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Uriah Heep - Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble Album Of The Week Club review

Uriah Heep's debut album was hated by Rolling Stone but paved the way for a a career that's still going half a century later

Uriah Heep - ...Very 'Eavy...Very 'Umble
(Image: © Uriah Heep)
Uriah Heep: ...Very 'Eavy...Very 'Umble

(Image credit: Uriah Heep)

Gypsy
Walking in Your Shadow
Come Away, Melinda
Bird of Prey
Dreammare
Real Turned On
I'll Keep on Trying
Wake Up (Set Your Sights)

Introduced by Gypsy, a testosterone-fuelled anthem that pooled in-your-face keys, a chest- beating lead voice, multi-part harmonies and a piledriving riff from guitarist Mick Box, this disc laid the groundwork for a career that has defied the odds to endure for over four decades. 

Having famously inspired a Rolling Stone reviewer to promise that she would “commit suicide if this group makes it”, Uriah Heep’s aptly-titled debut album peppered its overall bluster with moments of solemnity, a cover of the Tim Rose-popularised Come Away Melinda revealing a window to a more introspective side.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in June 1970

  • Deep Purple in Rock - Deep Purple
  • Barclay James Harvest - Barclay James Harvest
  • Home - Procol Harum
  • Third - Soft Machine
  • Self Portrait - Bob Dylan
  • Workingman's Dead - Grateful Dead
  • Closer to Home - Grand Funk Railroad
  • Fire and Water - Free
  • Alone Together - Dave Mason
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 - Blood, Sweat & Tears
  • Ecology - Rare Earth
  • Electronic Meditation - Tangerine Dream
  • Gasoline Alley - Rod Stewart
  • Hark! The Village Wait - Steeleye Span
  • Parachute - Pretty Things
  • Runt - Todd Rundgren
  • Vehicle - Ides of March

What they said...

"Don’t start with this record on Uriah Heep. This is light years away from the Hard Rock that made them famous later. It is however what it is: A debut, a start without much direction yet. Indeed with many very good, but also many not so good elements in there. But with great things to come: An amazingly capable band of musicians in search for the right path to fame. (RockMusicRadar)

"If this group makes it I’ll have to commit suicide. From the first note you know you don’t want to hear any more. Uriah is watered down, tenth-rate Jethro Tull, only even more boring and inane. UH is composed of five members: vocals, organ, guitar, bass, and drums. They fail to create a distinctive sound tonally; the other factor in their uninteresting style is that everything they play is based on repetitive chord riffs." (Rolling Stone)

"Very 'Eavy... Very 'Umble is a likable album that shows the promise that Uriah Heep would soon realise. Those unfamiliar with Uriah Heep may want to try out Demons and Wizards or a compilation first, but anyone with a serious interest in Uriah Heep or the roots of heavy metal will find plenty to like on Very 'Eavy... Very 'Umble. (AllMusic)

What you said...

Joe Cogan: A fantastic debut ranging from roaring proto-metal (Gypsy) to psychedelic (Dreammare) to jazz-influenced prog (Wake Up (Set Your Sights)), plus a lovely and haunting ballad (Come Away Melinda). While acoustic instruments play a role (see the aforementioned ballad), the album is primarily driven by Ken Hensley’s distorted Hammond organ, Paul Newton's virtuoso bass playing, and Mick Box’s fuzz guitar, which provide the perfect backing for singer David Byron’s chest-pounding vocals and operatic screams. 

They would get even better over subsequent albums, but this is a solid 8.5/10 in my book for the original UK release. The US release, with a much-inferior cover, alas, is actually improved musically, with the thunderous and operatic Bird Of Prey taking the place of the generic throwaway Lucy Blues, and gets a 9/10.

Jochen Scholl: It's 1970 in swinging London. A few bands try to transform the blues in to a harder sound and combine it with the new possibilities offered by organs, among them Uriah Heep. They're one of my favourite groups and Gypsy is their trademark by far, but I can't say that the album reaches the quality of the following albums. The sound and style are still partly '60s', and the songwriting hasn't reached the Heep (Hensley-dominated) standard. But it's still a pioneering work for Heep's unique and influential 70s style, and Gypsy is an all-time heavy rock classic.

Adam Ranger: They were to release better over the years, perhaps more consistent albums, but as a debut, this has all the signs of what they were to be. Strong and heavy, melodic, soaring melodic vocals. Perhaps this album jumps styles too much for some, but it deserves an 8/10 . Certainly a band that despite their longevity deserved much more respect and renown .

Mauricio Telles: I'll be in the opposite of most opinions here, and will explain why:

Heep have consistently made weaker albums when compared with other contemporary bands. This one is no exception. What do we have in 1970 ?

Sab's Paranoid
Led Zep III
Purple's In Rock
Floyd's Atom Heart Mother
Tull's Benefit

Someone can argue it's their first album against established bands.

What about ELP, ZZ Top and Wishbone Ash's first albums ? The list gets bigger if we research a little more.

The same pattern occurs even with their best efforts, like Demons And Wizards and Sweet Freedom.

To me, Heep is a weaker, second-level band anytime you compare them with other rock releases of the same year. But it's not terrible. On this album, I like Gypsy. As for the other songs? Sorry: all forgettable.

Score 4/10. And no hard feelings please, it's just my opinion.

Mike Knoop: This is as much a review as a shout out to my adopted hometown of San Antonio. I have always been a fan of hard rock and heavy metal, but this city took it to the next level. The now gone classic rock station, KZEP (how about those call letters?) routinely played stuff from the 70s and 80s that I’d never heard of, including Uriah Heep’s Stealin’. What an amazing song! It made me wonder other Heep classics were out there waiting to be heard, so I was particularly excited about this album of the week.

I’ve heard that the band was regularly compared to Deep Purple, but Mick Box pointed out the big difference was Purple had one singer, the Heep had five. The choral vocals are a big part of the attraction for me and make an excellent counterpoint to the thudding, thundering music. Dreammare, I’ll Keep on Trying and Gypsy are all prime examples of this style. Add David Byron’s wailing, soaring vocals, Ken Hensley’s organ, and Mick Box’s guitar and in you’re in a sweet spot between high musicality and windows down head banging.

Bands like Uriah Heep (or previous club picks like Nazareth, Girlschool, Alex Harvey, Golden Earring, Artur Brown, Jeff Beck, Whitesnake - the list goes on) prove to me that I may have not have heard a lot of my favourite music yet, but, when I do, it’s likely to be from some obscure and unheralded album from 1967-1987.

Marco LG: There was a time in my life when I would not listen to anything published before 1979. It was the end of the 80s, I was a young lad listening almost exclusively to Heavy Metal, and in my mind heavy metal began in 1979 with the NWOBHM. Of course the clue was in the N of the acronym, which stands for NEW. And so at some point, I started questioning what the ‘old wave of heavy metal’ looked like…

I started with Black Sabbath of course, but in all honesty it took me years to warm up to their sound, despite loving the solo albums by Ozzy. Then Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin gave me some more clues, and opened up my mind a little. But it wasn’t until I listened to Uriah Heep that I started to ‘get’ the hard rock and heavy metal of the 70s. Their music inspired countless bands on both sides of the Atlantic playing heavy metal and hard rock, they were as influential as the other three if not more, and yet their name is rarely pronounced in the same sentence as the others. That’s a real shame.

Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble is their debut and it is fair to say it is not their best. Yet among its tracks there are a few true classics: Gypsy, Dreamware and I’ll Keep on Trying. The personalities of David Byron and Ken Hensley are centre stage throughout the album, while the guitar of Mick Box shows moments of brilliance but is not quite as developed as in subsequent efforts. As much as I love the organ of Ken Hensley however, to me the real star is David Byron. His vocals are the real strength of the album, they range across the whole spectrum of pitch and timbre and provide all manners of expression. His histrionic presence and immense talent were a signature feature of the band until his departure in 1976 and served him incredibly well in his solo career. He was a great singer and showman, taken away too soon by alcohol abuse. May his soul rest in peace.

In conclusion, my take on Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble is a rather positive one. A few classics and a majestic performance by David Byron justify a solid score. Uriah Heep released quite a few better albums over the years, including the latest Living the Dream, but this is where it all began, and it’s a great place to start if you still don’t know the band.

John Davidson: By the time I started listening to heavy rock, Uriah Heep had fallen victim to the start of punk. They were the antithesis of what 1978 saw as proper rock'n'roll – slightly overblown, pompous and melodramatic – and didn't have the garb of greatness (Zep) or cool (Sabbath) to help them thrive. That said they've outlasted the lot of them so that just proves 15-year-olds know feck all about anything.

I'd heard bits of Demons And Wizards, Firefly etc but I didn't explore the back catalog with too much vigour - having been put off by the lighter 'pomp rock' stylings of Innocent Victim and Fallen Angel.

Very Eavy is more chunky and even than I expected. The operatic melodrama is still there, but the guitars and hammond organ have a bit more 'attack' and the Gypsy (among others) still rocks pretty hard. Newton and Napier do a decent job of keeping the rhythms interesting and Box is a better guitarist than history credits him for. Hensley's keyboards are pretty central to the sound and place it in the late 1960s/early 70s but it's only Byron's vocal stylings that really haven't aged so well.

7/10

Jonathan Novajosky: This was my first time going through an entire Uriah Heep album. I enjoyed it mostly. The organ solo on Gypsy was wild and gave off Deep Purple vibes. Dreammare and Bird Of Prey were probably my two favourites, with their strong riffs and high pitched vocals, respectively. At the very least, this got me interested in checking out their other albums, since I've always heard good things about the band. For now, Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble definitely deserves a solid 7/10 from me.

Chris Downie: To those of us not yet born during this band's heyday, it is a double-edged sword; on one hand, we never had the pleasure of seeing the late David Byron on stage, but conversely it is perhaps easier to view the band's back catalogue and subsequent legacy from a retrospective angle.

From my perspective, it has always been baffling how the Deep Purple comparisons, while legitimate enough, were often used as a stick from which to beat them and ultimately downplay their role in heavy metal's formative years. In truth, Uriah Heep had their own sound and deserve their place as pioneers in the genre's prototype phase.

While they certainly went on to bigger (and arguably better) things, not least on the mini-epic Demons And Wizards, their debut contains some of their finest material, not only in the classics Gypsy and Dreammare but the catchy, solid number Walking In Your Shadow and the timeless Come Away Melinda, all of which combined to showcase a depth and diversity in songwriting that would underpin what has since become an incredible half-century long career.

A true cult classic from a hugely important, but unfortunately underrated band.

Roland Bearne: I played catch up with Heep, rock and metal swept me up in the early '80s and it was a few years before I drew breath and started to look back (exceptions being Rush, Zeppelin, Sabs and Purple). Heep were front and centre of the "old" bands I had the pleasure of unearthing. There's something about the way they "do" rock which just melds with the music receptors in my brain and, whilst early stuff, this album is no exception, even the long noodly wanders off piste carry me along with a sense of narrative, their playing and sounds. Hensley's keys and Box's guitar sound amazing. I could do without the token blues jam of Lucy Blues but other than that a great CRAOTW!

Gary Claydon: When I was young I had a school mate who had a brother who was a couple of years older than us. He (the brother) was well into heavy rock. When he wasn't threatening to beat us up he was pretty good company, keen to talk about music and happy to let us listen to his record collection. One of the bands he introduced me to was Uriah Heep.

I was 12 or 13 when I first heard Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble. At first I must admit I thought 'What the Dickens?' but, having approached the album with Great Expectations, did I have any Hard Times listening to it? Did it turn out to be a Bleak House? Well, no and no. For a start, it opens in excellent fashion with Gypsy, still one of my fave Heep songs. That the rest of the album doesn't match it just confirms how good the opening track is.

This is certainly not Heep's best album but, in fitting Oliver Twist fashion, it certainly left the young me wanting more. It's also good to see Heep still going strong with a couple of very decent albums in the last few years and they are still a brilliant live band. Oh, and Mick Box, the only original member left, is a very underrated guitarist.

Final Score: 7.39 ⁄10 (189 votes cast, with a total score of 1397)

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