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Jim Sullivan’s U.F.O.: A hidden gem of an album shrouded in a greater mystery

Art by Zion Lambino

In 1969 a Californian singer/songwriter and guitarist known as Jim Sullivan released an album simply named U.F.O. The album by today’s circumstances seemed to have what it took to become a hit. However, despite receiving acclaim from some critics and his colleagues in the music industry, the album seemed to fade into obscurity and would become a strange part of a big mystery. After a second album (his self-titled release) in 1972, also underperforming, he set his sights on moving to and attempting to restart his career in Nashville Tennessee. On his drive there from LA, he made a stop in New Mexico after having been pulled over for irregular driving due to his fatigue. There he was advised to stop at a hotel by the police. The rest is a mystery as Sullivan is believed to have left, locked his hotel room with the key inside, and bought a bottle of vodka from the town store. From there he was last seen the next day on a privately owned ranch walking into the desert in the distance away from his car, which was later found abandoned with items such as his money, guitar, clothes, and in a tragic coincidence a crate of unsold records from his brief career.

His disappearance was never truly solved and his music would remain in obscurity for a better part of time. This was until 2010 when Matt Sullivan (no relation), the founder of Light in the Attic Records, a company known for rereleasing obscure older albums, decided to remaster/reissue U.F.O. and made attempts to uncover the mystery of Sullivan's disappearance. As the album and the mystery surrounding its creator grew in the public consciousness, many listeners noted the odd themes of the album and its themes of extraterrestrial beings, desert areas, and disappearance. While unlikely, some conspiracy theorists have even questioned potential otherworldly involvement in his disappearance which he somehow prophetically foreshadowed and warned listeners about through his album.

Overall this was his most iconic album because of its obscurity and themes most closely associated with his disappearance. That being said, I first discovered this album, artist, and their strange background about a month ago. Out of curiosity I listened to the album in its entirety and can confidently say that it’s now one of my all-time favorite albums. On its own, taking away the mystery surrounding it which provides a lot of appeal, it's a very solid album. It incorporates orchestrated sounds alongside the traditional folk, rock, country, and even psychedelic sounds and styles combined with Sullivan’s bluesy vocals. It makes for a very calm and easy listening experience. Its total runtime is also just 29 minutes allowing for it to be enjoyed casually compared to other psychedelic rock works at the time which could be double or triple its length with some songs blending together to create larger parts of the album. I feel this simplicity is another very enjoyable part of this album.

I found it to be short and sweet yet it had a depth with its unique sound and lyrics that drew me in as I listened. It wasn’t too grand or complex in its style but felt very simple and down to earth as if you are watching or listening to a man with a guitar, and his band and nothing more. Overall the mystery surrounding Sullivan only added to the listening experience given the fact that the album never took off and was released shortly before his disappearance. In a way, it feels as though it’s a sweet yet sorrowful, and eerie goodbye of sorts and has a very final feel to it, despite not having been his last release. While we may never know what truly took place after Jim left his car on March 6th, 1975, his brief yet colorful career and its very short legacy lives on shrouded in mystery. This album itself is a one-of-a-kind work, arguably an underrated masterpiece that I’d highly suggest giving a listen to.

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