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Return To Fantasy

June, 1975

Return To Fantasy cover
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  • Mick Box (G)
  • David Byron (LV)
  • Ken Hensley (K G)
  • John Wetton (B K)
  • Lee Kerslake (D)
  • Special Guest - Mel Collins (sax)
  • BJ Cole (steel guitar)
Return To Fantasy inside sleeve
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Overview - Heep achieved their highest ranking ever with this album (#7 in UK) as John Wetton replaced Gary Thain, who was kicked out due to extensive drug use. Gary's death only a few months later from an overdose was a huge loss to the band and the music world. It is an excellent album, nearly as good as The Magician's Birthday, but several of the songs are over-produced. Grade: A+
note: There are several demos officially published, possibly with Gary Thain on bass, that are much rougher but quite good nonetheless. See below for more information.

1. Return To Fantasy - This classic Heep tune kicks off with a great synth intro from Ken. A superb melody line coupled with more fantastical magic lyrics and wonderful harmonies. Although not as melodic in his playing style as Gary Thain, John's bass really drives this song and fits in well with the Heep style. Grade: A+
note: There is a single edit of this song and, as far as single edits go, it's one of the best. Cuts off most of the intro and fades out early, but there's little splicing inbetween.

2. Shady Lady - A good rocker following the smoother, more polished style of Wonderworld, this features some great performances from every band member, especially the twin guitars of Mick and Ken and, once again, John's driving bass. David's vocals are excellent, occasionally approaching rap. However, and especially after listening to the demos mentioned above, this could've been a lot tougher. Grade: A

3. Devil's Daughter - Best of the rock tunes on this album, with a nice riff from Mick. The break with Mick's guitar and Ken's synth is one of the highest points on the album as they duet, then echo in alternating solos, duet again, and Mick fires off a hot, but too short, solo. Again, a great band performance with appropriate production work this time. Grade: A

4. Beautiful Dream - One of the best Heep tunes ever. There are two versions offered on the remaster and both are superb. The demo is much rougher, the melody line is not nearly as powerful, and Lee's drumming is boring, but the background vocals are much stronger and there is some very haunting organ work near the end. I prefer the album version.
David in particular turns in one of his finest performances ever, from his soft, ethereal vocals on the break to his banshee wails on the chorus. Lovely keyboard work by Ken. This is Lee's best drumming on the album, as he carefully selects appropriate rhythms and instrumentation to fit the many different moods presented. Grade: A (demo) A+ (album)

5. Prima Donna - A good l'il toe-tapper. Again, there are two versions with the demo on Time Of Revelation. Big difference between the two, of which I greatly prefer the demo version. Where the album version has horns filling in the sound, playing the licks and burying Ken, the demo goes for Ken honky tonking on the ivories or the organ to fill the sound. The whole band, especially Dave and Lee, sound much more inspired on the demo. Listening to the bass part, I'm convinced that this is Gary playing. The background vocals, however, are far superior on the album. Once again, it's a shame that the demo version was faded out. Grade: A (demo) B+ (album)

6. Your Turn to Remember - One of the best laid back, mid-tempo songs Heep did. Very relaxed, with a strong Eagles influence. The lyrics are a little simple at times but a nice arrangement with more great harmonies. Another fun driving song to sing along with. Grade: A

7. Showdown - This is Real Turned On revisited in a great way. Ken absolutely wails on the slide while Mick smokes on the main solo. Lee and John do a great powerhouse rhythm section while David sounds like he's absolutely ready for a "Showdown." :-)
The demo version is significantly different and not quite as good, although Gary drives this song better than John. Ken's organ is turned up and his slide turned down. Dave is not inspired enough yet. Grade: B+ (demo) A+ (album)

8. Why Did You Go - While the other album versions maintain the feel of the original demos, on this song it was changed completely. While the album version is a very nice country ballad, due to BJ Cole's steel guitar (I believe Heep's only country song ever), the demo is an intense gospel tune, one of the most intensly spiritual songs I've ever heard by a secular group, even though the lyrics are not religious. The band, and David in particular, are superb. Grade: A+ (demo) A- (album)

9. A Year or a Day - From the soft ominous beginning through the buildup of the first verse, you know this is going to be a Heep classic. It's the first heavy song in three albums to rely on the acoustic guitar. Excellent use of dynamics. David is fabulous in coloring from an entire pallet of emotions. Grade: A+

Shout It Out - (Bonus track - 'B' side of Prima Donna) The first time the requisite Gypsy-type heavy plodder failed to make an album. Too bad, as this would've fit in great on side 1 with its dark, forbidding mood. It was probably too slow, despite an inspired performance by each member. Grade: A

Time Will Come - (Bonus track - 'B' side of Return To Fantasy) Very heavy, menacing riff that also would've fit in nicely on side 1. Lots of contrast thruout, sometimes in the use of volume, sometimes in the use of instruments and/or vocals, sometimes in the use of contrasting rhythms. Then a powerful, uplifting chorus bursts through brightly, taking us out of Black Sabbath-land. Despite Mick's guitar being mixed in too low at the beginning of his end solo, he turns in a great performance. Once again, a too-early fade on Mick. Grade: A

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