Uriah Heep, “Easy Livin'” from Live in Armenia (2011): One Track Mind

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Credit Uriah Heep as the co-inventors of hard rock, along with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. It doesn’t mean they couldn’t craft a crunchy little hit single, too.

That single was “Easy Livin,'” presented as part of a new 2CD/DVD concert keepsake from Frontiers Records called Live in Armenia, to be issued today in Europe and on Sept. 27 in North America. This show was recorded in the former Soviet state as Uriah Heep toured behind 2008’s Wake the Sleeper. In keeping, much of the concert focused on newer material, but the group did take a moment to return to this, its biggest — and best — hit.

The song, which perched just inside the Top 40 of the Billboard charts, was originally found on the 1972 concept album Demons and Wizards, long called their best. In retrospect, however, it proved to be an early and obvious hint of the looming shift toward more mainstream rock efforts for the band, which then included founding members Mick Box (guitar), the late David Byron (vocals) and Ken Hensley (keyboards), along with drummer Lee Kerslake (1971-79; 1981-2007) and the late bassist Gary Thain (1972-75). Byron left the band in 1976; Hensley, who wrote “Easy Livin,'” departed in 1980. Box is the only remaining original member of the group, which once rivaled Yes for the sheer number of personnel changes. That said, Uriah Heep has been remarkably stable of late. Bassist Trevor Bolder joined the band since 1976, after a stint in the David Bowie backing group the Spiders From Mars. Bernie Shaw has been the vocalist since 1986, the same year that current keyboardist Phil Lanzon joined.

Uriah Heep had initially risen to fame behind a blend of heavy and progressive rock, eventually pairing that — in the style of the day — with lyrics that delved, often unsuccessfully, into fantasy and medieval myths. Much of this anachronistic whimsy can be found on Demons and Wizards, right down to the trippy artwork by (speaking of Yes!) Roger Dean. Tracks like “Stealin,'” on the other hand, showed that the band could round itself into more commercial successes, away from the stylish literary musings they aspired to but (unfortunately) rarely achieved. Uriah Heep eventually charted five albums in the U.S. Top 40, and has sold in excess of 30 million albums since its inception in 1969. They might have moved even more if they had simply turned it loose more often, as they do here.

“Easy Livin'” simply leaps out of the speakers, all rumbling rhythms and gurgling organ fills. There’s a reason this song has often been used to the close their shows: It’s a fun piece of escapism with a sledgehammer beat. While Shaw’s vocals owe perhaps too much to subsequent heavy metal vocalists like Ronnie James Dio, he throws himself into the lyric with a personable abandon.

Taken together, they still add up to a romping, beer-swilling boogie — something meant to be played loudly. So, I did.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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