19 December, 2021

a-ha - ranking highs and lows - An introduction

Welcome to 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows', the project where two life-long a-ha fans have taken on the ambitious task of ranking all the band's songs from worst to best! To be very clear: This is not your standard 'The 10 best a-ha singles' countdown. This is the real deal where we go through the entire catalogue from the biggest singles to the most obscure demos released by the band.

The countdown can be found on this blog divided into six posts, each ranking approximately 25 songs starting from the bottom. Accompanying the blog we have a podcast with the same countdown which is ideal for those who prefer to listen rather than read. Just search for 'a-ha Ranking Highs and Lows' on your preferred podcast app and hopefully you should be able to find us there.

But before we get to the actual countdown we wanted to provide a bit of background to the project and the two fans behind it.

The ranking has been done by us, Jens Peter (JP) and Jesper Sommer Schjølin (JSS), two Danish a-ha fans from the early days. JP discovered a-ha when he was 10 years old and saw and heard Take On Me for the first time. It was aired on the annual New Year's Eve TV show on Danish national television as 1985 turned into 1986, and JP felt like he got sucked into the family's black & white TV, not unlike the plot of the groundbreaking music video. Jesper who, contrary to JP, enjoyed such modern luxuries as colour TV, Super Channel and MTV had already seen Take On Me several times but didn't think much of it at the time. However, when he saw and heard The Sun Always Shines On T.V. he was hooked.

Back then we didn't know each other as we grew up in different parts of the country. We first met around 1998 at a time where a-ha fans were few and far between, especially the ones who still followed the band, their solo careers and their plans to re-unite.

Where the ranking took place - Welcome to a recreation of JP's room anno 1993!

We have always enjoyed discussing a-ha and their solo projects, eagerly anticipating new albums, studying songwriting credits, discussing the production of the albums, the pleasant surprises and the occasional disappointments. For us it was always about the music, but in the beginning it was also about the posters, the articles, the self-composed top 10's and top 20's of the best a-ha songs, and of course the leather wristbands. Which we still wear, to be honest, as a testament to our commitment and somehow an integrated part of our identity as fans. It's like a lifeline to the past.

We both lived and breathed a-ha in the 1980s and 1990s, always ready to defend them against friends at school who didn't see what we saw and didn't hear what we heard. In some ways that has never changed although the friends at school have been replaced by colleagues at work, but the mission remains the same and in some ways that is why we've made this project: We want to continue to promote a-ha as much more than or anything BUT 'the Take On Me band'. 

So a few months ago we were - once again - texting each other about a-ha and discussing how truly awesome a band they are. That's a recurrent activity and a theme that never seems to wear out. And we started discussing the best and the worst songs, or as we label them in this countdown: the highs and lows. What is a-ha's best song? Which song is the worst of them all and why? Which song is the best on Stay On These Roads and which one is the worst on Analogue? After a few rounds JP suggested that we try to structure it and actually do the ultimate ranking: Take all of a-ha's songs and rank them from worst to best. It didn't take long to convince Jesper, and with the help of a fellow friend and a-ha fan (albeit a bit more casual than JP and Jesper) Peter Noes we started to plan the project and lay down the rules. We also quickly decided that we wanted to make the ranking public to other fans simply because we knew that we ourselves would have loved to see such a list had it been done by somebody else.

So we met on a Saturday afternoon in a small living room which to mark the occasion for the day had been decorated floor to ceiling with old a-ha posters. Ah, to be a teenager again!

Remember these?

And during a long day (and well into the night) we created the list. We had made small pieces of laminated, colour-coded paper with the title of each a-ha song which we drew one at a time from a box decorated with a-ha pictures. Each time we drew a song from the box we put it on a table and started to move it around as song followed song: "Barely Hanging On is surely better than Cry Wolf, right?"

We felt pretty good about the list when we ended the session, but as always when you sleep on it you start second-guessing a few things. So in the following weeks we had a number of video calls where we moved things around again, made compromises, argued for and against certain songs and made some final tweaks. What you can read in the blog posts and hear in the podcast is the final agreed upon list - what we consider the ultimate ranking.

Luckily our tastes tend to not differ too much when it comes to a-ha's songs, which would otherwise have made it an impossible project. We would argue that an a-ha fan who swears by the band's 90's sound cannot make this ranking exercise with someone who prefers the comeback albums from the early 2000's. They are just too different. On a side note it's pretty remarkable that we have such similar tastes when it comes to a-ha and which songs are the best/worst, because we don't have much else in common when it comes to bands or artists we like. But for some reason our musical Venn diagram overlaps on a-ha and mostly even on the individual songs. This is not to say that there weren't heated discussions and compromises along the way. There definitely were a fair share of those - true to the "a-ha way of making an album"!

As the last point of this introduction we would like to add that although this project is our attempt to chronicle a-ha's catalogue and rank each song from worst to best it is still more than anything a celebration of what we think is the best band in the world. Period! Needless to say there's always going to be a certain quality span when a band has released around 150 songs, and as such there is no doubt that there are songs we either don't particularly like or simply don't have any real feelings for (that's actually sometimes worse!). However, all of the songs make up a part of the story of a-ha and therefore also a part of us as fans from the first hour. So all of what we've written is written with the love and respect for a-ha that comes with more than 35 years of fandom. However, we also reserve the right to be critical when we feel that band politics, personal grudges or poor choices have a negative impact on the quality of the songs.

We hope you have fun reading the ranking. And do take the opportunity to share your comments on our Facebook page; we're curious to hear your thoughts!

a-happy reading!

JP & Jesper

The ranking coming along nicely - still 124 more songs to go!


In the end we have ranked 147 songs. The overall criteria have been that:

  • all songs should be performed by a-ha and (co-)written by one or more of the band members.
  • all songs must have been released on an official release bearing the a-ha name. It can be from an album, a single b-side, a demo from an album re-release etc.
  • we rank the studio version of the songs. In those cases where more studio versions exist (e.g. Move To Memphis from 1991 vs. 1993) we mostly rank the first version.
  • no cover songs, no unreleased songs, no demo songs if there is a later official version of the song. Having said that there are three exceptions to the rules which will be apparent as you read through the list.

Below are the songs that have been excluded from our ranking.

#9 Dream

Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign To Save Darfur (U.K. Version) (2007)
a-ha's contribution to a John Lennon cover album by various artists, not included on an a-ha release

A Question Of Lust
BBC Radio session
Unreleased cover of a Depeche Mode song

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
BBC Radio session
Unreleased cover of a Soft Cell song

Bowling Green
Ending On A High Note farewell concert in Oslo, Dec. 4, 2010
Cover song only performed live once

Lay Lady Lay
2004 concert in Bergen as a duet with Magnet
Unreleased cover song

Lesson One
Hunting High And Low Super Deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition (2015)
Although it has its own title it's basically an early version of Take On Me

Life's Not Fair
Minor Earth Major Sky Deluxe Edition (2019)
Despite the title it's a demo version of I Wish I Cared 

Minor Key Sonata (Analogue)
Analogue CD single (2005)
The original version of Analogue and while different from the final version it still has too many similarities to be considered a stand-alone track

One In A Million
Lifelines Deluxe Edition (2019)
Demo version of White Canvas

Sail On My Love
Stay On These Roads Deluxe Edition (2015)
Although it has its own title it's a very early version of Stay On These Roads and cannot be considered a standalone track

Sox of the Fox
MTV Unplugged - Summer Solstice (2017)
Cover of a Bridges song called The Vacant, and although technically it qualifies as it's written by a-ha members and released on an a-ha album and even played on the accompanying tour it feels more like a nod to the a-ha legacy than as a true a-ha release. It would have ranked quite high on our list, though...

The Killing Moon
MTV Unplugged - Summer Solstice (2017)
Cover song by Echo & The Bunnymen, not really turned into an a-ha song

The Sphinx
Hunting High And Low Super Deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition (2015)
Although it has its own title it's an early version of Train Of Thought