Salisbury: one of the greatest unknown classic rock songs

Known as “the Beach Boys of heavy metal” for their lush harmonies, Uriah Heep is a largely ignored band, at least in the States. Apparently they weren’t overwhelmingly successful in their native UK either, although they have enjoyed continued success in places like Germany and Russia.

My first exposure to Uriah Heep was from my cousin David, who was always discovering strange, unknown bands. Uriah Heep was no exception there, with songs like “Simon the Bullet Freak” and, of course, the name. At the time, I didn’t realize that Heep was a character from Dickens’ David Copperfield. The British title to their first album was … Very ‘eavy … Very ‘umble, also reference to the Dickens character (the group was formed in 1969, the 100th anniversary of Dickens’ death).

I remember not being overly impressed by that first album, although I was immediately captured by a 16 minute, 22 second cut, Salisbury, on their second album of the same name, released in 1970. Most people who remember UH will probably remember them as an organ-heavy, full speed ahead type of band, which in general, they were. However, Salisbury was something of an oddity, especially for the time: it was recorded with a 24-piece orchestra, including brass section, that starts out the song with considerable finesse and drama. Rather than just backing up the band, the orchestra becomes part of the band in this song, sometimes very much in the forefront, and other times backing off to support the occasional vocals and all-important guitar solo. It’s a marvelous piece, in all. A few years ago I played it for a friend who commented that it reminded him of something that Kansas may have done a decade later. I currently own 2 copies of the album, one on vinyl, on on CD.

Salisbury is still a favorite of mine, especially since I discovered it’s great to listen to while I’m plodding away on the treadmill. I think it’s the the driving beat that keeps going for most of the song, plus the fact the song goes for 16-plus minutes. I was never terribly impressed with the rest of the songs on the album, although Lady in Black was apparently released as a single and is one of their better known cuts. I wish I could find a sample of Salisbury to link to; if anyone finds one, let me know.

Their 3rd album, Look at Yourself, included a couple of great cuts, including the title track and July Morning, which clocks in at 10 1/2 minutes. I also have the classic Uriah Heep Live on vinyl, which contains a number of great cuts but doesn’t include anything from Salisbury. After Live, UH went further into their fantasy themes, releasing albums like Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday. Aside from the track Easy Livin’, from Demons and Wizards, I started to lose some interest in the band (and my cousin was by then away at school so I couldn’t borrow his albums).

Easy Livin’ is a very interesting song; I don’t recall paying any attention whatsoever to the lyrics back in 1973, but they seem to speak of a Christian conversion:

This is a thing I’ve never known before
Its called easy livin’
This is a place I’ve never seen before
And I’ve been forgiven

Easy livin’ and I’ve been forgiven
Since you’ve taken
Your place in my heart

I did a little research and found that Ken Hensley, the UH keyboardist, is indeed a Christian. After leaving Heep, he has done some solo projects, and in 1999 released an album, Glimpse of Glory, with a band he called Visible Faith. He says, “Visible Faith is an expression of my Christian faith which must be visible to be real! I gave the name to the collection of musicians who worked with me on the record.”

While I couldn’t find a clip of Salisbury, I did find one of Easy Livin’. Enjoy!

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~ by Alden on December 12, 2007.

8 Responses to “Salisbury: one of the greatest unknown classic rock songs”

  1. I saw Uriah Heep in ’74/’75. They backed-up somebody, can’t remember who. Anyway, very few people knew who they where. This was back in the day when pretty much anything goes was the rule of the day, I’m sure you remember. Mick Box was drinking whiskey openly on stage. Needless to say, by the end of their set, he was hammered. The ‘ol “climbing on the back of the singer while still playing lead”, was one of their staples. They were falling all over themselves. Believe me, at that time I was pretty much outta’ control, an I even was embarrassed for them.I believe that The Magician’s Birthday was a flop.

  2. someone posted salisbury on youtube in two pieces reticently. theres a few seconds missing in between clips, but still it works.

  3. Thanks! Here’s the link to part 1 and Part 2.

  4. Just wanted to mention Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf for others who may visit this website.

  5. I first learned of UH when I got a free “Live”album from a radio station when I was fifteen or so. I liked Easy Living but never became a real fan of the group. But name beguiled me.

    Fast forward to 2011. I’ve become a Christian and wow reading the old testement come across the name Uriah. Out of curiosity I Google UH and watched a video of Easy Living and immediately wonder if the lyrics are Christian…thanks for your post!

  6. I was turned on to Uriah Heep in the mid-70’s by my older brother and his pot-smoking friends, who would gather together in the basement on Fri and Sat nights, have some reefer, and listen to music like UH.

    To this day, I still listen to the early UH albums almost every day. I am a software programmer and nothing makes for great head-space than their albums D&W LatY TMB RtoF and WW.

    I’m not into their post-Byron work – IMHO Byron was one of THE best rock singers… period.

    @Kurt said: “I believe that The Magician’s Birthday was a flop.” I don’t think 2.5 million TMB albums sold is a flop…

  7. I didn’t pick up on the Christian vibe to the lyrics of “Easy Livin” until many years later. I’m wondering if any Christian artists have covered it. Thanks for the article!!

  8. These guys were simply awesome. Anyone who knows anything about music can attest that UH were stunning. Fabulous vocals and great musicianship. Flop! hardly, with over 40 million units sold worldwide. I was delighted to hear that others thought their was a christian influence in the lyrics of “Easy Living”! In truth Living is hard but when you know you are forgiven and assured of God’s love thru Christ willing sacrifice the burden is lighter. PS: want to hear some awesome slide guitar work by UH? Just listen to “Tears in my eyes”. The live youtube versions are ok but the studio version really pops!

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