While writing my post last month about Uriah Heep’s sophomore album Salisbury, I found myself thinking more than once how much better that record would have been, had its title track been replaced with the magnificent July Morning – sort of like adding Strawberry Fields Forever to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and taking out When I’m Sixty-Four and Lovely Rita. July Morning had been on my mind ever since.
The song, which I would consider to be among Heep’s top tunes, was written by keyboarder Ken Hensley and lead vocalist David Byron in July 1970. Notably, Manfred Mann had been brought in by the group’s manager Gerry Bron to play a Moog synthesizer. Supposedly, this was the first time Mann was recorded using what became a staple of ’70s progressive rock. That’s according to the liner notes of Look At Yourself, Heep’s third studio album from September 1971, on which July Morning first appeared.
There were also various singles of the song. The first was an edited shortened version, released in Japan in June 1972 and backed by Love Machine, another tune from Look At Yourself. A Venezuelan single split the full song between both sides. Finally, in May 1973, a live take from the Uriah Heep Live album appeared in the U.S. I’m not fooling around with this amazing tune, so here’s the full studio album version.
Following is some additional background from Songfacts: This 10-minute song was essentially put together from different ideas from Ken Hensley and David Byron. While recording Look at Yourself, the band noticed that they had three separate parts of compositions that were all in C minor, so they tried putting them together, thus those parts became the intro, verse and chorus buildup of “July Morning.”
In a Songfacts interview with Ken Hensley, he related the story about how he came to write the song. “Uriah Heep was on tour in the UK with an American band named Sha Na Na and we were sharing a bus, which meant we had to wait for them to finish before we could go home,” Hensley said. “This was boring!”
To entertain himself, Hensley started noodling around with his acoustic guitar. “It began with a true statement,” he said. “‘There I was, on a July morning,’ and then my imagination took over.” Hensley worked the song out over the next few days and played it for the rest of the band in their rehearsal room. “I played it to the band on my acoustic guitar and, by the end of the day, it had become the song that so many people grew to love,” Hensley said. “That was magic!”
Here’s a live version of July Morning by present-day Uriah Heep. According to the clip, this was literally just captured by an attendee of Heep’s concert at Eventim Apollo in London on January 29 – not bad. Guitarist Mick Box remains the only original member. Bernie Shaw who has been Heep’s vocalist since 1986 does a commendable job, though replacing David Byron is pretty much mission impossible. BTW, the group’s current keyboarder Phil Lanzon also joined in 1986.
Last but not least, July Morning inspired a tradition in Bulgaria in the 1980s, which continues to this day, where every June 30, people from all over the country come together on the coast of the Black Sea to watch the sunrise on July 1st. The origin was political.
Once again here’s more from Songfacts: “July Morning” inspired a Bulgarian show of resistance against a repressive Soviet Communist government and became an annual festival that has only grown more popular with each passing year.
The song…doesn’t have anything overtly political in the lyrics. It seems to be about a guy waking up on a July morning resolved to find his own road and an unnamed love. It’s natural to assume that the “love” is a romantic interest, but that’s not exactly how the song is formed. Things are kept ambiguous enough that the “love” can be something more like a grand purpose, a passion, or perhaps love of life itself.
The ambiguity may in part be why the song was able to resonate so much with Bulgarians in the 1980s. During that time, a Soviet-backed communist government held power over the people. Young Bulgarians started travelling to the coast of the Black Sea, camping out, making music, and just having fun into the early hours of July 1.
It was a sort of a soft, spiritual rebellion against the joyless Soviet state, as well as a great excuse to party. It’s been compared to the hippie festivals of the 1960s in the United States. Bulgaria broke out of Soviet rule [in 1989 – CMM], but the festival has continued ever since. In 2012 it had upwards of 12,000 attendees, and one-time Uriah Heep singer John Lawton performed “July Morning.”
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube