Thursday, September 12, 2013

Saga - Heads or Tales

Today (September 12th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of Heads or Tales, the fifth studio album from the Canadian rock band Saga. The record went to number 92 on the US Billboard Album chart, number 17 in Canada, number 4 in Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, and number 3 in Germany.

The line-up for the band included Michael Sadler (lead vocals and keyboards), Ian Crichton (guitar), Jim Crichton (bass and keyboards), Jim Gilmour (keyboards, vocals and saxophone) and Steve Negus (drums and percussion).

First up, how creative is that album cover concept? This work was done by artist Stephen Durke. I like how it gives the impression of a transformational experience. I really miss album covers that left the listener with something to spark their imagination; I often liked to craft stories to go with creative ones while I listened to a record.

Side one begins with “The Flyer”; as the first single it peaked at number 79 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 19 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. This up-beat song is very motivational; it is about moving forward and getting things accomplished.

“Cat Walk” features a strong rocking groove and exudes a confident aura.

Things wind down a bit with “The Sound of Strangers” as we deal with overcoming the fear of the unknown.

The B-side to the first single was “The Writing”. It is built upon a bouncy, double-keyboard melody foundation.

“Intermission” slows things back down to close out the side. It has a very personal and intimate feel to it that pulls the listener along.

Side two explodes with the sounds of “Social Orphan”, a story of a guy who wakes up the next morning to try to piece together the events of the night before. Who is the person he met whose phone number was left on a matchbook cover? This would have made for a good music video.

The thumping rhythm of “The Vendetta”, the B-side to the second single, follows. It includes a number of interesting solos by the band members. The ending reminds me of a music box playing its sorrowful tune as it fades out.

Gilmour takes over the lead vocal spot on “Scratching the Surface”. As the second single, it charted at number 45 in Canada. The song definitely has a different vibe than the earlier ones on the record; Gilmour’s vocals add a nice variety to the mix.

The record closes with “The Pitchman”, a mid-tempo rocker about a slick salesman who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.

Being close to the Canadian border, the album-oriented rock station we listened to out of Buffalo often played Saga. That is where I primarily got my exposure to the band’s songs back in the early 80’s. I know both of this album’s singles played a good bit on the airwaves in late 1983 and early 1984. Looking at Heads or Tales thirty years later, I can say that I enjoyed listening to this one. Saga’s music here reminds me of groups like the Fixx and Yes. This is certainly one I plan to revisit again in the future.

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