Every now and again, I regain a piece of my past as I stumble across reissued definitive editions. Having a voracious lust for music, I’m heartened when I run across an album that I’m not aware of having been reissued. Uriah Heep’s The Magician’s Birthday is one of them. Originally released in 1972, after a successful Demons and Wizards album revved their career (“Easy Livin’” was the single that elevated that album), The Magician’s Birthday worked as hard to keep the band in their new lofty position as Demons and Wizards did to put them there.
The album was based on a short story written by Ken Hensley, the band’s prolific keyboardist. In it, the story is that of good versus evil, represented not only by lyrics, but also by warring instruments and the album’s artworks, a Roger Dean original that shows a higher-planed evil wizard pitted against a lower-placed good magician. What makes this recently re-released version of The Magician’s Birthday so special is the absolute quality of the reissue.
Reissued by Castle Records/Sanctuary in 2003, as much importance is found in the immense 20-page booklet as in the remastered music and 9 bonus tracks from The Magician’s Birthday 1972 sessions, most recently unearthed and never before released. And there are gems among them.
The album’s music features the majestic love song, “Sunrise,” the classic Uriah Heep sound of “Spider Woman,” collectively written by the band and which works off of “Easy Livin’,” the excellent “Sweet Lorraine,” and the 10-minute plus opus of the album’s namesake, “The Magician’s Birthday.” For this release, there are the extra 9 bonus tracks spoken of earlier that include outtakes, an alternate version, edited cuts, and an instrumental.
The first of these are outtakes (“Crystal Ball,” “Silver White Man” – found as an instrumental outtake on this disc as well – and “Gary’s Song”). “Gary’s Song” and “Crystal Ball” are Gary Thain-penned, with “Gary’s Song” an unfinished variation of the near complete “Crystal Ball.” Silver White Man” is a David Byron penned song in demo form that eventually found its way onto his debut solo album, Take No Prisoners (1975).
Another song that never got past demo stage is “Proud Words,” which ended up recorded for Ken Hensley’s solo album, Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf (1973). The rest are edited versions of songs found on Magician’s Birthday including an interesting version of “Happy Birthday,” that, as project head, Robert Corich surmised, might have “…sold well on the novelty factor alone.” And so, the music of The Magician’s Birthday is well represented with a healthy selection of archival cuts.
The booklet is filled with photos, all of the original artwork found on the LP including the original inside sleeves that contained the lyrics, the original sleeve notes from Ken Hensley, band remembrance notes by Mick Box and Ken Hensley as well as a splendid and knowledgeable essay from Classic Rock Magazine’s Dave Ling. And yet, there’s more. In addition to the original lyrics reprint, there are newer, more legible lyric pages as well as more-than-complete credits and notes pages that include a brief synopsis of each bonus track.
Simply packaged, this reissue of Uriah Heep’s fifth studio album should be a firm guideline on how reissues should be created. I can say no more other than, a job well done by the team that was in charge of this project.