Among the Heep faithful there are 3 albums that tend to stir up the most controversy and conversation, and often one of them is cited as the band’s ‘worst’ album by many fans or rock historians. I’ve already written previously my support for Conquest and for Equator, both albums that land at the bottom of any Heep album ranking, and the 3rd in that trilogy would be 1976’s High and Mighty – the last to feature original singer & founding member David Byron. Frankly, none of these 3 land in the bottom 3 for me, in particular High and Mighty, an album I rank in the top half of the band’s catalogue.
High and Mighty came at the end of a very busy period for the band. In ’75 – the band had changed bass players, adding John Wetton in place of Gary Thain, who had been fired, and the band got down to releasing Return To Fantasy in the summer of ’75. Ken Hensley also had his 2nd solo album Eager To Please released not too far off from that. A huge world tour followed the release of that Heep album, followed by David Byron’s solo album Take No Prisoners, and a Best of Uriah Heep issued in most markets (except for North America). So, to say High and Mighty might’ve been rushed soon after is more than likely. Despite Return To Fantasy being a huge success in the UK, the band’s last few albums were selling less in North America, and with this perhaps was the motivation to ‘fire’ Gerry Bron as the new album’s producer and produce it themselves. But, where as RTF had many more band co-writes and member contributions, High and Mighty would consist of entirely Ken Hensley penned tracks, with Wetton getting 2 co-writes. Ken has stated in the past the album felt more like a solo album, and both he and Wetton noted that not much of the band were around at the time, leaving the 2 of them to take on most of the production, aided by engineer Ashley Howe.
John Wetton’s presence is felt immediately on the opening track “One Way Or Another”, in which he takes the lead vocal. A fantastic beginning to this album with the opening guitar riff coming in with a fresh new strong sound, before Wetton’s bass, then drums and organ join in. This is a standout track, and a shame it never got a proper single release. There would be no global single from this album, with this song being issued in the UK (limited), and nothing in North America. David Byron was apparently off with chicken pox at the time of recording this track, so that was the reason given for Wetton’s lead vocal. John recalled in an interview that when David did come back he went in to sing the song, part way through stopped, saying that it was fine the way it was. “Weep In Silence”, a heavy guitar driven ballad, with Hensley’s distinct guitar sound throughout and a great vocal from Byron remains a fan favorite from this album, though it was never played live. “Misty Eyes” starts out gently with Byron singing the opening lines alone before the band comes in softly with acoustic guitar, organ and drums. A good lighter pop song that would’ve made a catchy single, IMO. The first side ends with “Midnight”, the longest track on the album, and most progressive,. An often overlooked epic in the band’s catalogue, and although Wetton didn’t get a co-write on this Or on “One Way Or Another”, his performances (bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals or backing vocals) make these 2 tracks his greatest contributions to his time with the band.
Side 2 opens with the anthem “Can’t Keep A Good Band Down”, a response and dig at the band’s critics. A good upbeat rocker that would’ve (again) made for a fine single. A shame the song would never feature in the band’s live show back then or ever. Next up was the pop-rock of “Woman Of The World”; a good tune, tho’ a bit on the lighter side. Might’ve made a decent single, but like a number of tracks here it lacks an extended solo or something unique as the song merely fades out quickly after the last chorus. “Woman Of The World” would include the band’s message to Bron in the harmonies – You can stick this contract up your flue “Footprints In The Snow” is a favorite of mine on this album, co-credited to Wetton. Love the mix of acoustic and electric guitars organ, and harmonies. An underrated classic from the Byron era, IMO. From here, despite how much I love this album, I can see how critics might disagree with my enthusiasm, as the next 3 tracks drop off a bit, especially the funky keyboardy “I Can’t Stop Singing”. I never ‘got’ this song, and listening to it now, I still don’t. . tho’ it’s not bad, and David sounds convincing on the verses, but the chorus… meh…. “Make A Little Love” is a guitar blues n boogie number, featuring slide guitar. Sounds like it could’ve been a good old school jam rocker, but it ends too early, like a few tracks here, sounding rushed . This one did make it in to the live set on the High & Mighty tour, but like the rest of the album was never played again (aside from Ken resurrecting a track live with John Wetton). The album ends on a high note, but a sad one with “Confession”, with David delivering an apologetic lyric on Ken’s piano ballad. It’s an excellent, moving ballad that sits behind the band’s previous ballads “Rain” and “The Easy Road”. A shame it ends so soon.
In 1995 I interviewed John Wetton and he recalled no leftover tracks being recorded, but sure enough 2 outtakes would eventually be released. “Sunshine”, a good upbeat number; love Lee Kerslake’s intro and playing here. The other cut is the guitar heavy “Name Of The Game”. This song appeared in another version on Ken Hensley’s From Time To Time album in ’94 (an album of solo outtakes and demos), as Ken had recorded the track in the late ’70s with members of Bad Company. A great heavy riff to open this song, fantastic delivery from David and slide guitar from Ken. To me, this sounds like it wasn’t totally completed or mixed well enough, hence it’s lack of inclusion on the album, but a crying shame this wasn’t totally finished and cleaned up and included – could’ve made for a very different outcome of an album that is often brushed off as “lightweight”.
High and Mighty received a huge press bash at the time in Switzerland, where James Bond was filmed. But after that the album dropped – with no worldwide single, and little push. As the band toured the US before it’s release – with no single on the radio or record in the shops, High and Mighty was kinda doomed. The tour saw Ken Hensley leave the band and return, and David Byron fired at the end of the European tour. John Wetton had already made up his mind due to the internal conflict, and and left as well. Many fans wrote the band off after David Byron was dismissed, and the band’s profile and album sales would continue to sink in North America.
But really, I kinda love this album. I realize it may be seen as lightweight or too much of a Ken Hensley solo project by many old Heep fans, but to me it had a new fresh approach and sound following Return To Fantasy and Wonderworld. The band experimented, did something new, and High and Mighty offered up a number of tracks that would’ve made fine singles. With John Wetton having a major hand in it, it sounded much more modern in tune with UK nd Asia, and a forward step from the band’s previous albums. Heck, I even think the album cover art is pretty cool!