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Saga Heads or Tales album cover
3.56 | 231 ratings | 19 reviews | 20% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1983

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Flyer (3:43)
2. Cat Walk (4:24)
3. The Sound of Strangers (4:09)
4. The Writing (4:12)
5. Intermission (5:28)
6. Social Orphan (3:23)
7. The Vendetta (Still Helpless) (3:43)
8. Scratching the Surface (5:15)
9. The Pitchman (5:42)

Total Time 39:59

Bonus on 1998 & 2003 reissues:
10. Cat Walk (unabridged) (7:44)

Line-up / Musicians

- Michael Sadler / lead vocals, keyboards
- Ian Crichton / guitar
- Jim Gilmour / keyboards, saxophone, vocals (8-lead)
- Jim Crichton / bass, keyboards
- Steve Negus / drums, percussion, electronic drums

Releases information

Artwork: Stephen Durke

LP Maze Records ‎- ML 8007 (1983, Canada)

CD Bon Aire ‎- 258 477 (1988, Europe) With a bonus track
CD Steamhammer ‎- SPV 076-7439A CD (2003, Germany) Remastered (?) with a bonus track

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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SAGA Heads or Tales ratings distribution

(231 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(20%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(38%)
Good, but non-essential (30%)
Collectors/fans only (10%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

SAGA Heads or Tales reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
2 stars By this time , I had lost interest and I think I was right . Some people lost time and money regrouping all of the chapters scattered onto the first four albums, to finda meaning to it. I never cared enough to ask them if they had found a sense to it.
Review by Fishy
3 stars In 1981 Saga reached their creative peak with "Worlds aparts". The problem with having a great album is always how to make the next album not a bad one. A solution sometimes is recording an album which sounds totally different. Heads or tales was released in 1983, it isn't a Worlds apart part two, the sounds isn't changed much but the long epics are gone. Heads or tales contains accessible progressive pop-rock. Short tracks, no complex song structures but some very enjoyable music. Not a weak track here, excellent musical duels between guitar en keyboards. During this period the sound of Saga was comparable to the sound of their fellow countrymen Rush (Power Windows).The clean production work of Rupert Hine serves the album perfect. If you like Saga, get this, it's one of their last great records
Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Saga reached here their peak, not for their progressive performance, but rather for the quality of the recording: indeed Rupert Hine produced a SUPERB atmospheric, flashy, echoed and powerful album: I have rarely seen a better recorded album than this one! Saga has a quite new style here: they substantially reduced their complex & anthemic progressive elements to the profit of accessible, dynamic, colorful, ambient, fresh and flashy textures, putting in evidence many powerful lead & backing vocals. There are some electronic drums parts like on "Scratching the surface". I hardly detected saxophones on the "Social orphan" track. There are omnipresent powerful rhythmic keyboards sounding like trumpets, a bit like on the Frank Zappa's "Easy meat" track: I wonder if there are not saxes included in these powerful arrangements. Even more than on the "Worlds apart" album, Saga here sound a bit like The Fixx of the 80's, as reveal the voices, some fresh keyboards and the varied guitars. However Saga is absolutely not The Fixx: Saga is quite less ethereal and subtle: they are still more progressive rock here than The Fixx is. Also, The Fixx is more ambient new wave oriented, so that their music is more simple. I give you the challenge to find a better recorded album than "Heads or tales" before 1984!

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by b_olariu
4 stars A trully great album in every way. Ian Chrichton shines on every piece from this album. My fav. from them. The previous two are a must, for one of the bands that combines very eficient pop with prog. Scratching the Surface, one of the best songs pop/prog ever. Despite the pop/prog orentation, Saga is very technical on some pieces, show us they are capable to do amazing music. Get this one, here Saga reached their creative peak. 4 stars
Review by Melomaniac
4 stars Saga's fifth studio album, Heads or Tales, can be compared to it's sleeve. They tamed the beast and managed to still give a good show. Previous studio effort Worlds Apart earned the band worldly recognition, and with that kind of recognition came pressure. The pressure to release a good follow up, and one that would not be Worlds Apart part II. Well, mission accomplished. Gone are most of the progressive elements, though the musicianship still shines brightly. Most of the songs are more radio friendly, and hits like 'The Flyer' and 'Scratching the Surface' are good examples of quality pop prog for the airwaves. 'Cat Walk' has a solid groove and a catchy main riff. 'The Sound of Strangers' features an excellent keyboard-guitar interplay, 'Social Orphan' is a good rocking number. 'The Vendetta (Still Helpless)' takes us back to the Saga of early days, reminiscent of tracks like 'Help Me Out'. All in all I think all tracks are good on Heads or Tales, some just a bit less good than others but still good (Intermission, The Writing). The production was great for it's time. Saga managed to take a radio friendly turn with this album and remained original and interesting to listen to, even for prog aficionados. Alas, they would go on a downward slope for some time after this one.

Four solid stars.

Review by progrules
4 stars This is according to historical facts the first album of the "new Saga", the period after their symphonical area. And it's true, this is much more accessable than the first four by this band. It's almost poppy but to me it carries enough elements to still be called progressive.

The flyer is a nice opener, an imediate proof that Saga has headed for another direction. Catwalk is somewhat more quiet and slow same as Sound of strangers. Next two have always been a couple to me, Intermission and The Writing are obvious progressive tracks in my opinion. The Vendetta and Social Orphan are once again examples of the more popular style.

Next is the ballad of the album, Scratching the surface is a nice sensitive track, a side we don't see too often by Saga. Last song on my version (the original that is) is Pitchman, the absolute highlight to me. I visited quite some gigs by Saga (fortunately they often visited The Netherlands, I'm greatful for that) and they several times played this magnificent song. One of their best ever.

But also the overall feeling about this album is positive for me though it's absolutely not the best effort in their history. 4 stars (3,75) is what this deserves.

Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars I was surprised at how good this album is, there really isn't much to choose between this one and "World's Apart". Once again we get two really great tunes i'm familiar with from the radio back then, and some good and not so good tunes. I must say off the top that the sound quality couldn't be better, this does "sound" really good.

"The Flyer" still does it for me after all these years. I'm surprised at how prominant the bass is here and throughout this record. Nice guitar solo after 1 1/2 minutes. "Catwalk" is supposed to be one of their hits but I don't know it. Chunky bass and lots of synths and sax.The guitar comes to the fore quite often. Just not a fan. "The Sounds Of Strangers" is where they tone it down some. I like the guitar and drums late but that's about it. "The Writing" opens with synths before drums and vocals join in.The guitar comes and goes. It's kind of poppy 3 minutes in. Big finish.

"Intermission" has an almost spacey mood to it, very relaxed. The guitar is crying out late. "Social Orphan" is catchy and uptempo with prominant bass. "The Vendetta (Still Helpless)" is poppy with a catchy beat. Lots of synths and the guitar after 2 1/2 minutes in good. "Scratching The Surface" is my favourite on this disc. Pulsating synths and percussion lead the way as those great vocals come in. Very uplifting for me. I miss those days. "Pitchman" has an 80's sound to it. Haha.

3.5 stars. I still feel that "Don't Be Late" from "Silent Knight" is my favourite song from them. The atmosphere does it for me on that track.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This album isn't bad, but it's a different Saga. If till now they tested different forms of neo- progressive, now their direction is different: it's a prog-pop. Based on keyboards, melodic mid tempo well balanced songs.

In some sense they remind me the story of another (great) prog-pop group - Roxy Music. So, now there are mainly pop elements in their music, which they 're mixing with prog arrangements.

Songs are shorter, more radio oriented, but still enough competent. For sure, the pop orientation isn't secret anymore. But music is still enough pleasant.

As for me, this is last Saga album for years,which still is acceptable for listening.

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars In 1983 my brother taped a concert of a highly regarded Canadian prog rock band from a Dutch radio broadcast. I was sold on the spot. No wonder. The set list contained 4 tracks from this fine album and a wide selection of all their best songs from 1978 to 1982. I thought I had found me a new favorite band.

Big was my disappointment when I went back through their discography and concluded that they had played about every good track they ever made. Apparently, I completely agreed with Saga on only one point: which were their good songs and which were not.

However, the 1983 studio album wasn't a disappointment. Despite its overproduced sound, this one finally has 9 equally consistent songs. It has plenty of variation, the playing is tight and the vocals are intense. Unfortunately that was it for Saga. I haven't heard one single good song from them ever since. 3.5 stars.

Review by Atavachron
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is a group that few will admit liking but that have a quiet, secret fanbase lurking in the shadows, hidden from the scorn of the traditional rock/prog company which they keep. With a spotless sound, straightforward approach and synth foundation, Saga dared a unique mix of clean electronix and hard-rock riffing in a somewhat naive attempt to capture both markets. Instead they turned off synth- and hardrockers, and to their credit, didn't slow down at all. Sometimes you do what you gotta do, and if even only one person is listening, it's worth it. These days of course, many more than that enjoy the band (as evidenced by all the gold and platinum records) though you'd be hard-pressed to find them.

After the great debut in 1978, Images at Twilight was disappointing and it wasn't till '81s Worlds Apart these lifers began to hit a real stride. This, their fifth, kept the momentum going with a bright and lively offering that showcased Ian Crichton's delicious guitar phrasing in particular, as well as the clever arrangements of Jim Crichton and Michael Sadler. Hit 'The Flyer' is a fresh-faced daydream of aviation in a Tom Sawyer kind of vein, 'Catwalk' yields little more than Ian Crichton's searing guitar, and odd 'The Sound of Strangers' continues Michael Sadler's preoccupation with paranoia and features one of the best guitar flourishes of all time. The Sadler/Crichton knack for songwriting is shown-off for 'The Writing'; 80s Sting pop/pap of 'Intermission' slowly drags through; all-too-bouncy 'Social Orphan'; catchy and well-crafted 'The Vendetta' with more killer chops from Ian; incomprehensible Men Without Hats-like 'Scratching the Surface'; and rather excellent pop beat 'Pitchman' protects the rear.

Though not their best, Heads or Tales is representative of both the best of what Saga was doing at the time and what would give them a lukewarm rep in rock circles, and it is an entirely decent record.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
3 stars Worlds apart from Worlds Apart

Worlds Apart was Saga's breakthrough album and this follow-up is in some ways a continuation of its immediate predecessor but also a clear step further away from progressive Rock and towards more commercial pastures. In my review of Worlds Apart, I said that it was a kind of transitional album for Saga in being the last album of their early and more progressive period, and - simultaneously - the first album of their more "commercial" period. While there is some truth in this statement, it should not be taken to imply that there is "a world of difference" Worlds Apart and the earlier albums. Heads Or Tales is different. It is an even further streamlined version of Saga and the songs are simpler and less elaborated. Synthesisers dominate the sound (more than ever) and the production is very clean and polished. Given Saga's previous releases, Heads Or Tales was indeed a very natural development for the band and an album very much of its time. I simply don't think it is possible to sound more 80's than this! Personally, I find this album somehow a bit "shallow", but still good.

The progressive aspects of Saga's music are not really here anymore and had declined ever since the self-titled debut. The standout tracks are The Flyer, Scratching The Surface and Pitchman. The other songs are not really memorable. This is a listenable album with a few enjoyable moments, but not far from the greatness of Worlds Apart.

Good, but not essential

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars "Heads or Tails" is Saga's 5th album, the one that had to follow up the success of "World's Apart" from 1981, which also marked the band's breakout in the United States. The band was not only riding high off of that, but they were also called the most promising band by JUNO in 1982. So, there was a lot of expectation for "Heads or Tails", which was released in 1983 with the same band line-up as "World's Apart" and the same producer, Rupert Hine. Could the same formula work again a second time? Apparently, yes is the answer as this album was also successful, and with the energy of the songs on it, it deserved to be.

At first, quite honestly, I was a bit disappointed with it at first glance. But, it grew on me to where I appreciate it a lot more, even if it is slightly less progressive than the previous album. But not by much. There are still some great tracks here, and this is probably the last album for quite a while that can be considered a worthwhile addition to a progger's collection from the band.

"The Flyer" is a track that sticks in your head, "Cat Walk" gives Ian Chricton a chance to show off his guitar skill, and the rest of the tracks utilize the entire band quite well. For me, the level of complexity is a bit less on this album, but the songs still shine, especially on the first side. "The Sound of Strangers" does hearken back to "World's Apart" and would have fit on that album just fine. "Intermission" is more of a slower and more spacey sound, but with a stellar melodic line that gives Sadler a chance to shine emotionally. The albums to come after this one tend to lack the emotional quality of this album and the ones that came before. "Scratching the Surface" tends to stand out a bit from the rest of the album because it has quite a different feel to it, but still one of the highlights. This is also the only track that features Jim Gilmour singing lead vocals as the others are all lead by Sadler, rightfully so, but it's also nice to have this break at this point of the album. Even the ending track "The Pitchman" is a great track with complex instrumentals, but it fades out at the best part of the track, and that never sat well with me. At least, later reissues seemed to recognize this sort of lukewarm ending because they added the longer version of "Cat Walk" after this, and, quite honestly, this ends the album on a higher note and gives Chricton an even longer guitar solo, and a great new way to end the album.

So, this album, along with the four preceding albums from Saga, are all worth listening to. After this point, however, the band decided to take a more popular approach to try to get more success, which ended up backfiring on them, and by the time this mistake was acknowledged, it was too late, and the band never regained the success it had. However, that's not to say that the band didn't put out some great albums after, because they did. But it was on an inconsistent basis. For example, I consider "Generation 13" the best album the band has done, but that wasn't even released until 1995. There are other great ones to find out there, but you also have to wade through a lot of sub-par albums to find them. However, it is worth it to find those that are gems. As far as "Heads or Tales is concerned, though, I believe it makes up the last of the first five essential Saga albums as the band definitely hit a long dry spell after this one.

Latest members reviews

2 stars This album marks the beginning of the downward slide. Having tasted success under Rupert Hine's good production with "World's Apart" and getting their mugs and bums on MTV with a couple hits Saga went back with Hine and recorded this thing. The first 4 albums marked their signature to begin thou ... (read more)

Report this review (#2936701) | Posted by Sidscrat | Friday, June 30, 2023 | Review Permanlink

5 stars SAGA or the digital advent! 1. The Flyer to get used to the sound; electric, acute, yes the CD brought this cold digital sound and you will have to get used to it; in terms of the title remember their live at the time and the screens which heated behind and formed this bird; brief radio edit 2. Ca ... (read more)

Report this review (#2487238) | Posted by alainPP | Wednesday, December 23, 2020 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Saga was the band that got me into progressive rock in the beginning. I am old enough to remember the release of this album too and all their great albums. Listening to the older Saga brings back a lot of both bad and good memories from many years ago. Today, I would not brand Saga a prog ro ... (read more)

Report this review (#307066) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Thursday, October 28, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Crichton absolutely kills on this album!! Pitchman is a highlight for me, nice funky groove and some stellar guitar pyrotechnics at the end. (But of course, you really need to hear Crichton perform this live.) Flyer and Catwalk kick off the album with aggressive guitar pyrotechnics from Crichton ... (read more)

Report this review (#213224) | Posted by axeman | Friday, May 1, 2009 | Review Permanlink

5 stars One of the top albums in the Saga catologue. A lot of these songs are pop-rock structures, but the soloing is outstanding. Saga always managed to turn seemingly easylistening popsongs into well crafted heavy prog. Songs like Flyer and Social Orphan are straight-on heavy rock. Intermission is bea ... (read more)

Report this review (#189381) | Posted by Kingsnake | Saturday, November 15, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Four stars and a half. This is a fine album with very well arranged songs but the sound they've chosen for this work is not what I like and it isn't marks the typical sound of the band. Here SAGA was trying to sound more pop album by album, and it's not a bad point, but I prefer the symphonic- ... (read more)

Report this review (#17545) | Posted by porcupine_boy | Thursday, February 24, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Another great album by SAGA, Ian Crichton really shines throughout & on the version of "The Flyer"(7:44) solos into the upper atmosphere much like he did on the debut album on the track"Tired World". Songs 3/4/5 are also strong. ... (read more)

Report this review (#17540) | Posted by | Thursday, December 11, 2003 | Review Permanlink

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