26 December, 2021

a-ha - ranking highs and lows - Part 1: Rank 147-126

Welcome to 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows'! This is where we rank the entire a-ha song catalogue from worst to best, or in more a-ha-ish terminology from the lows to the highs. There are 147 songs in total, and we start from the bottom.

We have divided the rankings into six separate blog posts with 25 songs in each, apart from this first entry which starts at 147 and ends at 126. And honestly, if you're reading this you are probably either a fairly hardcore a-ha fan yourself and have your own idea of which songs are the band's best and worst, in which case we hope that you will enjoy agreeing or disagreeing with our ranking, or you are a more casual listener who may not know the entire a-ha catalogue inside-out. In that case we hope you may become inspired to dig deeper into their wonderful discography - and maybe even check out some of the stuff that sits low on our list. No matter which category you fall into: welcome!

The ranking was done by Danish a-ha fans Jens Peter (JP) and Jesper Sommer Schjølin (JSS). If you want to read more about the background for the project and the process we went through in creating the list you can find a separate blog post about that as well. And in case you need a little introduction to the Ranking Highs and Lows project you can find it here.

And maybe more importantly you can also find a podcast where we go through the list and discuss the songs in more detail including all sorts of other anecdotes related to being an a-ha fan for 36 years. Search for 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows' in your favorite podcast app. We may not be on all the podcast platforms yet, but at least you can find us on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

And of course you're more than welcome to share your thoughts on our Facebook page as well or let us know if something isn't working properly. We'd love to hear what you think so far!

Without further ado here follows the first part of our complete ranking of a-ha song. Ranking the highs and lows. In this part you will find a number of demo songs but maybe also a couple of surprises?


You're So White
Unreleased demo (ca. 1984)

JP: Already here we break our own rules for which songs to include in the ranking as You're So White hasn't had an official release, but it's so bad that it would a shame not to put it on the list and at its rightful position: at the bottom. Who knows, maybe the band is saving it for a possible Hunting High and Low 50 Year Anniversary Mega Deluxe Expanded Limited Edition Extravaganza Pack in 2035? They needn't bother though as it's its blend of synthesized xylophone and marimba steel drum sound is rather atrocious. The verses are not bad, and the lines "I pull myself apart / And then put everything in place / Neatly 'round my heart" hint at the lyrical greatness to come. It's not enough to prevent the song from gracing the bottom of our list, though. Look it up on YouTube. Or don’t.

JSS: Well, what a way to start off. There is so much wrong here, and it might be the reason why this is a rare demo that has not been released officially. The transition from the bridge to the chorus is just not working and the chorus might the worst a-ha has ever done. It does have its high notes, but this is before Morten got his voice right, and this is surely not ending on a high note. I would say that Magne's supporting vocals are not bad, but all in all a well deserved final place - although there is tough competition in the following...


You Have Grown Thoughtful Again (demo)          
Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JSS: Surprisingly, some people actually have a soft spot for this song. I have no clue as to why that is? The weird "caramba" pre-verse, the out of tune vocals in the verse - the list goes on. There is a great chord shift in the bridge, but it does not save the song from being a really bad piece. Morten still sings awfully here.

JP: Very clearly still at the demo stage and it was probably a wise decision to leave it there. To quote the song lyrics: “I can’t say I like it”.


What's That You're Doing To Yourself In The Pouring Rain (demo)
Hunting High And Low Super Deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition (2015)

Back of the HH&L Super Deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition where many of the early demos can be found, incl. What's That You're Doing To Yourself In The Pouring Rain?

What’s that you’re doing to my ears? The song is proof that just because it's exciting for a fan to hear old demoes it doesn't mean that they are all great. They aren't! The song starts with a phone dialing sound and the vocals partly sound like they are sung or recorded through a telephone as well. Still, it has its charms and I would rather listen to this than some of a-ha's more recent and polished output because of the nostalgia surrounding these early demos, but it's still not a good song and it would hardly have turned into a classic even if it had been properly produced.

JSS: Elevator music. The radio voice was not used in another demo version of the song, which gave it a bit more edge. Nevertheless, a song that is only charming to hardcore fans, and yes, we are. But when the middle eight is as bad as it is, there are no excuses - the middle eight is great on other earlier demoes. Not a boring song though.


I'll Never Find You In This Streetful City (demo)
Stay On These Roads Deluxe Edition (2015)          

JSS: This one has a nice start, but it's just a boring little piece that was fun to listen to once or twice when it was released. Even as an instrumental it does not have a direction as such. Forgettable.

JP: A small instrumental piece that has a bit of a Stay On These Roads flavour here and there but clearly still a song left at the conceptual stage. By no means essential listening.


Evitar (demo)
Stay On These Roads Deluxe Edition (2015)          

JP: Sometimes referred to as Avatar. Another almost instrumental-only track with hints of a choir. It definitely has its charms. Occasionally enjoyable and maybe a very distant second cousin to Driftwood but it lacks the distinct a-ha signature.

JSS: Nice bass here. The melody has some quality to it. I wonder what vocals could have done to it? It does not sound like it was meant to be instrumental, so maybe there's a version somewhere on some old tapes where Morten sings something. Could be interesting to hear.


Thus Ended Our Love Affair (demo)
Stay On These Roads Deluxe Edition (2015)

JSS: When Morten's vocal appears in the last minute of the song it really becomes great. I like the atmosphere in the song as a whole, and if it had been finished with vocals throughout the song, it might have had a place in the top 50. But as it is - not interesting enough.

JP: A three minute musical parenthesis which at 2:10 is saved by 20 seconds of beautiful, soft vocals by Morten. Somehow an intriguing idea but the instrumental part is not strong enough to carry it through.


Digital River
Unreleased live track performed on the 2019/2020 Hunting High And Low Tour

JP: Pål discovers social media and it sounds like the equivalent to an old man yelling at the T.V. Digital River was the only new song to feature on a-ha’s Hunting High and Low 30th Anniversary Tour and while I appreciate the effort I can’t imagine that there weren’t better new songs in Pål's song vault than this one which sounds like Eurovision Song Contest material. Anyone who has listened to the most recent release from Savoy or the Waaktaar & Zoe project will know that Pål hasn't lost his flair for writing strong melodies and lyrics, so why a-ha decided to premiere this one I will never understand. Honestly they could replace this with pretty much any other song in their catalogue when they pick up the tour again and it would be an improvement. To be fair though: Digital River shouldn't really be on our list in the first place as it hasn't had an official release, but a-ha must have had enough faith in the song since they played it extensively on the aforementioned tour. And - also to be fair - we're judging the song based on hearing it live on tour and subsequent YouTube clips, so maybe we should have given it the benefit of the doubt. But I doubt it.

JSS: I don't know what to say here. I was so disappointed when it came to my attention that Pål wrote this song. This is Eurovision material at best, and the melody line and text in both verse and chorus is so bad - I am lost for words and super embarrassed that this for now is the last a-ha song ever to reach the public in some form. I makes my urge for more music from them stronger. This can't be their swan song.

(Note: And is it turns out after writing these words, Digital River will indeed not be a-ha's swan song as they recently announced a new album set for release in Autumn 2022. It will be a live recording of 12 new songs complete with backing from a symphonic orchestra. It can honestly only get better. We hope.)


Forest Fire
Cast In Steel (2015)

Forest Fire promo single cover. As exciting as the song.

JSS: A feast for some fans which goes to show that being an a-ha fan can be vastly different things to different people. One of the most cheesy songs released and even released as a single. The tempo is Take On Me, yes, there is a keyboard riff, but a really poor one, an the off beat riff is not well placed. This makes my skin crawl, and Morten just doesn't sound good when trying to reach the high notes. Please stop.

JP: A very poor attempt at writing a hit. There are hints of Modern Talking, uninspired Take On Me style keyboards, a forced guitar riff and a high-pitched chorus. Also not a pleasant live song. I like the second verse, though, but everything else is just off.


The Wake
Cast In Steel (2015)

JP: This one holds some promise in the verses and pre-chorus, but as the stale beat kicks in at the beginning of the chorus it instantly loses all appeal. Synthetic strings do not help here either. After the more than solid opening of the Cast In Steel album thanks to the title track and lead single Under The Makeup all dreams of a fantastic comeback were quickly punctured by the back-to-back dreadfulness of The Wake and Forest Fire (see rank 140). Another example of the negative consequences of not having a shared vision for an album. Sounds like a Morten solo effort from the later years which is not a compliment.

JSS: Just as bad as Forest Fire - maybe even worse in my book, and this is Peter Kvint influenced rubbish (I could have used a stronger word). This track would also have had a fair chance at Eurovision, but this is not the a-ha that makes me proud at all. The lyrics are bad, too. Please stop making songs like this. I might be a snob, but there is no cred in this whatsoever.


Trees Will Not Grow On Sand (demo)
East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon Deluxe Edition (2015)

JSS: I think Pål actually claimed to like this song written and performed by Magne. This is not a-ha, and it would have ruined the East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon-album had it been included with its poodle rock ballad style. It does have something to it on a rainy day, but all in all Magne was uninspired at this time in a-ha'a career, which he has also mentioned himself. Having said that, he did make a nice contribution to the album - more on that higher on the list.

JP: A demo featuring Magne on vocals. This is the sound of stonewashed denim and a beard put to music. Badly stonewashed denim! It has 'ballad from a bad hair metal band' written all over it. Not even Morten's vocals could have saved this one. It's an interesting song as an indication of how far a-ha were considering taking their move towards Americana, but this was a step too far and luckily not included on an otherwise near-perfect album.


We Will Never Speak Again (demo)
Minor Earth Major Sky Deluxe Edition (2019)

JP: An unholy mix of programmed drums, uninspired demo vocals and strings. The annoying synth effect in the chorus makes you want to never listen again. In many ways it's of course not completely fair to compare a demo with finalized versions of the same song, but We Will Never Speak Again works slightly better on Morten's solo album Letter From Egypt from 2008. Still, overall it's not nearly as good a song as it wants to come across as.

JSS: This was a great track by Magne back on the Hotel Oslo - film soundtrack album from 1997 as Timbersound with Kjetil Bjerkestrand. The now late Freddie Wadling sang with so much passion alongside Anneli Drecker. I really liked it - it was cool and well written. Morten did an ok cover of the song, but the a-ha demo is not good. Had Morten sung it with more coolness from the early 90's albums it might have worked.


The End Of The Affair
Cast In Steel bonus track (2015)

JSS: A cheesy little song where the uh-uh-uh-uhhhh really makes it somewhat pathetic. It is not all bad, and some small changes might have given it a place higher up. The guitar playing is nice and the verses are fine. Nothing more..

JP: To me this is Magne by numbers and could easily have found a place on one of his solo albums. Nice enough in places but nowhere near an a-ha song. And the uh-hu-huuuu in the chorus is uninspired at best. Good call leaving it off the Cast In Steel album.


Turn The Lights Down Lifelines (2002)

JP: More like Turn The Sound Down! There's something in the melody that is just completely off, and the chorus is among the worst of any a-ha song. Fellow Norwegian singer Anneli Drecker does a good job as a duet partner for Morten, and I would still argue that the song could have been a big hit had it been released as a duet with a more famous female artist at the time (think Christina Aguilera, Nelly Furtado, Dido or any of the other big female artists of 2002). Still, I'm kind of glad a-ha didn't go for that solution as I wouldn't want a wider audience to associate the band with a song like Turn The Lights Down.

JSS: I always refer to this song as "the worst a-ha ever released". As we have seen it can be worse, but on most days this stands out in my mind as the most cheesy track ever. Even Morten has claimed that they failed to do it right. I have a hard time seeing how this could have been saved though. The lyrics are pathetic and all of the instruments are just "played wrong" - in lack of a better description. The dull tempo, too. Ok, I'll stop now.


What There Is Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

JSS: This is a Magne reuse from the soundtrack to Ti Kniver I Hjertet. I really liked that guitar riff used on several tracks on the soundtrack. In this song - not so much. Guitar out, Europop in. Easily my least favorite track on Foot Of The Mountain. Eurovision material.

JP: Pål's lyrics mostly border elegantly on the right side of unusual, but this time I just don't get it. The worst song on their overrated ninth studio album Foot of the Mountain. As much as I had longed for Pål and Magne to collaborate more again their shared output on Foot Of The Mountain just didn't really move me, and What There Is was a prime example of this.


Umbrella (demo) Stay On These Roads Deluxe Edition (2015)

JP: To be honest I've always liked this demo ever since I got a cassette copy that circulated between fans in the early 1990's where it was referred to as Telephone. The "woo!" climax towards the end is cool, and for a fan it was fun to eavesdrop on a phone call between Pål and his girlfriend, now wife, Lauren which makes up the vocal part of this track (I deliberately do not refer to it as a song). Objectively speaking Umbrella isn't much of a tune, but for my sake it could have been placed higher on the list as well - despite the operatic background vocal that doesn't do much good either.

JSS: I was never really impressed with this demo. A fun thing to have a recorded phone conversation with Lauren, which was also used on an early demo for I've Been Losing You. It does not save this track, and I am tempted to put it even further down the list hearing it again.


Thought That It Was You Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JSS: Sorry, Morten. I know you can write proper material, but this one is not amongst it. The production is all wrong, and the falsetto in the chorus is borderline (maybe even over) embarrassing. The drumming is so cheesy and the glockenspiel keyboard is simply beyond what can be accepted for a-ha standards. The lyrics... "amen amen". It actually sounds like Christian pop music.

JP: One of the two songs penned by Morten on the comeback album and by far the worst of them. Horrible production and an example of when Morten's attraction to religion brings out all the worst sides in him. As an antidote listen to Lord or Lay Me Down Tonight from his 1995 solo album Wild Seed where he balances questions of faith and great songwriting perfectly. It would take a forgiving god to appreciate a song like Thought That It Was You at least.


Presenting Lily Mars (demo) The Demo Tapes (2004) / Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JP: Several versions of this demo have been recorded so obviously it's a song the band had some faith in before their breakthrough but maybe also one that never really found a clear identity. Presenting Lily Mars should be appreciated for it's storytelling and lyrical gold nuggets like "And when she's lying sleepless in his arms / The frost paints roses on poor Lily's window pane". The song itself would have been out of style on any of their albums but on second (or third, fourth, fifth) thought it might have deserved to be a bit higher on our list.

JSS: I actually enjoy this one to some extent. The imagery of Lily Mars' life is cheeky and fun. Morten is trying to sing it with an American accent, which is a little off. But this one is not bad at all.


I Won't Forget Her Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JSS: If programmed drums could ever destroy a track, this is a strong contender. This is Pål's writing at its lowest. The verse is cheesy and the chorus even worse. Digital River sounds a bit like this one. Pål mentioned once that the demo of I Won't Forget Her (which can be found on the Minor Earth Major Sky Deluxe Edition from 2019) was much better. Well, its a little better, but by no means of a quality that should be included on an album. The bridge where Morten sing "... day much like today..." is the highpoint of the song. But cooler drums might have saved it from being down here.

JP: Unfortunately I won't forget I Won't Forget Her. Apparently it was considered as a choice for the first single off Minor Earth Major Sky in which case the comeback could have ended before it even began. Possibly the worst production of any song on the album which says a lot as there are several (un)worthy contenders. Morten's vocals are fine and reminiscent of the style he adopted for his 1995 solo album Wild Seed. Lyrically there's also much to admire as Pål candidly tells his girlfriend that although he will take good care of her, there will always be that other girl he used to love. But the production... The beats already sounded outdated when it was released in 2000.


Objects In The Mirror Cast In Steel (2015)

JP: It's not horrible as such but it just sounds like one of those Magne songs that come a dime a dozen. This is Magne with Morten on vocals, but it's not a-ha.

JSS: Very middle of the road track. A verse that passes, but the chorus with "loooooking back is bittersweet" is just too bland and boring.


Så Blåser Det På Jorden (demo) The Demo Tapes (2004) / Hunting High And Low Super Deluxe 30th Anniversary Edition (2015)

The Demo Tapes (2004). It came with the first edition of The Swing Of Things, Jan Omdahl's book about a-ha and was the first to feature the demo of Så Blåser Det På Jorden. Monkey no see, monkey no do...

JSS: Only track sung in Norwegian. I like it for what its worth. It sounds like Norwegian Eurovision from the 70's - not that I actually know any songs from that era. It has some special moments, and I like that us fans got to hear it. Enjoyable from time to time.

JP: The only official a-ha release in their native tongue. The lyrics are inspired, I like the hectic quality to the melody and it's a unique glimpse into what a-ha could also have been but it's honestly more interesting than great. Still, personally I could have seen "Så blåser..." go higher on the list but maybe not crack the top 100.


The Company Man Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JP: The obligatory stab at the record company and 'the Man'. Relevant for those who want to understand a-ha's struggle to be something other than "the Take On Me band". Irrelevant for everyone else.

JSS: I was never mad at this song. I like the melody. But yes, it is a little too literal and perhaps unnecessary all things considered. Especially, as the name of the company man is his actual name. Taking stabs at other people in songs - although within the band - is not foreign territory though as we will hear later.


I Wish I Cared Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JSS: I liked this when it came out. The video was new from a technology point of view, which is quite a tradition for a-ha. But the song itself drags along and in hindsight, it is not a strong track.

JP: I wish I cared, too. But I don't. Or not anymore at least. When it was first released I was hugely impressed but it really hasn't aged well. Definitely a good call changing the song title from the original Life's Not Fair. Morten's vocals are strong and the middle eight is actually quite good, but overall it has lost it's appeal over the years.

And there you have it! The 22 worst a-ha songs. Likely not a list that anyone has ever felt was missing in their life, but as true Scandinavians we know that you have to suffer before you can be rewarded. And fear not: You will soon be rewarded as we already start to encounter some quite good songs as we count down from 125 to 101 on the Ranking Highs And Lows list. We hope you have enjoyed the journey so far even if you might already have seen some of your own favourite songs on the list. It just goes to show that preferences differ and that a-ha's impressive song catalogue appeals to different people with different taste. That's not a bad thing, honestly! And if you think the bottom of the chart is a little heavy on the demo-side it's because our principle is that all songs should be compared in the form in which they have been released. We don't give out free points for potential. But all you demo-song lovers out there - don't worry! There are still plenty of demos to cover in the coming posts.

See you further up the list...