If there’s one band, in particular, that every heavy metal band and every heavy metal fan owes a debt of thanks to, it’s Uriah Heap. Formed in late 1969 by vocalist David Byron, guitarist and backing vocalist Mick Box, keyboardist, guitarist, and vocalist Ken Hensley, bassist Paul Newton, and drummer Alex Napier, Uriah Heap where metal before metal was even a thing. They had power, darkness, speed, and aggression. Most of all, they had talent. Hensley weaponized the organ like no one had done before, and very few have managed to do since. Byron’s haunting operatic vocals, charisma, and flamboyant stage presence set the stage for Freddie Mercury. Together, they were phenomenal. The band is still around, still touring, and still enjoying success, albeit with only Mick Box remaining of the original members. But it was the original lineup that made the band pioneers, and the original lineup that we pay tribute to now as we count down the 10 best Uriah Heep songs of all time.
Getting things off to a flying start is “Rain,” a stripped-back number from “The Magician’s Birthday” that proves just how effective a voice and a piano can be. Whereas other bands might have been tempted to dial things up with a bunch of effects, Uriah Heep were confident enough to keep things simple, letting Byron’s vocals shine through in one of his best-ever performances. It might lack the aggression of some of their most well-known hits, but that doesn’t make it any the less powerful.
9. Return to Fantasy
The titular track from the 1975 album “Return to Fantasy” gave the band their highest charting success up until that time. Byron’s performance is outstanding, adding a layer of sensitivity and pathos that’s made all the more poignant when you consider he was already firmly in the grips of the alcohol addiction that would shortly end his career with the band, and just a decade later, his life.
8. Circle of Hands
In the early 70s, Hensley was invited to a séance by a couple of groupies. He didn’t speak to any dead spirits, but he did get paid a visit by the muse. Speaking about the inspiration for “Circle of Hands” years later, he explained: “While someone was moaning and groaning about summoning dead spirits, I was halfway to heaven and grabbed the title as soon as it came into my head, wrote the Hammond riff at soundcheck the next day and there you go.” The lyrics are masterful, matched only by Byron’s inspired vocal performance.
Uriah Heep’s fifth studio album “The Magician’s Birthday” didn’t leave a lot to be desired. .”Uriah Heep used to have an image, now they have personality,” Melody Maker wrote at the time. Much of that had to do with Byron’s charisma, but credit also has to go to Hensley’s superb songwriting. On “Sunrise,” both Byron and Hensley are on fine form – as, indeed, are the rest of the band, who manage to deliver one of the most nuanced hard rock/ prog performances ever committed to tape.
6. Lady In Black
Question – what do you get when you combine two chords and 279 words? Answer- Lady in Black. Hensley wrote the song after catching a glimpse of a beautiful woman outside his hotel window. The rest of the band found the song less inspiring than Hensley had clearly found the women. After Byron dismissed it as too folky, Hensley took the reins, delving his first performance as lead vocalist. It worked, giving the band their biggest ever hit in Europe and becoming one of their most enduringly popular songs of all time.
The very first track from Uriah Heep’s very first album is a thing of savage beauty. The subtly and refinement of the band’s later work is noticeably absent, but it’s raw, almost feral aggression delivers a might blow that still leaves us reeling to this day. If you’ve ever wondered how heavy metal got its start, this is your answer.
4. Bird of Prey
According to ultimateclassicrock.com, “Bird of Prey” ranks as one of the most dramatic songs in Uriah Heep’s entire canon, and early heavy metal as a whole. Listening to Byron warbling over Mick Box’s rampaging power chords and Hensley’s thunderous organ, it’s hard to disagree. Despite never being released as a single, it still ranks as one of the band’s most popular offerings.
3. July Morning
As Dallas Observer notes, “July Morning” displays the full variety of Uriah Heep’s emotional palate. Sometimes tender and uplifting, sometimes strutting and bombastic, it’s a ten-minute epic that takes you from heaven to hell and back again by way of a five-minute organ dirge that’ll leave you in no doubt to Hensley’s genius. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to listen to, but it’s still a thing of wonder.
2. Look at Yourself
The title track from Uriah Heap’s third album represented their first stab at commercial success. They didn’t get much of it at the time, but in retrospect, they should have. The band’s newly unified direction is obvious, with the sometimes alienating explorations of their earlier work replaced with a clearer, sharper, and altogether more approachable sound.
1. Easy Listening
Very few songs in rock, metal, or anything else can stand up to the power and aggression of “Easy Listening.” At the time of its release, it was the fastest and most furious thing on the radio. It probably still is. From the full-frontal assault of Hensley’s organ to the tornado of Kerslake’s drums, it doesn’t let up for a single second. Bringing it all together is Byron’s haunting falsetto. In two and a half minutes, Uriah Heep set the template for heavy metal. The first and last of their songs to crack the top 40 in the US was without doubt one of the greatest moments in their career, and in rock history.