UFO: ‘No Place To Run’

UFO
NO PLACE TO RUN
Released on January 8, 1980 (Chrysalis Records)

Review by John Stoney Cannon:
I consider myself a rock and roll junkie with the sounds and pounds of thousands of rock and roll records coursing through my veins. To this day, few things give me goosebumps like the sights, sounds, and feels of a great rock and roll record. Given the time travel ability of old rock and roll, it’s no wonder that early on I was hooked, and as life moves on, it’s one of the few addictions I never can seem (and never ever will want to) shake. But no matter how intoxicating those thousands of rock and roll records can be, there are maybe mere hundreds that leave me totally ripped, flying high, and flat out wasted to the point that every sound from the first crackle of the needle hitting wax fills me with so much emotion that momentarily it draws me back to this aura of a time long gone. A feeling that comes with so many of those old albums and I’m not even sure if “aura” is the right word used to describe it, or if there is even a word. All I know is I’m transported to a place where every bit of my insides is for moments washed in the spirit of a rock and roll consciousness that is too incredible to illustrate. Out of the many great records I’ve become involuntarily hooked on over the years, few have left me with a rock and roll jones like UFO‘s No Place To Run. Forty years later and I still can’t get enough, with each listen turning me into that head bangin’, leg slappin’ 13 year old I was, and in many ways, still am.

Landing in between 1979’s incredible live release Strangers In The Night and 1981’s The Wild, Willing, And The Innocent, UFO‘s 1980 killer album No Place To Run marked the return of guitarist Paul Chapman (replacing an exiting Michael Schenker) proving that, despite Schenker‘s belief that the entire existence of UFO‘s (and the Scorpions) success revolves around him, the greatness of UFO begins, continues, and ends with excellent songs delivered with just the right pinch of every ingredient tossed into the mix. While falling just barely short of the success achieved by previous albums Lights Out and Obsession in the United States, post Schenker UFO would prove to be far more successful on the UK charts with No Place To Run and Mechanix scratching at the UK top 10. The biggest shame of the UFO story may be the fact that the band’s level of success with rock and roll fans didn’t match the level of influence they left on future generations of hard rock bands including members of legendary bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Pearl Jam, and many many more. Sure, they will go down as one of rock’s most storied bands but the quality of music and live shows bestowed on the world for 50 years rivals (or is in many cases better than) that of any band in the history of hard rock and metal. This explains why all those years ago I was captivated, influenced, and motivated in part by UFO to elevate my concentration on mixing my love for melodic hooks and hard rock in my own early songwriting attempts, and while a fan of just about everything the band has released, no other UFO album has helped shape my own rock and roll more than 1980 release No Place To Run.

Tracked in the fall of 1979 under the productive eye of legendary Beatles producer George Martin and featuring the classic UFO lineup of Andy Mogg, Paul Chapman, Paul Raymond, Pete Way, and Andy Parker (my favorite UFO line-up), No Place To Run sounds far larger and longer than its mere sub-40 minute length. The vastness of this platter benefits from a productive team effort with every band member contributing not only musically, but creatively as well. The fact that the biggest pop producer in the world sat in the producer’s chair didn’t soften or over polish the process. Sir Martin it would appear added an even older world charm to the sessions perhaps adding to No Place To Run a mix of warmth and clarity giving UFO‘s raw rock and roll sound even more breathing room.

Pushed into the public via the release of rocking singles “Young Blood” and “Lettin’ Go”, No Place To Run is far from a two-track pony and filled with great tunes from jump to final fade. Yeah, opening intro track “Alpha Centauri” might have been a bit of a yawner on it’s own but blasted loudly as a lead-in to single “Lettin’ Go”, it’s a perfect album opener. It’s that eventual full blast of classic UFO rock and roll on the track that reminds the listener how big a thanks fans of many of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands owe to UFO. The influence on bands like Saxon, Iron Maiden, and others can be heard somewhere within the hard rocking songs of UFO and there’s no mistaking the impact the band’s power ballads and mix of melody and power have had on English acts like Def Leppard and The Quireboys, who themselves recorded their own version of 1977 Lights Out power ballad “Love To Love.” The duel guitar inspiration of UFO (and Ireland’s Thin Lizzy) on ’80s European hard rock and metal is undeniable and can be heard full force on “Lettin’ Go” as throughout most of UFO‘s early albums.

Speaking of influences, just as UFO would help take rock and roll into a whole new generation, early rock and blues were the inspiration for Mogg and company, and the band take note of that in their take of Elvis Presley popular ’50s tune “Mystery Train”, itself originally a cover of a Junior Parker tune. Spurned on by a blistering blues picked acoustic / vocal intro, UFO‘s rendition beautifully gives a respectful nod to the past before kicking in with a full on hard rock treatment complete with blistering blues-based hard rock lead guitar and wailing vocal. While it’s true that “Mystery Train” may be one of the most covered songs of all time, UFO‘s version has to be considered one of the best in terms of its style, power, and sheer heart.

As if side one (have to remember, this one came out originally on wonderful wax) wasn’t already a testament to how great a band UFO was, they weren’t even close to finished when polishing off the first half of No Place To Run with yet ANOTHER great pair of melody-infused rock tracks in touring anthem “This Fire Burns Tonight” and catchy power ballad “Gone In The Night.” Back then, hard rock sides were meant to begin and end loud, and few were able to pull off such a feat as to close off a side with a ballad but then again, this is no mere soft rub, we’re talking a love song infiltrated with power chords and kick ass rock and roll lead guitar. Even at their most melodic, UFO still rock balls.

Perhaps one of their most enduring songs, side-two opener “Young Blood” to this day still manages to find its way occasionally onto American classic rock radio as well as the odd food joint or two. I can still remember happily rocking along to this one a few years back when it surprisingly blasted out of the speakers at an area Jimmy Johns sub shop. Used to be an album’s single was the least of my favorite cuts on an album but despite the consistent quality of tracks on No Place To Run, the label got it right releasing this one as a single. The fact that it didn’t become an insanely huge mega hit might have bummed the band out but as a fan, I can say all these years later, it’s great to be able to hear this one and not roll my eyes like I do when in ear distance of a song like “Stairway To Heaven” or “Freebird.”

I tend to kind of take an iffy approach to records that share the same name as a track on the album but in “No Place To Run”, UFO created a tune that sounds like the theme song of a larger work. On an album filled with killer songs from start to finish, it pulls of the heavy task of sounding like the track fitting to represent the other nine on No Place To Run. Its position on the album also perfectly kicking the listener in the ass just before sucking heart strings in with perhaps one of rock’s most beautiful hidden gems, “Take It Or Leave It”, a power ballad so perfectly open-ended that it could just as easily been a hit for Tesla as for The Quireboys, or any number of eighties AOR or hard rock acts. Had this been a few years later (when rock bands benefited from the success of following heavier anthems with power ballad as an albums second single), it’s possible UFO could have found larger mainstream success by following up “Young Blood” with this one. To this day, I’d put this up against just about every ’80s hit power ballad. Yeah, it’s that good of a song.

Well before pop rock acts like Bryan Adams and Rick Springfield were filling the radio with catchy guitar riff ditties, UFO were including under four minute hooky guitar tunes on their albums and “Money, Money” with its chunky guitar is a prime example. It still baffles me to this day how UFO did not become much bigger in an era where every rock style that the band had long perfected was turned into gold and platinum for so many other less talented bands. Heck, just the fact that UFO could masterfully follow up what should have essentially been a radio hit with an all over the place track like closing song “Anyday” before fading into the crackle of wax alone begs the question why UFO wasn’t more successful. Honestly, there were many huge hard rock albums in the ’80s, but few as strong as No Place To Run as a whole.

As the last notes from No Place To Run fade from my turntable for like the tenth time already this year, I’m still finding it hard to believe that 40 years have gone by since this one first rocked my world and even harder to let it sink in that just last year, the band celebrated 50 years rocking and rolling. I have to admit that as I am listening to these great songs again, I am filled with the bittersweet emotional knowledge that after this tour, Mogg will be hanging up his microphone. Yeah, fans can handle Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, Foreigner with someone other than Lou Gramm, even I guess AC/DC without Brian Johnson… but a UFO without Phil Mogg? All I can do at the moment is thank the rock and roll Gods that UFO are taking one last spin around the States this February because right now, with the music still ringing in my head, I can think of no place to run to better than a UFO concert.

Review by John Lewis:
Well, stay with me as this one needs a bit of an introduction! In 1980, this absolutely classic English band was at a real crossroads in its career. The previous album, 1978’s live Strangers In The Night, was not only a phenomenal release but really brought the band worldwide acclaim. The stage was certainly set for big things. But on the cusp of real greatness, UFO’s brilliant German lead guitarist, Michael Schenker, left the band for good for a solo career. The band immediately turned to old friend Paul Chapman, of Lonestar and Welsh in descent, for assistance. Definitely a different talent from Schenker, but Chapman was no slouch. Otherwise, the band’s line-up remained intact with vocalist Phil Mogg, bassist Pete Way, keyboard / guitarist Paul Raymond, and drummer Andy Parker. So, there’s the line-up squared away.

Next up, the fascinating recording environs as UFO’s label, Chrysalis, thought that this was a good time to really spend on the band in an effort to break it big, so hired none other than former Beatles’ producer George Martin for production duties. And the band was sent to Martin’s own recording complex, AIR Studios, on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. The stage was set. Legend has it that Martin and UFO had a strained relationship during the recording of No Place To Run; the match of the elder English statesman and the legendary hard living members of the band must certainly have led to an interesting work environment! The band apparently took to the gorgeous tropical setting, and no doubt, countless fancy beverages were consumed during the recording.

On to the record itself, opening track “Alpha Centauri” is a Paul Chapman composition, a spacey instrumental which the band was to use as a live intro tape (or, as the Brits call it, a ‘walk-on’). A very cool piece of music, which leads into what may be my favourite (of many) UFO track of all time, “Lettin Go”. A storming track, ballsy and melodic like the greatest UFO songs always are. A natural concert opener. Next up was an interesting cover version, “Mystery Train”, previously done by Elvis among others. “This Fire Burns Tonight” and “Gone In The Night” follow, similar in title and intensity, a couple of restrained rockers which are drenched in melody.

Over to side two on the old vinyl, and “Youngblood” has Pete Way’s simple rockin’ all over it. This track was released as a single, and George Martin was said to have high hopes for it. The band mimed along to it on a Top of The Pops TV appearance. The title track follows, and what a classic it is. “No Place To Run” is heavy, features a great Paul Chapman guitar theme, and Mogg’s obviously Springsteen-inspired lyric stylings. In my opinion, the album’s only dud is next, the Paul Raymond-penned ballad “Take it Or Leave It.” Not terrible, but just a bit pedestrian. The album closes out with a couple of full-on rockers, “Money Money” and “Anyday”, both featuring interesting verse / chorus shifts and both memorable in their own right.

In 2009, the album was re-released, remastered, and with bonus tracks including an alternate version of “Gone In The Night” and some live recordings from London’s Marquee Club in 1980. All told, No Place To Run represented a stylistic change for UFO from the hybrid British / European proto-metal of the Schenker years to a more meat and potatoes band featuring Paul Chapman’s less fluid but still very tasty guitar work. Interesting, too, that most of this album’s tracks are credited solely to Phil Mogg and Pete Way, who were an obviously potent writing team.

A postscript to AIR Studios in Montserrat, which had also been used by the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and The Police among many others. The island was subjected to devastating volcanic activity and a hurricane, which left it largely wrecked, and the studio destroyed and abandoned. Google it. There are some fascinating photos of its current state. The stories those walls could tell! And long live UFO!

Track List:
01. Alpha Centauri
02. Lettin’ Go
03. Mystery Train
04. This Fire Burns Tonight
05. Gone In The Night
06. Young Blood
07. No Place To Run
08. Take It Or Leave It
09. Money, Money
10. Anyday

Band Members:
Phil Mogg – lead vocals
Paul Chapman – lead guitar
Paul Raymond – keyboard, guitar, vocals
Pete Way – bass
Andy Parker – drums

Production:
Produced by George Martin
Mixed by George Martin and Geoff Emerick
Engineered by Geoff Emerick

Band Websites:
Official Website
Facebook

Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon and John Lewis for Sleaze Roxx, January 2020

UFO‘s “Young Blood” video:

UFO – Young Blood – TOTP

Clips taken from UFO at the BBC Top of the Pops 1979-1982