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The Magician's Birthday

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  • This album is one of the all time greats. Uriah Heep are a much underrated band, mainly remembered in the US for one or two hits (ie Stealin’ and Easy Livin’) and for being one of the apparent main inspirations for Spinal Tap. But during the early 70’s, they were one of the finest bands around. David Byron was one of the best rock vocalists EVER, second only to Freddie Mercury, while Mick Box cranked riffs and technically simply but effective solos. Ken Hensley played keyboards, played some of the more impressive guitar parts and also contributed a great deal of excellent songwriting to the band’s repetoire. And Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake were one of the most solid rhythm sections around, combining Thain’s melodic bass playing with Kerslake’s workmanlike drumming. Oh, and everyone sang back up vocals (lest you should wonder where the great vocal harmonies on the record came from). Every song on this record is a winner, from the opener Sunrise to the 10 minute title track finale. In between, a diverse array of tunes are encountered, from the hard rockin’ boogie of Sweet Lorraine to the ballad Rain. Even the cover artwork (by the legendary Roger Dean, who had built up a reputation for doing artwork for many bands in England over the preceding few years, and was on the verge of beginning his decades long association with progressive rock giants Yes) is brilliant. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last. Gary Thain developed a serious drug problem, which led to him nearly being electrocuted onstage a few years later. He was kicked out of the band, and died of an overdose in 77. David Byron last two more albums, but was also booted from the group, for drinking too much. He went onto release a couple solo albums before dying in 1984. In 1980, Hensley left on his own accord, after disputes with John Sloman, the singer who had replaced John Lawton (who himself had replaced Byron). Without Byron’s voice, Thain’s bass, or Hensley’s songwriting (and admittedly, Hensley seemed to run out of quality material a cuople albums before he left) Heep was never the same. Rest assured, we still have the classic early 70’s albums. My only caveat is that you get the mid 90’s remaster (on Essential/Castle Recordings), which has two bonus tracks. One is a vocal track that never got finished, so it’s presented as a rather dull karoake-style instrumental. The other bonus track, Crystal Ball, which is the only song credited solely to Gary Thain as a songwriter. It’s a rough recording, with apparently just a guide vocal, but it’s a good song, one worth hearing, especially in light of Gary’s tragic demise. Oh yeah, and the infamous Melissa Mills quote actually was “If this band makes it, I’ll have to commit suicide”.

    Posted on February 10, 2010