HMO salutes Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman who recently passed away aged 66. The Welsh guitarist had played with the Irish Skid Row, Lone Star, Waysted and others but he was most famous as the guitarist that replaced Michael Schenker in UFO. An unforgivable task that Tonka proved more than equal to: recording albums like The Wild, The Willing And The Innocent that remain fan favourites.
I was tempted to pick one of that album’s songs as a tribute but I decided to go for an older, and geekier, recording. After Schenker debuted with UFO on 1974’s Phenomenon the band decided to draft in a second guitarist for live duties and, for a brief period that year, the band featured both Schenker and Tonka on lead guitar! This fascinating and short-lived lineup can be heard on this BBC live recording from London. Rock Bottom was always a live centrepiece due to its extended soloing and here you get to hear both Schenker and Tonka trading wonderful solos. Chapman kicks his off at the 4:25min mark. It’s a cool, wah-tinged solo that makes jazzy use of the passage’s Dorian tonality and there’s a real chemistry between the two guitarists. Chapman was nicknamed ‘Tonka’ because, like the steel toys, he was thought to be indestructible, and he certainly sounded it here.
Secret Treaties is the last and best of the so-called “black-and-white” trilogy of albums that kicked off Blue Öyster Cult’s career: a trio of mysterious, monochrome-covered rock albums that peaked with this 1974 release. It’s dark, esoteric and also a bit of a hoot. It’s an album of parodic garage-rock horror reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s Killer, full of psychedelic monster mashes like Career Of Evil, the oddly cute Cagey Cretins and the seismic, psychotic Harvester Of Eyes. And those aren’t even the best tracks. Overdriven boogie rocker ME262 puts you in the pilot’s seat of a Junkers Jumo 004 (“Hitler’s on the phone from Berlin, he’s gonna make you a star”) and Dominance And Submission has a superb, swinging groove, an unforgettable climax (“radios appear”) and some creepy interjections from Charles The Grinning Boy… “it will be time”. But the album truly peaks with its closing tracks, Flaming Telepaths and Astronomy. Both are grand, magnificent masterpieces with affecting muscianship and beautifully cryptic imagery. Astronomy in particular is a complete head-scratcher. I’d love to know what “the nexus of the crisis, the origin of storms” really means but then… I feel like not knowing is kind of the point. And the reason Secret Treaties remains so eternally fascinating and alluring.
The meanest and heaviest album of KISS’ classic era. When their self-titled debut LP wasted no time in sliding out of the charts, KISS headed back into the studio to rush out a replacement, 1974’s Hotter Than Hell. This time ramping up the layers and distortion in an attempt to replicate the power of their live sound. The sludgy, messy end result is oft-criticised but I think the album has a dark, underground edge and the more metallic material here works really well. Songs like the genius riff-fest Parasite and the predatory Watchin’ You sound gritty and nasty. My main gripe is the stupidly slow tempos. Top tunes like Got To Choose, the title-track and Let Me Go Rock N’ Roll just sound like they need a good kick up the arse. But they’re still enjoyable versions if you just get into that blockier, doomier mindset and, best of all, there are no real clunkers here. They won’t show up on greatest hits sets but tracks like Comin’ Home, Goin’ Blind and Strange Ways are all choice deep cuts for the KISS connoisseur. Especially Strange Ways for its phenomenal whacked-out Ace Frehley guitar solo. Total attitude. Not their hottest album then but definitely one of their coolest, a rewarding evocation of KISS’ hungry years.
KISS, the band’s self-titled debut album from 1974, is loaded with more classics than any other studio album they would ever put out. The masked New York rockers were already making a reputation as an explosive live act and when you look at the tracks featured here, Strutter, Firehouse, Cold Gin, Deuce, Black Diamond and 100,000 Years, it’s no wonder few bands dared take them out as support act.
But it’s not all cut from that timeless cloth. The gimmicky single Kissin’ Time and the aimless instrumental Love Theme From KISS detract from the album. And the band were unable to capture the power and excitement of their live shows in the studio. KISS at their best put a spring in your step like no other band but the production and performance here is too tentative to quite achieve that.
KISS would eventually deliver definitive renditions of these songs on their mega-selling 1975 album Alive! But there’s a reason so many of that live album’s songs were drawn from their debut. KISS is a must-hear for fans of street-level, meat and potatoes hard rock. A flawed classic that planted the seeds of success with its pop-savvy mix of Humble Pie boogie, tasty heavy riffs and an array of songs that would become the stuff of legend.
With two studio albums behind them, UFO took off in 1974 with the recruitment of the German mad axeman Michael Schenker and the release of their excellent third album Phenomenon.
The spacey tendencies of the band’s earlier work remain in the cosmic balladry of tracks like Space Child and Crystal Light and vocalist Phil Mogg shines on these mellower tracks. But Schenker shows what he can do on the album’s rockers: peppering opener Oh My with fluid leads, chugging infectiously on Doctor Doctor and offering up a veritable guitar goldmine on Rock Bottom. Side two is less memorable but contains two highlights in the majestic Queen Of The Deep and Too Young To Know: a great example of the kind of ultra-catchy storytelling rock that would become the band’s speciality.
More accomplished albums would follow and cement UFO’s place as classic rock giants but Phenomenon more than lives up to the promise of its titular billing with its raw and innocent mix of riffy, trippy boogie. It’s a big favourite of mine and has a uniquely proto-metal place in the UFO discography. Essential listening if you enjoy the early outings of Priest, Scorpions and Budgie and want to hear the development of a style that would be heard later, louder and heavier, in the output of NWOBHM bands such as Maiden, Saxon and Diamond Head.
HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5
[UFO – Queen Of The Deep]
*note that older versions have ‘Oh My’ swap sides with ‘Too Young To Know’ (also occasionally mis-spelled as ‘Too Young To No’!)
Alex Harvey was not only one of Scotland’s most legendary rockers, he was also steeped in showbiz. This album, his third with SAHB, came out in ’74 but Alex had been around in music and theatre since the late 50s. He formed his “Sensational” band, with members of prog rockers Tear Gas, in the early 70s and often referred to them in terms of movies and the stage: he was their director. And The Impossible Dream is their most theatrical and cinematic album, the culmination of Harvey’s decades of experience. It’s comparable to Alice Cooper’s School’s Out: an adventurous extravaganza. From the tribal, comic book stomp of Vambo and Man in the Jar‘s gonzo noir to the dancehall Sergeant Fury, the skittery blues of Weights Made of Lead and the riffing pirate yarn Tomahawk Kid this album is a total romp. Yo ho ho! And as Anthem closes the album out, it’s extremely moving too. It’ll make ye greet.