Saturday, October 20, 2012

Uriah Heep: Sweet Lorraine

Today’s bubbling under hit comes from my senior year in high school. I honestly think that the reason that “Sweet Lorraine” by Uriah Heep didn’t become a hit is that Mercury Records did not know how to promote this band. Uriah Heep had a reputation of being a bit of an underground/hard rock act and record companies were content at allowing these artists to develop their own following with a modicum of album rock airplay.

Heep also had another strike against them in the US market. They were signed to Bronze Records, a small UK independent label which was originally distributed in the UK by Island Records. Island’s presence in the US began in 1972 when Capitol originally distributed the label. Prior to this, Island’s artists were licensed to a variety of labels.

For example, Traffic’s, The Spencer Davis Group’s and Wynder K. Frog’s releases were assigned originally to United Artists; Fairport Convention’s, Cat Steven’s, and Free’s records were licensed to A&M. In the case of Uriah Heep, their albums were issued in the US by Mercury. Since Mercury had no financial interest in Uriah Heep, any sales were gravy and this would also place them at the bottom of the promotional list when competing with Mercury’s home grown artists. That’s my speculation on what happened.

Had “Sweet Lorraine” received more Top 40 airplay, I believe it would have made it to the Top 20; however, that didn’t happen and this song with a strong hook only placed at 91. It appeared on the Uriah Heep’s 1972 release of “The Magician’s Birthday” and may be the album’s strongest cut. The album, which featured a Roger Dean cover, was certified gold in early 1973.

The song has some great qualities – not at least being the lead and backup vocals by David Byron. The wah-wah rhythm guitar effect by Mick Box has a very contemporary 1972 feel – and effect that would resurface during the late 1970s with the disco craze. Lee Kerslake’s drumming and rhythmic kicks are pristine; however, the crowning moments of the song occur with Ken Hensley’s Moog synthesizer effects.

Throughout most of the song, Hensley is using a very simple lick – a low “A” to an “A” an octave higher and back again with a bit of portemento with the mod wheel up about a quarter. The lead is accomplished with two synth overdubs with one in each channel. The entire song is also punctuated by Gary Thain’s bass and Hensley on Hammond organ. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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