On March 31, BMG/Sanctuary Records began a reissue campaign for Look at Yourself, Demons and Wizards, and The Magician’s Birthday, which are the third, fourth, and fifth albums, respectively, from one of the pioneers of hard rock and heavy metal, Uriah Heep. While fellow British brethren Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple got the global glory and long-lasting fame they deserved for their innovations in the heavy rock realm, the Heep, even with 40 million records sold worldwide to date, never got as much name recognition but still earned the admiration of musicians all around the world.
“Lady in Black,” “The Wizard,” “Easy Livin’,” “July Morning,” and “Gypsy” are some of the most popular Heep songs in their catalog. And though 1970 debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble is seen as an early heavy metal classic, their most widely praised LPs among both fans and critics are Look at Yourself and D&W, the latter of which contains fantasy-based themes that future bands such as Iron Maiden would later champion in their own admired works. Reviewed here is the new two-disc digipack reissue of Look at Yourself, which (still) comes with a pretty cool foil “mirror” on the front cover that displays a blurred/distorted image of the person seeing it, as well as a bonus CD with 11 tracks of previously unreleased material.
UH had big expectations of itself for their third release. In those days, record companies and management pressed bands hard to keep momentum going and cash coming to the point where they had to release a new record every year – sometimes more than one, as was the case with Heep and their L.A.Y. record, which was their second of 1971, following up the February release of sophomore effort, Salisbury.
The band says in new liner notes by rock writer Joel McIver that it had a lot of creative energy to use for this, their third LP in less than 18 months. Lucky for fans and their own sake, it worked out well for everyone.
Besides Deep Purple, Uriah Heep was one of the first to fuse heavy metal with progressive rock. And yes, they had a distinct Deep Purple influence too. You can hear it on the song “Look at Yourself” for one of the clearest examples. Even singer David Byron’s histrionic falsetto wails rival Ian Gillan’s (though no one can ever seriously top the latter’s dramatic vocal power on anthems like Purple’s “Child in Time” except for perhaps Rob Halford).
For much of the rest of Look at Yourself, you hear a group branching out but still holding onto the hard-edged sound they’d become known for, led by powerhouse organist/guitarist/vocalist Ken Hensley and lead guitarist Mick Box. “Shadows of Grief” is psychedelic pseudo metal and “What Should Be Done” has bluesy piano chords in the style of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright.”
Tears in My Eyes” is kicked into high gear by southern rock-styled slide guitar courtesy of Hensley (who also sings strong lead vocals on the title track). Hensley’s slide work, which brilliantly complements Box’s metal riffage, was pretty innovative for its time. It’s now 2017, and it still sounds like a kick-ass Allman Brothers tune.
The centerpiece of the album is, of course, “July Morning,” which features some wacky then-new Moog sounds of Manfred Mann. After initially saying Mann added “really nice” colors to it in his original 1971 liner notes, Hensley has changed his mind and surprisingly gone negative about his contribution to this iconic masterpiece, now saying that Mann’s Moog lines were just a non-important “noodling exercise” that went “against my better judgment” and that fans don’t miss it when Heep plays the tune live. Ouch. Whether it’s just his own ego talking or genuine resentment of Mann not allowing anyone to even touch his Minimoog is up for debate. In any case, don’t let this ruin your enjoyment of this pinnacle moment of early prog rock – the slightly longer “alternative mix” (featuring a “new” piano overdub) and a live late 1971 version also highlight the bonus disc.
Not everything is gold material, however. Outtake “What’s Within My Heart,” a delicate (acoustic) departure from the norm it may be, just didn’t fit on the record perhaps for that very reason, and possibly due to Byron’s singing of the song’s title being a bit too repetitive. And the “alternative mix” of “Why Fourteen Minutes” (which is actually 14 minutes in length, hence the inside joke of the title), is not as strong in this early version as it is on the bonus disc of the aforementioned newly remastered Demons & Wizards (1972), where the song is boosted by the insanely furious fretwork of then-new bassist Gary Thain. (This song, originally titled just “Why,” first appeared in a much short form as the b-side to D&W leadoff track/single, “The Wizard.”) All that being said, it is still good to finally hear the fullest version yet of this non-album cut.
The alternate “Single” version of “Look at Yourself” is about two whole minutes shorter than the original five-minute album staple. You’d think too much was cut just by looking at that number. But when listening to it, my ears hear a more naturally trimmed version, where the first verse vocals appear right after a short intro and Box’s guitar solo is a bit shorter, as is the build-up towards the end. The latter is the only part of this shorter version you may actually notably miss – gone is the cool guest percussion playing by members of Osibisa.
Box (the lone founding member still with the Heep) says in the liner notes: “Look at Yourself was the platform for Demons and Wizards to happen, and I’m proud of it. After that point, our lyrical content went towards swords and sorcery, which captured people’s imaginations. We inspired a lot of other bands to follow in our wake, as well as encouraging musicians to pick up instruments.”
It’s pretty tough to add to that except to say that with just seven songs totaling 40 minutes, Uriah Heep created a monster of a record in Look at Yourself that has lost none of its meaty charm over time. The “alternate look” at the album that comprises the bonus disc does no harm to its legacy, even if I’m not so sure the entirety of it is of the “unreleased” variety (the “Single” version of the title track was already available on the 2003 deluxe edition). And as far as remastering goes, Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham didn’t need to do much for the original album but did a commendable job modernizing the sound of these 18 tracks overall, with the sole exception of the bootleg quality of the live rendition of “July Morning,” which gets a free pass because of its rarity.
Those who have the 2003 deluxe version can debate with themselves whether the mostly new tracks/versions on the bonus disc and the new band commentary/liner notes are worth buying this upgrade. But don’t pass on this essential Uriah Heep album if (much like myself) you ever missed out on it.
Look at Yourself is out now on Amazon.com.