40 Years Ago: Uriah Heep Release ‘Wonderworld’
When Uriah Heep welcomed loyal fans back into their ‘Wonderworld’ in June 1974, they already had a handful of Gold albums decorating their walls back home in the U.K. Too bad the members of the group — vocalist David Byron, guitarist Mick Box, keyboardist Ken Hensley, bassist Gary Thain, and drummer Lee Kerslake — could barely remember what “home” looked like.
As they ensconced themselves at Munich’s Musicland Studios to record their seventh studio album in barely four years’ time, the unrelenting work schedule responsible for this state of affairs was pushing them towards an inevitable breaking point.
Perhaps as a token of this, ‘Wonderworld”s title track kicked things into gear in rather moribund, workmanlike fashion. Luckily, the ensuing ‘Suicidal Man’ energized proceedings considerably, thanks to Box’s forceful riffing and Hensley’s pumping Hammond organ. This momentum carried into ‘The Shadows and the Wind,’ which packed the perfect heavy prog flair so suited to Byron’s versatile dramatics, then the snappy, driven ‘So Tired’ (which sounded like anything but), and, closing Side A, the beautifully subdued, piano-dominated ‘Easy Road.’
For its part, Side B opened with another pedal-to-the-metal rocker in ‘Something or Nothing’ before segueing into a prowling slow-burner named ‘I Won’t Mind,’ then the mostly forgettable ‘We Got We,’ and was finally rescued by a spectacular closing statement called ‘Dreams,’ filled with stately vocal choirs and swirling, cinematic keyboards as part of a full band tour de force.
Sadly, for all its obvious strengths and perfectly respectable chart performance in many countries, ‘Wonderworld’ marked the beginning of the end for Uriah Heep’s classic lineup when Thain — who was nearly electrocuted onstage in Dallas during the tour — was fired in 1975 due to his escalating heroin dependency, which ultimately claimed his life before the end of year (tragically earning him a spot in the unenviable 27-Year Old Club).
As for the remaining members of Uriah Heep, their short-term prospects seemed, to outward appearances, perfectly rosy, when the recruitment of former King Crimson star John Wetton as Thain’s replacement helped push their next album, ‘Return to Fantasy,’ into the U.K. Top 10 — a first for the band. Sadly, Heep’s victory was short-lived and their workload unmerciful, so that within just another album cycle, it would be Byron’s turn to pay the piper, when he was dismissed. Of course Uriah Heep survived, and continues to even today, but few are those who would compare their subsequent exploits to the ‘Wonderworld’ they once inhabited.