One of the great eccentrics (and notorious drinkers) in rock, Michael Schenker also served in one of the great hard rock bands of the mid- and late 70s. The Schenker/Phil Mogg/Pete Way/Andy Parker nexus that powered UFO in this period produced a handful of classic albums, including the scorching, varied Lights Out (1977). Mogg is an oft-overlooked voice in this period who, at his best, could match Paul Rodgers and Lou Gramm in strength, sleaze, and swagger.
Don’t believe me? Check out “Too Hot to Handle,” the lead cut from Lights Out. To these ears, that chorus is easily the equal of “Baby I’m a bad man” or “I’m hot blooded / Check it and see” in sheer potency and sexual bluster. And that shit was important in 1977, dawg. I remember how the girls went nuts when little Eddie Blevins sang “Cat Scratch Fever” during second grade recess. Never forgot it.
Back to Michael Schenker. He was a Scorpion at 15 (older, mustachioed bro Rudolph is still at it) and hooked up with Mogg, Way, and Parker at 18 for a four-year run of arena tours, smokin’ records, and hard partying. While Schenker developed the latter into a debilitating affliction, for a while there he was a monster riffmaster and soloist extraordinaire. Except for this one little track …
While UFO incorporated power balladry into their records before and after 1977, the sheer grandiosity of “Try Me” sets it apart from the others. Imagine your basic hard rock fan dropping the needle on Lights Out for the first time. Side one begins with “Too Hot to Handle” and segues into a pleasant little ditty called “Just Another Suicide.” Then, the third song begins — with a lone grand piano playing an ostentatious, semi-classical passage, cut from a similar cord as Barry Manilow’s hits of the period. The listener shudders, drops his bong, thinks he’s Fred Sanford having “the big one.”
And then he hears Phil Mogg’s voice cutting in front of a repeated piano arpeggio, and he relaxes a bit. Mogg’s got woman troubles, and the listener can relate to that (who can’t?). “Tell me why we’re never more than strangers,” Mogg pleads. “Tell me why you never let it show.” What she’s not showing isn’t clear—skin, affection, whatever—but it is clear from the vocal that Mogg is saddened by her withholding. His sadness is underscored by what sounds like a cello, which is not rockin’ under normal circumstances, but it’s UF-friggin’-O—it’s gotta be rockin’, right?
Then the chorus hits and a full string ensemble flutters in—we’re back in Manilowland. Except for that voice—the grand orchestral thing is matched in power by Mogg’s plea:
Try me, take me for a little while
Before it’s over and you leave me with just a smile
Oh, okay—he’s bangin’ the chick and she’s gonna split right afterward. We are in a UFO song, after all. The listener feels relief.
The song slides back into another brief verse and string-laden chorus, and the listener realizes, “Hey, I haven’t heard any guitar yet. Where the hell is Schenker?” The answer is, of course, after the second chorus. It’s a subdued solo—no distortion, almost completely clean sound, no bent notes or fast fingerwork, just a slow variation of the melody, with cello and string accompaniment. Then the guitar is doubled, the violins flourish behind it, and the listener says to himself, “Hey, I still haven’t heard any guitar yet. Where the hell is Schenker?”
At 3:43, Schenker remembers he has a distortion pedal, the drums kick in, and — well, not much happens for the first few seconds, just more of the sleepy, single-note figure that’s lulled the listener for the previous few seconds. Then, out of nowhere, at 4:00 Dr. Schenkerstein lets the monster loose, ripping into a series of bluesy licks and high-neck runs, and the little neon “Guitar God Present” sign above his head suddenly flickers on. It lasts approximately 40 seconds before the song ends.
Schenker would get better at this—“Looking Out for No. 1” from UFO’s next record, Obsession, is primo, and he actually had a hit with the McAuley Schenker Group’s “Anytime” (more about that next time). Even with the restrained soloing, for pure over-the-top splendor, “Try Me” certainly makes a strong case for itself in the power ballad pantheon.