“You’ve Got to Open that Valve Every Once in a While”: The Release Mechanism that Inspired “On the Loose” by Saga

Canadian progressive music icons Saga came to international prominence with their fourth album Worlds Apart which sold half a million copies in America and charted in numerous countries. Released in September 1981 (a year later in the States), the collection produced the memorable singles “On the Loose” and “Wind Him Up”—the former was a bigger hit in America, while the latter was bigger in Europe. Frontman Michael Sadler, guitarist Ian Crichton, bassist Jim Crichton, keyboardist Jim Gilmour, and drummer Steve Negus had arrived.

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For American audiences, “On the Loose” is an undeniable ‘80s classic and is the band’s biggest hit by far—it’s got hooks, it’s got chops, and it exemplifies what makes Saga such a great band. While the neo-prog bands of the early to mid-1980s kept the epic and sometimes musically grandiose ideas of ‘70s prog rock, Saga effectively compressed them into shorter, more palatable songs.

Blowing off Steam

Sadler told Songfacts “On the Loose” is about “blowing off steam. Everybody’s got to just let it out every once in a while, you can’t keep things inside. You know: tonight I’m on the loose, we’re on the loose, you’re on the loose. It’s as simple as that. At the time, and it’s just gotten more so, stress, stress, stress for everybody, every single human on this planet. Every once in a while we’ve got to let go and just blow it out and deal with the consequences later. You’ve got to open that valve every once in a while.”

I see no harm or danger in escaping
If the method suits the style
We put the mind on idle
And let the others take it for a while
When the pace is too fast
And I think I won’t last
You know where I’ll be found
I’ll be standing here beside myself
Getting ready for the final round
No one could stop me now
Tonight I’m on the loose
No one to tell me how
Tonight I’m on the loose

Interestingly enough, the singer said that “Wind Him Up” dealt with another excess. “It basically deals with gambling,” Sadler told Songfacts. “A fictitious gentleman by the name of Aldo, he’s got his gambling problem. Again, excess. I don’t know if there’s a lesson to be learned or a moral to that, but it’s about gambling and the addiction factor.”

A Literal Interpretation

The video for “On the Loose” did not reflect the lyrics. It took the title concept literally with Sadler portraying an incarcerated man whose girlfriend helps break him out of prison late at night. The story is intercut with footage of the group performing as Sadler’s jailbird character flees the authorities. But when he and his girl seek refuge in the concert hall where Saga is playing, the police lose sight of him. The main detective gets confused when he sees the singer who looks exactly like the escapee, but in different clothes.

It’s a memorable clip for a dynamic track. It is also one of the earliest ‘80s examples of a music video taking a more conceptual approach intercut with a band performance.

Walking the Plank

In 2017, Sadler told Boom 97.3 FM in Toronto producer Rupert Hine and engineer Stephen W Tayler liked to think outside of the box and would experiment with different recording techniques and scenarios.

“When it came to the vocal of ‘On the Loose,’ they wanted a sense of angst, a sense of impending doom or danger, for want of a better expression,” Sadler told Boom 97.3. “So with the studio being an old barn, it still had the crossbeams all across the length of the building.”

The singer walked into the studio (The Farmyard in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, England) one day to record “On the Loose,” and the vocal mic was not in its usual position. When he asked the production team where it was, they said, “It’s up there.” Hine and Tayler jerryrigged the microphone stand on one of the crossbeams in the barn about 35 feet in the air with a ladder for access. They asked Sadler to go up there and sit to record his vocal for the song. And he did.

“There’s a picture of it on the [album] sleeve actually, me sitting up there and just balancing myself, no ropes or anything … and it gave a kind of sense of urgency to the track,” Sadler recalled. “Working with those guys, it was like anything goes. Whatever it took to achieve a certain sound, they knew how to get it. Or they wouldn’t rest until they got exactly what they wanted. ‘On the Loose’ was one of those tracks, and they got what they wanted.”

An Enduring Anthem

“On the Loose” and “Wind Him Up” helped Worlds Apart become Saga’s breakthrough album. “On the Loose” hit No. 26 in both America and Germany and made it to No. 3 on the Top Rock Charts/Mainstream Rock radio chart. The video got some good airplay on MTV. The second single “Wind Him Up” (which was the first single in Europe) hit No. 7 in Germany, No. 22 in Canada, and No. 64 in America.

Boosted by the radio and video exposure and lengthy touring—including U.S. treks supporting Jethro Tull in 1982 and Billy Squier in 1983—the album fared well. Released by different labels in Canada, the U.S. and UK, and mainland Europe, Worlds Apart reportedly sold 500,000 units in America, 250,000 in Germany, and 100,000 in Canada. Sadler once told me they developed a following in Puerto Rico and could headline an arena there. The album won the 1982 Juno Award in Canada for Most Promising Group of the Year.

Worlds Apart was Saga’s mainstream peak in America, but they continued thriving in Europe with their next three albums and have maintained a steadfast following over there. Their last three albums went Top 20 in Germany.

To be fair, Saga has released a lot of fantastic music over the years, having recorded 22 albums and explored a wide variety of musical styles within their own sound. Now that their back catalog is entirely available on Spotify, we recommend checking out their other releases including Heads or Tales (1983), The Beginner’s Guide to Throwing Shapes (1989), House of Cards (2001), The Chapters Live (2005), and Trust (2006).

No one can stop you now, so stream them on the loose.

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Photo courtesy Saga via Facebook

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