Formed in 1969 Uriah Heep rode the wave of Hard/Progressive Rock that swept over the music world in the beginning of the Seventies, changing the face of popular music for ever. Uriah Heep never managed to make the final leap to the premier league of rock music during this era, unlike their peers Deep Purple; Black Sabbath; Led Zeppelin; the Rolling Stones; Genesis; Pink Floyd; etc., but every year they would make the play off’s in Division One. No matter how much the lineup changed, they always kept a large, ever loyal, following.
With their harmony vocals, swirling Hammond organ, and wah-wah guitar, they soon became known as the Beach Boys of hard rock. When this English Quintet’s debut album was released, one journalist with a name American Magazine started the review with the condemning words “If this band makes it, I’ll have to commit suicide”. Well, I do not know what happened to the journalist, probably condemned to writing bylines for the Jersey Knitting monthly on dog shows, but over thirty years later Mick Box is still leading Uriah Heep to sold-out concert halls around the world; although it must be admitted to diminishing record sales.
Over the years Uriah Heep’s lineup has changed dramatically. Five lead singers for a kick off, and the loss of founding member, keyboard, and slide guitar player Ken Hensley in 1980, who also co-wrote six of the eight songs on display here, was nearly a mortal blow. However, there was always the most cheerful man in rock, and lead guitarist extraordinaire, Mick Box to pick up the pieces and start again with a new assemble.
Uriah Heep’s first real taste of stardom was between 1972 and 1975, when the new rhythm section of Gary (The Thin Man) Thain and Hard Hittin’ Drummer Lee Kerslake (ex-Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, ex-Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz, before re-joining Uriah Heep, who he still plays with to this day) joined the existing nucleus of vocalist David Byron (probably has the largest range of vocal chords in rock), and one of its leading frontmen Ken Hensley, and the man still looking like he stepped right off the set of an American professional wrestling set, Mick Box, the man who put the whomp in wah-wah solos. For the three years before this lineup imploded into a back biting paradox of egos, they released four classy studio albums.
‘Demons and Wizards’ (1972)
‘The Magicians Birthday’ (only six months later, also in 1972)
‘Sweet Freedom’ (this album, 1973) and
‘Wonderworld’ (1974 – with the worst cover ever released in the history of rock)
This line-up also recorded and released their seminal double live album ‘Uriah Heep Live’ (1973). So, if nothing else they were extremely productive.
Although ‘Sweet Freedom’ is not really a classic Uriah Heep album, it certainly contains some classic songs such as Ken Hensley’s rocker “Stealin’”, which is a must play in the Uriah Heep live set to this day, some thirty years later. With its opening driving bass rhythms and subdued organ entrance you are immediately seduced by its hypnotic beat. Then the gas is turned on and the whole band come rockin’ in. David Byron’s vocals are amongst the best he ever laid down, and although all the singers, who have taken up the Heep’s microphone since, have had a go at bending their tonsils around “Stealin’”, none of them has ever managed to capture the devil may care delivery of Heep’s original singer. Although this is credited as a Ken Hensley song, you feel that David Byron should of been given a credit for his ad-libbed vocals at the end. Add to that the rock solid drumming of Lee Kerslake, and a devastating guitar solo from Mr. Box, you have an all time rock ‘n’ roll classic.
Sadly, the rest of the album does not necessarily live up to the standards set by the second song. The title track and closing epic ‘Pilgrim’ (clocking in at over seven minutes) are still included in the present day’s Uriah Heep lineup repertoire, and would make any Greatest Hits Collection. `Seven Stars’ is a fine Heep rocker that takes a great twist at the end as David Byron chants the alphabet backwards and forwards at his audience. So all in all perhaps not an essential Uriah Heep album, but certainly not one that disappoints.
Although Uriah Heep are still going today, enjoying a new burst of commercial success, sadly David Byron and Gary Thain are no longer with us. However, they left behind a fine legacy in their music.
Scrawled by Mott The Dog
Given a Dickensian touch by Ella Crew