The Stories Behind The Songs
Doctor Doctor became a live favourite, and the live version that gave the band their signature song and biggest hit.
Question: what do nurses, urinary infections and cardboard box drums all have in common? Answer: they were all intrinsic to the genesis of UFO’s signature and biggest hit.
First released in May 1974 on their album Phenomenon, Doctor Doctor would become UFO’s biggest worldwide hit. Forty-four years down the line, it still remains their calling card, although it took the success of their double-live album Strangers In The Night five years later to take the song belatedly into the UK charts.
With the band newly signed to a major label, Chrysalis Records, Phenomenon – the band’s first album with Michael Schenker after they stole the 17-year-old guitar wunderkind from the Scorpions – offered a brand new start for vocalist Phil Mogg, bassist Pete Way and drummer Andy Parker, UFO’s core members since the group formed in North London in 1968. Appropriately, it was Schenker who conceived the song’s cornerstone chugging riff.
Previous line-ups had included Larry Wallis, later of the Pink Fairies, and future Whitesnake man Bernie Marsden on guitar. These incarnations had cult success in Germany with the albums UFO 1 and UFO 2, but Schenker’s fluid, melodic technique helped to propel this latest lineup away from the realm of space-rock and into a style with far more commercial appeal. Appropriately, it was the newcomer who conceived the song’s cornerstone chugging riff.
“I had an old Watkins Copycat [tape echo unit] from my time in the Scorpions that allowed me to add harmonies to the melody, which I played on lead and rhythm guitar,” Schenker remembers. “It turned out really nice, and I recorded [a rough version] on my hand-held cassette recorder. I was so excited that I played it to Phil Mogg as we came out of the escalator of the Underground on the way to a meeting at Chrysalis Records. He loved it.”
Mogg borrowed Schenker’s cassette player on which the guitarist had recorded a very basic recorded prototype of the tune. “I think Michael had been banging on cardboard boxes to give the effect of drumming,” he says. “So I stood Michael’s cassette player up alongside mine, and slapped down some words into the machine, then we had something to take into the studio.”
With its couplet ‘She walked up to me and really stole my heart/And then she started to take my body apart’, it would be easy to interpret Mogg’s lyric as a true-life tale of a failed romance that had screwed him up.
“No, not at all,” the singer says, laughing. “Parker and Pete Way had become friendly with some nurses. We’d started touring, and for some unknown reason those two developed some kind of urinary infection after mucking around on the road. Need I say any more?”
“Until recently I didn’t know what the song was about,” Schenker admits now, adding with a laugh: “I played it to my parents when I went home to Germany. I had no idea it was all about sex.”
Schenker’s demo was so proficient that, lyrics aside, the other members of UFO scarcely contributed to the arrangement that we know today. “Michael already had the guitar intro, I think,” Mogg says. “We got lucky, basically, it all fell into place.”
Schenker, for one, was convinced of Doctor Doctor’s potential. “I personally believe that everything I do is very good,” he says, laughing. “I only write what I believe in. Whether or not people share such a feeling is another matter.”
When UFO recorded the song for Phenomenon, the album’s producer, Ten Years After bassist Leo Lyons, rated it among the record’s best compositions, although Mogg admits the band had quietly wondered whether it was maybe “just a bit too poppy for us”.
Such fears would prove unfounded, at least in the short term. In the UK, Chrysalis had suggested Doctor Doctor as the album’s first single. Its failure to connect with a chart anywhere in the world was a crushing blow.
“Back then I was always a little bit irate about things,” Mogg says with a chuckle. “I asked somebody at Chrysalis how many copies they’d shifted so far and was told: ‘Not a lot – something in the region of fifty.’ I replied: ‘Well, fuck me. Give me a boxful and I’ll go to Oxford Street and sell them myself.’”
The initial failure of Doctor Doctor didn’t really bother UFO, who kept it in their live set for years to come. “The fans really liked the song, so we hung on to it,” says Mogg.
Four albums and five years later, and with UFO’s line-up swelled by rhythm guitarist/keyboard player Paul Raymond, Doctor Doctor proved to be a pivotal moment on Strangers In The Night, closing Side One of the double live album’s original vinyl format. With its hardrocking boogie strains now ushered in by a lilting enticement from Raymond and Schenker, the song had blossomed into a genuine arena-rock anthem. Pulled from the album and released on EP along with a live rendition (not from Strangers) of On
With The Action, it climbed to No.35 in the UK singles chart – the first time UFO had made the Top 40.
“Being on Strangers In The Night, one of the best live albums of all time, definitely gave the song a boost,” Schenker observes. “It became a big singalong song because people loved the melody. And then Iron Maiden fell in love with the song and made it even bigger [see sidebar].”
“Doctor Doctor has sold well down the years and it actually still brings in an income,” says Mogg. “We continue to play it to this day. Almost fifty years on, I’m still singing about Parker and Way.”
Schenker walked out of UFO (something he did more than once) following the release of Strangers, but
Doctor Doctor has remained a staple of his live performances.
“We [UFO] did try to drop it once and it didn’t go down very well,” Mogg says.
“The tour manager burst into the dressing room and told us there had been all sorts of complaints. I think we had to go out again and do it, just to keep the peace.”
“I still enjoy playing Doctor Doctor live because I was never over-exposed to it,” says Schenker. “And it’s different for guitarists. The singer must keep to the words that everybody knows, and the rest of the band stick to the framework of the recorded version, but my own journey with every song is slightly different on any given nightt.”
“I have sung Doctor Doctor thousands and thousands of times, but my attitude is: ‘That song was there for us right from the beginning, bless its cotton socks,’” Mogg concludes. “I have a big affection for it.” UFO’s 50th anniversary farewell tour, Last Orders, takes place in March and April 2019.
“I played it to my parents when I went home to Germany. I had no idea itwas all about sex.” The Doctor Doctor line-up of UFO:(l-r) Pete Way, Andy Parker, Phil Mogg, Michael Schenker.