Demons & Wizards was Uriah Heep’s 4th studio album. A few days ago the album turned 50 years old. It was the follow up to Look At Yourself, an album which saw the band solidify a heavy hard-rock direction, and featured classics like “Love Machine”, the title track, and the epic “July Morning” – the latter 2 would remain in the band’s set list almost permanently, and the album has been argued as the band’s best by some critics & fans, but it did not have the commercial success that Demons And Wizards would. In the time after Look At Yourself the band went through more personnel changes, first dropping founding member / bass player Paul Newton. Newton was a key figure in the band’s formation and early days, as he had played with The Gods – which featured Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake before moving on to Spice – which would become Uriah Heep with the addition of Ken Hensley, upon Newton’s recommendation. Newton was initially replaced by Colosseum bassist Mark Clarke, a friend of Hensley’s. Iain Clark, who was the band’s 4th drummer and played on Look At Yourself, left the band soon after Newton, and Lee Kerslake joined. With Clarke on bass the band recorded 2 tracks for a single release – “The Wizard” and “Why”. The latter had been around for some time, as the band had recorded it previously, much longer as “Why -14 Minutes?”, and it would never find a place on a Heep LP, but would become perhaps the band’s most popular non-album track. Clarke would also get a co-writing credit on “The Wizard”, with Hensley. The song featured acoustic guitar, the band’s harmonies, a mystical tale, and the whistle of a tea kettle! The idea to record the tea kettle was spontaneous in the studio and it fitted in perfectly. Clarke also sang the bridge in the song that was better suited to him than David Byron. Released in March “The Wizard” would chart in a few countries, a minor hit in Canada (#86), a top 40 hit in Germany, and a top 10 hit in Switzerland – where the band had previously had a top 10 hit with the single “Look At Yourself”.
Before the album would be completed though Clarke left the band while on US tour, with Gary Thain (ex Keef Hartley) brought in to replace him. “The Wizard” also became the first track on the album, an interesting way to start an album that would go on to be much heavier. (An interesting comparison is Golden Earring’s 1971 album Seven Tears, which begins with the acoustic track “Silver Ships”, as well as a unique lyrical subject). Side one would also contain “Traveler In Time”, and “Poet’s Justice” – the first featured in the band’s live show at the time, while the latter is one of the band’s great album tracks, rarely mentioned, and not featured on the Live ’73 album – just a classic tune, and and stellar performance from Kerslake – who would receive a co-writing credit on both of these tunes. “Circle Of Hands” is the track that had me going back to carefully drop the needle on that Ken Hensley organ intro, and listen through to the end with the David Byron’s vocal and Hensley’s slide guitar that plays out to the end. It is the Heep song that had me as an immediate fan, and remains my favorite Heep track. The band did a remarkable live performance of it on their Live ’73 album, and have occasionally revisited it in the live set since 1994, as it appeared on Spellbinder (Live in Koln) . “Easy Livin'” was the third track on Demons And Wizards, and the album’s 2nd single. It was short and full of energy, with that Hammond organ throughout with Mick Box’s fuzzy guitar tone. And again it’s full of harmonies, a great vocal from Byron, and the rhythm section of Kerslake and Gary Thain drove this one home. Kind of a cool follow up to the track “Look At Yourself” musically. It would be the band’s first (and only) top 40 hit in the US at #39, while in Canada it peaked at #25, and as put by one former Heep PR person “opened all doors” for them. It is among the most covered Heep classics, and is the band’s best known song globally, one of the few that still receives radio play on FM classic rock radio, and has rarely never been featured in the band’s live show.
Side 2 opened with “Rainbow Demon”, another song featuring a tale of fantasy, though darker and heavier than “The Wizard”, it was (obviously) the track used for part of the album’s name. This one has occasionally crept in to the band’s live set over the last decade or so, as well. “All My Life” was the album’s other short and furious rocker, featuring plenty of slide guitar (via Ken Hensley). A Box/Byron/Kerslake credited track that was, in many countries, used as the B-side to “Easy Livin”. Admittedly, this was the last song on the album that I really got in to. The album closes with the epic combo of “Paradise / The Spell”, 2 different tracks that are edited to blend together, and fit well, clocking in at over 12 minutes. While “Paradise” is an acoustic ballad, the weight and pace pick up as the it blends in to “The Spell”, a more upbeat saga of good vs evil with Byron and Hensley trading off vocal lines. Lots of changes throughout, a fantastic production. A shame this one was never performed in full during at the time it came out.
From RPM (Canada) – A surprisingly sophisticated set of uniquely produced avant garde rock. The group has matured considerably and this album is easily the high point of their careers. Listen particularly to “The Wizard” and “All My Life”. This one should do it for them.
Demons And Wizards would be the first of a pair of Heep’s classic albums to feature the artwork of Roger Dean, who was quickly becoming famous during the era having done album art for bands such as The Gun, Atomic Rooster, Lighthouse, Osibisa, and Yes by this point. The album made the charts in numerous countries – top 10 (#1 in Finland, #5 in Germany and Norway), top 20 (Australia, UK) … in the US it would be the band’s most successful, making it to #23 there and #22 in Canada, the band’s first to go ‘Gold’, With Heep’s hectic schedule at the time the band were on the road much of the rest of the year, breaking to record and release a follow up within 6 months! The Magician’s Birthday came out, rushed before the end of the year, and although the 2 albums are often seen as a classic pair for their fantasy themes, Roger Dean covers, and legendary tracks, the latter would not be as successful, nor would it contain that global hit single as Heep had with “Easy Livin”. But another awesome album to look at in the future.
The 50th Anniversary of the Heep’s most successful and famous album seems to have gone by without a huge deal , due largely to the pandemic that pushed back the band’s 50th anniversary tour from 2020. There was a limited edition picture disc LP release, but heck I would’ve loved to have seen a box set (ala Led Zeppelin style) marking such an iconic album. But the year is far from over, the band is touring, and have a brand new album recorded in the can, and there’s a few more classic Heep albums coming up over the next year that will deserve celebrating as well.
RIP: David Byron, Gary Thain, Ken Hensley, Lee Kerslake.