Anyone who's familiar with Saga knows what a large role synthesizers play in their sound. Anyone who's familiar with their early years knows what a large role MOOG synthesizers played in their sound! Present and accounted for were the all-time classic Minimoog—used by Rick Wakeman, Jan Hammer, Kit Watkins and scores of others, the Memorymoog, Multimoog, and the Micromoog (multiples of the Mini— and Memory— were employed). Lead keyboardist Jim Gilmour also played a wonderful, yet reputedly mercurial, Yamaha CS80 synth—that opening sound on "Careful Where You Step" from Silent Knight (1980) is the CS80. So if an archival release of pre-1980 material by Saga made the rounds, would Sagarians not jump on it? The original limited pressing of Phase One was available only through the band's fan club and at tour stops—even recently it commanded upwards of $40 on eBay. Now it is widely available once more, thanks to Saga's label, SPV. Phase One contains professionally-recorded demos of songs from the
Images At Twilight sessions—the release is named for the studio where Saga's first three albums were recorded, with Paul Gross (then they were off to England to record Worlds Apart with Rupert Hine). Also, Jim Gilmour wasn't a member of Saga, just yet; following the departure of Peter Rochon, Greg Chadd (an American, not a Canadian) was enlisted for Images, his one & only venture with the group, though he didn't last long enough to tour with them.
Expectations regarding early Saga material that oozes the luster of sexy analog synths will not go unfulfilled; the cymbal swell of "Half The Time" loses the race to the digital counter by a looped patch on a—you guessed it. The song (and everything else) is very much in the flavor of Saga & Images At Twilight—a Moog swell outro bears some similarity to "How Long" and "Climbing The Ladder." "Old Man" is a quaint, rollicking piece with classically-flavored Moog licks and a jiggy guitar lead by Ian Crichton. "Hangman" is an old classic from the band's pre-contract live days; one concertgoer still insists it was an "epic" number, while here it clocks 7:46 (which still makes it the single longest Saga studio piece, barring Generation 13 (if that is to be counted as one one long track with index points). "Hangman" is by far the spaciest track Saga has ever recorded; Jim Crichton's Multimoog bass pattern and Steve Negus' Masonesque groove together evoke some of John Carpenter's electronic soundtrack work, as well as Pink Floyd—not to mention the involuntary tribute to Tangerine Dream in the shimmering cascades of e-strings, such as those culled from an ARP 2600.
Several of the Phase One demos include tight, robust versions of well-known tracks: "You're Not Alone," "Mouse In A Maze," and "Hot To Cold." This raw version of "Mouse In A Maze" skips the a cappella intro and rocks quite a bit more than the final studio version, while the chorus is intact—my preference is for this version, and likewise for the demo of "Hot To Cold": the effervescent electro-harpsichord intro sparkles—the Minimoog outro is fabulous.
The fun is not over yet: two more previously-unreleased cuts—"Don't Bother" and "Don't Step Out Of Line"—blaze their way forth. The former contains a quirky carnivalesque and/or ragtime air to it—the synth break at 2:30 must be heard to be believed; that & the vocal line makes this one of the most offbeat and unique Saga songs. The latter is an upbeat rocker with all of the right ingredients—hard to believe such good material was shelved. The reissue of Phase One concludes with a more recent live version of "You're Not Alone" as a bonus track.
So while Images At Twilight may have been a better album by including "Half The Time," "Hangman," and "Don't Step Out Of Line"—there are at least three cuts which could've been swapped out—the thrill would be diminished. A second volume of archival material to follow up Phase One is not free of rumor. Let's hope it sees the light of day!