Uriah Heep — «Look At Yourself» (review)

uh_lat_label_sqr_300Uriah Heep’s third studio album, “Look at Yourself”: a review by Igor Shveytser.

Uriah Heep – “Look At Yourself” (09/1971), Bronze Records ILPS9169 (UK) / Mercury Records SRM-1-614 (USA/Canada)

Having an intention to tell about this album, first of all I wanted to convey to the reader all the emotions experienced when I first heard it in my youth. It was a wild delight, and for me “Look at Yourself” without any exaggeration opened the door into the rich world of this British rock quintet. Let’s put aside all the epithets for there would be no end to them, and there is no desire to sound full of pathos while talking about the record. It is better to be brief, so the one who reads this review will have a huge space for reflection and imagination. Even more so in this case time is on our side. More than 40 years have passed since the release of the disc, I got acquainted with it about a quarter of a century ago, and as long as love and interest don’t weaken it proves the topic to be more than a worthy one. And even if the emotions moved to a different quality, from naive enthusiasm to mature and calm awareness of the greatness and beauty, this should help making a detailed analysis of perhaps the most important work in the history of Uriah Heep. So let’s get started.

Many classic Uriah Heep albums can easily be labeled “the best”. And it’s not a hyperbolized “ooh and aah” approach: the band with David Byron as the lead singer not only worked hard and had fun on the road, but they did even more serious work in studio. As a result, from 1970 to 1976 inclusive the Uriah Heep admirers could really feel blessed. It’s not just good music in each LP — it is the history and heritage. With regard to “Look At Yourself” this definition is true to the nth degree, and even non-fans of the band appreciate the album, particularly the title song and of course “July Morning”. Actually, these songs are considered to be “The Best Of The Best”, along with, say, Deep Purple’s “Child In Time”, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”, Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” or many other timeless masterpieces of the era. But what else, why this very album should be considered “the very-very” amongst other Heep releases?

«Look at Yourself» was the first Uriah Heep’s album which came out in the same form (except for the nuances of the cover art) worldwide, while its two predecessors had entirely different album covers, song order and even different songs on both sides of the Atlantic. The music of “Look at Yourself” is based mostly on the ideas of one man by the name of Hensley. With “Look at Yourself” Uriah Heep entered the brightest and most vivid phase of their career. And it was a resolute step indeed. Full speed ahead, almost all ambiguities of the hippie era and progressive rock were left in the past. The band got fed up with following the course of early ’70s rock mainstream. Instead, they came up with nothing better than just single out – as on the level of groundwork so of the material recorded by the group during the previous year – something, which was completely their own, and became trendsetters. It is certainly unlikely that ambitious David, Mike, Ian, Paul and, of course, the main composer/songwriter Ken, thought in such a pompous way in the spring of 1971. We, however, should not be afraid of high-flown words, because judging by the outcome they seem to be well-deserved.

With all this going on, there is nothing extremely original about the album in contrast to the previous LP, “Salisbury”, which included, for example, «The Park» and «Lady in Black». But there is something else — the feeling of work that is holistic and extremely dynamic. There are masterpieces on “Look at Yourself”, and the work is impetuous in the good sense. There is something very inspiring. Inspiration not only visited the musicians, but it came rapidamente, and its impact appeared to be extremely powerful. So, my review is about all that — about the inspiration and power in a Heep way.

It is not known for certain whether David Byron liked to talk about “The LP with the mirror” in his interviews but other band members did it many times. For example, Mr. Hensley revealed that he came up with the idea of “July morning” while playing an acoustic guitar sitting in a tour bus. Mick Box often mentions the cover art concept, claiming that mirror to be his idea. According to the band’s manager and producer of the most of UH’s classic records, Gerry Bron, Ken Hensley really hated the idea of inviting a guest musician… no, not black percussionists from “Osibisa”, but Manfred Mann who played “that very” solo on “that very” song.

But does this trivia provide enough information for understanding the music itself? In my opinion, it does not. The original idea (or sketches) of «July Morning» was different from what the band eventually recorded. As for the mirror, many fans just would not see it because on many versions of the album, particularly on the recent CD re-issues, it simply was not present. And Manfred Mann’s role – despite all our love and admiration for his talent – is still quite a minor one to talk about it as a significant contribution, even though he played the solo for a remarkable song.

The magic of the album, its unique atmosphere, its inspiration, its impulse are the key points – and one should insist here on the term “collective achievement”, not focusing too much on who wrote what. The album was created according to a unique rock formula, and fortunately Uriah Heep would not carry it to the point of absurdity in their future works.

What makes this formula? Let’s see. “Look at Yourself” is the most heavy-sounding album ever recorded by the classic Uriah Heep. The opening and closing songs are hits, and the central composition is an epic. These two features of the album make it in a way similar to ”the classic of classics” — “Deep Purple In Rock”. Maybe Gerry Bron and the band wanted to repeat someone else’s success, but the resulting record was somewhat different, and let me add — fortunately. Heep’s heaviest LP differs from the Purple’s rock icon a lot; it has more lyricism to the compositions as well as the elements of heavy psychedelia. No doubt that Richie Blackmore and his friends could do that, too. But apparently Byron and Hensley were second to none in this area whereas Deep Purple did not put a stake on these elements. “Look at Yourself” was relatively successful commercially, peaking at No. 93 in Billboard’s charts in the US and at No. 39 in Britain. The album gained “silver” status on both sides of the Atlantic and sold 350 000 worldwide during six months since its release.

Now let us analyze the components of this creative work, which occupies a special place in the discography of Uriah Heep.

Look At Yourself (Hensley) – 5.07

This was an exceptionally successful start for the album; this fast, catchy song is written in the key of A minor. The European version of the previous album, “Salisbury”, started in the same way; however there is a special charm here. In a sense, «Look at Yourself» is a horseman’s song, it has a lot in common with the rhythms of the Caucasus, and the Hammond organ part, the sound of it, adds this “highland” flavor. However, it’s still rock music, a classic of the genre. Uriah Heep still play this song on stage, after more than forty years since its release. No wonder. The song is not only just good in general, but also packed with various kinds of musical spices. Nervous, almost hysterical vocals, the very voice of the singer says much more than simple lyrics written by him. Make no mistake: it is Ken Hensley singing the song, although this fact is not obvious to some fans. (If you have any doubts, listen to «Uriah Heep Live», and you will understand the difference between David’s mannered vocals and Ken’s passionate, straightforward voice.)

The nuances of the arrangement also include drums vaguely reminiscent of a military march — Ian Clark’s playing really gives zest to the chorus. In general, “Look At Yourself” is an older sister of “Easy Livin’” (“Demons & Wizards”, 1972), but it is expanded by the solid, well-thought guitar solo played by Mick Box, as well as by the final percussion part by “Osibisa”. To some extent, the song gives an answer to the question why Uriah Heep eventually parted with Paul Newton. Paul, unlike his successor Gary Thain, does not play a melodic part and generally sounds a bit trapped. Maybe it’s a sound engineer’s fault? I don’t think so, the record does not lack bass at all. Paul Newton just played in a restrained manner. Perhaps he did it exactly the way his bandmates and Gerry Bron wanted him to play. Anyway, his bass guitar sometimes sounds a bit monotonously and unshowy.

I Wanna Be Free (Hensley) – 3:59

Going on with the topic of Paul Newton who left shortly after the release of «Look at Yourself», I must note that he plays a bit more “alive” in the end of this track, as well as on «July Morning». Still you cannot get rid of the feeling that someone limited the musician in regard to the traditional jazzy, “walking” bass guitar style. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, talking about the music the band would be recording during the following years.

«I Wanna Be Free» is a duo of singers, and if you listen to the beginning, you can hear Ken and David contributing to the vocal track almost equally. Curiously, the song, like the previous one, is written in the key of A, but this time it is major, not minor. Sonically «I Wanna Be Free» is more vivid, and it charges the listener by the boundless optimism and joy through both the lyrics and the double guitar solo. Actually, the solo brings us to typical Ken’s harmony, proving his growing dominance in Heep’s music — it is not only the formal authorship but also in terms of ideas. Here we get a bizarre mosaic: an organ part from the 60’s, a guitar part from the 70’s… and the guitar sounds more heavy than any average band, thanks to Mick Box who offered similar rhythms and sounds in “Gypsy” a year earlier.

July Morning (Hensley/Byron) – 10:38

Sorcery and nothing else – that’s what “July Morning” is! The composition serves as a striking proof that every brilliant piece of work is simple.

The opening arpeggio in F, then one more arpeggio, this time in C – and all that Hammondy brilliance decorated with Heep’s trademark solo by Mick Box and a melodic bass guitar passage by Paul Newton results in the C-minor chord. From this very point David Byron starts telling his lyrical story of where he was and what has he was doing one fine July morning: “There I was on a July morning, I was looking for love…”

For quite some time now amongst the Heep musicians and fans it became almost a good form arguing over who had written what in this song, who came first with an idea etc. However, putting aside the unnecessary (later it will be explained why) sorting out, let’s just talk over the composition. So, what do we love this song for? The key itself is no way a reason for “blaming” a song of being a brilliant one. The way the composition develops is no doubt a very beautiful one – and yet this detail alone also hardly works. Moreover, the very poem isn’t the crown of creation either. Everyone knows Gerry Bron as Mr. Hensley’s main apologist, his “daddy” and protector (in matters of promoting Ken’s material and neglecting the songs of the others in the band), but he was driving the musicians and to all appearances primarily his “protégé” mad by saying “Your song has no lyrics”, hinting at the rhyme’s banality and simplicity. Still, hardly there’ll be volunteers to argue that here the words have special, almost magic meaning due to HOW they were pronounced. I’ll take a risk of stating that this very song is a calling card… no, not of the Uriah Heep (despite the greatness, it doesn’t reflect all what the band was about) but of David Byron, the singer. For no one ever sang like that, and from the very first second you hear those very lines, the charms of great music enshroud you finally and irrevocably. From aspiration to a strident scream, as if it was a bird of prey, – that’s what Byron is like in this composition. Yes, Ken’s organ is very nice, too, just brilliant is Mick with his piercing but very melodic leading part, more than appropriate seems to be the guest appearance of Manfred Mann (moog solo in the end of the track), and besides Paul Newton plays his bass both melodically and rhythmically. Harmony, melodies, epic form of the song, individualities, rich sound gamut… Perhaps, it is hard to pay a special attention to the performance of Ian Clarke here for his part doesn’t sound outstanding (still he had played with a certain taste) – but how many ingredients it takes to make a masterpiece! After that, how do all those attempts to disassemble the composition look like? They are unproductive, to say the least. As a single part nothing strikes here, but the sum of individualities and their input – surely does. The manager mentioned above subsequently would advise musicians of the next generations never to get rid of unfinished ideas just because out of such sketches Uriah Heep once came up with the epic masterpiece. And it is wise – but for a masterpiece, apart from following Gerry’s formula, you need a sum of individualities equigraphic to that of Heep. And, of course, to be lucky enough and get together in the right place at the right time.

Tears In My Eyes (Hensley) – 5:02

On with the talk of time and masterpieces! Both critics and ordinary listeners very much like distinguishing “July Morning”, noting its superiority in artistic merits over the rest of the “Look at Yourself” material. However it will be more appropriate to say the following: it has more dramatics and scale than the others apart from, perhaps, “Shadows of Grief”. Those songs that go after the principal Heep anthem are no less beautiful and they reproduce the spirit of the time and the creative nature of the group splendidly. In particular, “Tears in My Eyes” – a wonderful shuffle (in B major), a musical form so much popular with Ken& his bandmates. The number has certain common features with “Real Turned On” recorded during the first recording sessions of the quintet. Yet, in this case the band has made a step forward: the song consists of several parts plus the pulsation shows the band’s intention to move a bit from standard heavy blues-rock. Apart from it, the song reveals the great master of a guitar solo – Ken Hensley! Unlike the later live interpretations, the album version of “Tears…” is deprived of Mick Box’ licks – here Ken with his short moog part and seemingly endless slide guitar passages has complete domination. The composition’s mood is not entirely consonant with its name, it is sunny and full of joy, although not without a touch of nervousness due to the “Spanish” alteration of the chords – first for lowering and then for raising the pitch in the chorus. The brilliance is achieved also thanks to transparently harpsichord-like sound of acoustic guitar in the middle section, which goes together with Heep’s trade-mark “la-la-la-la” and psychedelic (in this case) wah-wah effect of Mick. The combination of electric (distorted) and acoustic guitars playing the rhythm parts simultaneously in that same section also appears to be fresh and full of energy.

In short, the number was a success – and a major one. Uriah Heep would play it live for a few more years although not in an original form because studio allowed the quintet to become a sextet when the keyboard master is also a guitarist – and what a guitarist!

Shadows Of Grief (Hensley/Byron) — 8:40

The following track carries the listener one tone lower (it’s A here) and into minor, brings Ken Hensley back behind the organ while the sorrowful name – Shadows of Grief – this time reflects the dramatic qualities more albeit not to the full extent… because what we have here is an emotional outburst!

However, technically speaking, the song despite its diverse structure and an improvisational digression in the middle, is quite unpretentious. The main riff, passionately being sung over by David, is nothing more but an interchange of G and Am chords with further descent by the semitones down to E.

This move proved to be more than a strong one – and the players enjoyed playing up with Ken’s idea for more than 8 minutes, applying all the typical Heep components which have already been found by then. Those are the interval singing, falsetto with vibrato, heavy pounding sound of drums and rhythm guitar, way less sculptured, but also a very stylish sound of Mick’s wah-effect, and the organ – roaring, murmuring and whistling at the same time.

All of the above gathered together gave birth to a unique atmosphere of a heavy psychedelic rock masterpiece which could be played this way only by one band – and its name was Uriah Heep.

In a sense the backing chords with a typical “croaking” solo by Mick in the middle of the song might be seen as a predecessor to “Blind Eye” off the second 1972 Heep’s album. This very sequence of chords, which I would call “Spanish”, – A-minor, G, F and E – would be chosen by Ken Hensley a year after for the acoustic guitars’ intro to the “Eye”.

What Should Be Done (Hensley) — 4:13

Presenting themselves as true masters and rulers of listener’s mood, the musicians carry us into a state of meditative melancholy, and Ken Hensley seemingly for the first time in his career starts thinking over the human vices. However the magic of this lyrical composition in C major is not so much about the poem as about the charming half-whisper of David’s, roulading sounds of the piano and soft, caressing wah-wah solo by Mick which passes throughout the entire short but extremely sweet composition. Its author, who, in accordance with the tradition, had written the comments to the tracks as well, claims this song was born during the break in a sound recording session, and from the conception of the idea to recording of its final version had passed only three hours. Well, bravo! Some spend years in poring over writing any decent ballade. Here we have a striking example of the opposite: the entire album has been made in the course of July 1971 and most likely not only this song was born then.

Love Machine (Box/Byron/Hensley) – 3:37

During the process of a multiple re-listening of the album time and again I caught the thought/question: where did the band get those tons of aesthetical taste from, how on earth had they managed – if it is possible to use such an expression here – to bind songs such different in an extremely delicate manner? “Love Machine” is a typical rocker with a meaning well-known, with an intrinsical force and dynamism. And still, one should just hark closely to a soft, delicate manner in which Ken Hensley brings the band to the striking, percussive C-major phase of the composition. Here we again deal with a shuffle which getting more and more popular with the Heep. However here it is not that straightforward, there are places where the band intentionally gets out of time. And again we hear the transformer musical ensemble , and again a five-piece turns into a six-piece: the first “filling” slide guitar solos are played by Ken, than Mick comes to the fore, and as a result, their ding-dong guitar passages are “intercepted” by an also short but rather impressive Hensley’s organ solo. The guitar dialog doesn’t last very long and the final is kind of hooked by the entire band with a semi-phrase as if they haven’t finished, leaving the song with a non-obvious G sharp, like they had an intention to leave the listener in a pole position. A truly showy final of the showy album.

A remarkable detail indeed: while writing this story about an epochal Uriah Heep’s creation I happened to listen to all the tunes numerous times in order to clarify certain musical nuances. Doubts and fears, that after such an intense “brain upload” the music of “Look At Yourself” will appear tiresome and cause a continuous idiosyncrasy, turned out to be wrong. The album is still being perceived as a fresh one and full of energy. Of course, you can blame it all on the reviewer’s fanatical obsession with Heep’s music, but there’s one thing you hardly can deny: banal “sticky” songs which are sometimes described in the West as “catchy” sooner or later make even the fan’s ears tired, whereas the ones marked with genuine inspiration… they just carry on, never making a nuisance of themselves. They are kind of above the conjuncture of today, however might go very well with us, as was the case with the album in question. And we won’t speak of eternity – let’s just say that “Look at Yourself” is still alive and kickin’ and hardly will ever lose its relevance for the interested in hard rock’s classics.

P.S. With its 41 minutes of playing the album «Look At Yourself» appeared to be the longest of all the albums recorded by Uriah Heep with David Byron as the vocalist. And as a producer Gerry Bron basically did not want to go beyond that time frame, fearing lower sound quality albums due to seal tracks, some of the sessions in 1971 remained outside of the vinyl disc. Published later, in the 1990s and 2000s, on various compilations and remastered versions (CDDA format) this “something” for many fans of the band is no less valuable than the seven compositions described above. Of course, thinking of them as of a part of «Look At Yourself», which was the theme of my story – a dynamic, impulsive, yet elaborate in terms of layout – is difficult, if not impossible. At the same time, artistic merits of bonus songs are undeniable. They say, a ballad in the key of D major «What’s Within My Heart» was recorded on the same day as «What Should Be Done», and the musicians were not aware of the fact that bobbins were rotating when the red button of a studio recorder was activated. However, this version is not a very convincing one since Ken threw in the phrase “Red light’s on” before the composition started. That was a clear signal: the song is being recorded. The ballad is fascinatingly beautiful – but it is easier to imagine it being part of Led Zeppelin repertoire of the same year while Heep apparently feared losing stiffness of the sound and dynamics achieved with such difficulty. Pretty much the same could be said about Gerry Bron’s unloved meditative and progressive number in C minor called «Why». Hear how skillfully Mick Box uses the volume control on the guitar and tell: what’s the crucial difference between his playing with “cello” sound in this case with the same actions of Ritchie Blackmore in the «Fools» from the «Fireball» album? However, this is a rhetorical question, time has proven that almost every musician of the 70-s which ever had played in Uriah Heep could be considered one of the founding and leading figures of the entire genre in no less degree than any rock star mentioned more frequently in the then press or in music talk. And the songs themselves, even among the non-album ones – they are undisputed classics of the genre, which we can still enjoy after many, many years as if we had heard them yesterday.

© Igor Shveytser, 2014

Author: Igor Shveytser

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