard rock, delivered with powerhouse precision by a fiercely dynamic band on the brink of implosion (see Deep Purple’s ‘Made in Japan’). So then… Why has this classic record been so shamefully mishandled by the powers that be for the last  decade-and-a-half?

‘Strangers in the Night’ was first released on CD in 1987 on Chrysalis Records. It was a simple transposition of the original album from 2 vinyl records to 1 CD. Same songs, in the same order; at 69:13, no editing was needed to fit the entire double album set into the single-CD format. The CD sounded vastly superior to the vinyl version. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

I wish. In 1999, EMI released a remastered version of ‘Strangers in the Night’. Okay… remastered is good; the original CD had been mastered for vinyl, so this version would sound even better. EMI also added “2 Previously Unreleased Bonus Tracks”. Um, okay: this is where it gets weird.

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Adding ‘Bonus Tracks’ was and still is the standard tactic to persuade consumers who had purchased a previous version of an album to shell out and buy that same album again. In the case of ‘SitN’, EMI added live versions of ‘Hot n Ready’ and ‘Cherry’ to their remaster, in an alleged attempt to replicate the running order of UFO’s set during their 1978 tour. Since these two songs were the first 2 songs in their ’78 set, they were tacked on to the beginning of the CD, as opposed to the end, which is standard procedure for bonus track placement. Thus these 2 added tracks became the first 2 songs on the record. Makes sense, right? Sure. However, both tracks are markedly inferior to the material on the original album. ‘Hot’ was taken from a Youngstown, OH show on the same tour; vocalist Phil Mogg is pitchy/mostly flat throughout the song. A feedback-ridden version of ‘Cherry’, taken from a concert in Cleveland, just doesn’t cut it. Neither song reaches the level of performance or sound quality of the material on original album; neither song benefits from the extra crowd noise (from the Chicago show) added into to the original album to ‘juice up’ the record. At this point, after just the first 2 songs, this record is ruined.

But wait! There’s more!

The rest of the original album follows, but the songs’ running order is changed to further reflect UFO’s set from the 1978 US tour. As another added ‘bonus’, all of Mogg’s between-song stage banter is restored, which, at best, amounts to several wasted (and I do mean wasted) minutes of drunken, nonsensical rambling and unfunny in-jokes, and prevents this version of the album from gaining any forward momentum. It’s more than a little embarrassing. Who thought this was a good idea? If this junk is considered ‘bonus material’, I’ll pass, thanks. There’s a difference between being historically accurate and creating an exciting, entertaining rock album. And if restoring the flow of the original concerts is really the goal here, where’s ‘Pack It Up and Go’? Where’s ‘Ain’t No Baby’? And, he demanded in an increasingly hysterical tone, where is ‘On With the Action’??? “Pack’ was played at the Cleveland show, and ‘Baby’ was played on the Chicago date. But the omission of ‘On With the Action’ has to be the most egregious error committed here, as it was the B-side of the album’s single, ‘Doctor Doctor (Live)’. It has appeared on (a comp) CD before; why the HELL not include it here?

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Chrysalis re-released ‘SitN’ in 2008, in yet another remastered edition. Other than the pointless re-remastering, it’s the exact same version of the album released by EMI in 1999. Unless you count the following bombshell, hidden in the ‘extensive liner notes’, as ‘bonus material’…

!!Final Spoiler Warning!!

In the booklet included with the 2008 version, it is revealed that 2 songs from the original album, ‘Mother Mary’ and ‘This Kid’s’ were not performed on the 1978 tour, and the versions included on the original album (and all subsequent versions) were in fact live-in-the-studio recordings with crowd noise from Chicago added. Ouch. Dear Paul Elliot: I think I could have lived the rest of my life just fine without ever becoming aware of that particular piece of information, fuck you very much.

And if these 2 songs weren’t played on the ’78 tour, then why incl… oh fucking hell. I give up.

!!End of Spoiler!!

Most ridiculous of all is the fact the original version of the album has been unavailable (legally) since 1999. Anyone since then wanting to check out this legendary piece of heavy metal history has probably ended up with either of the 1999 or 2008 train-wreck versions, and was left wondering ‘Eh… what’s the big deal?’ That’s a crime. Capitol’s 1999 US reissue placed the bonus tracks at the tail end of the CD; this seems to me to be the best way to deal with them… This, then, would be the most desirable version of the album to hunt for on the aftermarket, as it’s remastered and sounds better than the Chrysalis original. Just quit listening after ‘Shoot Shoot’!

!!End of Rant!!

Whichever version you may have, take a second and check out Track 7, titled ‘Love to Love’. At exactly 1:00, you’ll hear one of my favorite recorded moments, on any album, ever. While the song kicks in just after its extended intro, one member of the band yells ‘Yaaaaaaaa!’ and another lets out a ‘Whoooo-hoooo!’ in response. This moment perfectly encapsulates the genius dichotomy of UFO and ‘SitN’; class, elegance and precision vs unbridled power and wild abandon. Ya gotta listen close but after you hear it once you’ll hear it every time thereafter.

 

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