Welcome to Part 2 of Classic Rock You Should Own, But Probably Don’t. This blog series presents a list I’ve compiled over the years of classic rock albums I suspect few people own, but should. Each featured album is a classic in its own right and deserves to be in any classic rock record collection as much as anything by Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, Bruce Springsteen, or the Beatles. Part 1 focused on Captain Beyond and can be found here.
This time around I’d like to introduce you to:
With this, their third effort Heep achieved IMO that perfect balance between heavy guitar and soaring keyboards that all prog metal bands should try to aspire.
The players were Ken Hensley (keyboards and primary song writer), Mick Box (guitar), Paul Newton (bass), David Byron (vocals), and Ian Clarke (drums).
Ken Hensley is generally regarded as the defining keyboardist of prog metal and some of his best work is on this album, most notably the extended solo on July Morning (see link below). Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. has said, “Ken Hensley wrote the rule book for heavy metal keyboards as far as I’m concerned” and who am I to argue with Blackie?
By the time Look at Yourself was released, David Byron had grown as a singer, showing more maturity and range with a great sense of theater.
The band’s next two albums, Demons and Wizards and Magician’s Birthday also shine and are more polished and refined, not quite as heavy as this one. The songs are much more complex and rich.
You may recall Uriah Heep from one of their three hits, “Easy Livin’,” from Demons and Wizards (1972), “Sweet Lorraine,” from Magician’s Birthday (1972), and “Stealin’” from Sweet Freedom (1973). They were a very successful band overseas and were one of the first stadium rock bands, playing to larger and larger houses.
I first discovered the band when they had just released Magician’s Birthday and I was so impressed by them that I immediately when out and bought their first four albums. Every album has something special to offer, but Look at Yourself quickly became my favorite with its hard driving rhythms, Mick Box’s chunky metal chords, and Hensley’s flourishes on keyboards.
The original cover art for Look at Yourself was interesting because it had a die-cut opening and a reflective mirror-like insert (not just a gray haze like on the CD versions).
Another interesting tidbit about Uriah Heep albums, is that Ken Hensley wrote liner notes, a sort of early vinyl version of a blog, that talked about what the band had been doing and how the current album came to be. I know of no other band that did this sort of thing and I felt it made the band seem more accessible to the fans.
The band went through several significant personnel changes throughout its lifetime. Most notably Paul Newton was replaced by Gary Thain who in turn was fired after three albums (he died in 1975 at the age of 27); David Byron was fired (he died in 1985 at the age of 38); Lee Kerslake replaced Clarke then left himself, and Ken Hensley also left and joined the southern rock band Blackfoot in the early 80s. The only constant presence in the band has been Mick Box, who is probably one of the most underrated guitarists in rock.
Despite a minor comeback with the album Abominog, Heep never really regained any sort of foothold in the States. The interesting thing about Abominog was it heralded the return of Lee Kerslake as drummer, fresh off of playing with Ozzy on the first two Randy Rhodes albums. Kerslake brought along bassist Bob Daisley, both leaving over a dispute with Ozzy about royalties and songwriting credits. If you have the original Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman consider them collectors items. Ozzy, in a fit of spite, has since redubbed the drum and bass parts.
Here’s the title track, Look at Yourself. It starts out with some fast paced drumming and Hensley’s patented explosive chords, then the entire band joins in to a crescendo where David Byron comes in. This song is a showcase for how Hensley’s organ could front a hard rockin’ metal song. Mick Box finally makes his presence known with the guitar at 2:19. For the percussion break at 3:32 in the song Heep brought in another now-forgotten band, Osibisa, which was known for its African and Caribbean rhythms.
And here is the longish, July Morning. It starts with a quiet keyboard interlude and slowly builds until the entire band joins in. The song alternates between soft verses focusing on tender keyboards, some acoustic guitar, and Byron’s vocals. Everything soars to a loud chorus which quietly returns to the verse and the whole process starts over again. At 6:44 the song becomes an extended keyboard solo. I was playing this one in the car and my wife looked at me during the keyboard flourishes and said, “What, were you on drugs when you used to listen to that?” Um, maybe?
In Tears in my Eyes (I could only find the live version), Mick Box finally gets to show off his chops. He is the main force behind this song. The tasteful acoustic guitar break in the middle of the song with Byron going “na na na na na” ad nauseum gives way to an extended aggressive solo.