The Sto­ries Be­hind The Songs

UFO

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Dave Ling

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.

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