06 January, 2022

a-ha - ranking highs and lows - Part 3: Rank 100-76

Welcome back to the countdown of a-ha's songs from worst to best where we hunt high and low among a wonderful catalogue of hits, misses, deep cuts, album fillers and demoes.

This time it's the songs ranked from 100 to 76 which means that we are almost "halfway through the tour" (which incidentally is ranked number 117 on our list - have a look at the previous chapters of our countdown if you haven't done that already). So far the list from place 147 to 101 has been dominated by some early demos and material from year 2000 onwards, but a handful of tracks from what some might consider "the golden era" from 1985 to 1993 also ended up in the bottom third. In this part of the countdown it feels like we move from the good songs to the great songs. Not necessarily all the way to the fantastic or amazing songs yet (by a-ha standards, that is, because a good a-ha song is still better than most other songs out there, right?) but there is a certain noticeable quality increase as we get closer to the top 75. Let's see if you agree.

But before we continue the list do take the opportunity to also check out the countdown in podcast format. Here you'll hear more discussion about each of the songs, various important and not-so-important personal anecdotes, the occasional argument about how a song is ranked on the list and basically just spend time with a couple of people who love a-ha just about as much as you do! Just look up 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows' on your favorite podcast app. And in case you need a little re-introduction to the Ranking Highs and Lows project you can find it here. Or if you feel like leaving a comment then head over to our Facebook page. We'd love to hear your thoughts!

And with that we will now do what is known as a "reverse Lamb to the Slaughter", which of course refers to Magne's contribution to the Memorial Beach album from 1993 and means that "we go up, it's the only way out". On to the songs ranked 100-76 on our countdown of all a-ha songs from the worst to the best!


A Fine Blue Line
Analogue (2005)

JSS: Above average. A clear Magne song, and I have always liked it. Blends nicely with the other songs surrounding it on the album, which is giving it credit as the other songs are some of the best moments after the comeback in 2000.

JP: One of the songs on the Analogue album that in a way just sits there. It doesn't do any harm, pleasant at times, nice vocals. But if I was tasked with stripping Analogue from 13 tracks to a classic 10-track album A Fine Blue Line would be a strong contender to be left off. To me it seems related to Birthright which I personally think is a better song, but compromises have swapped the two songs around on our list. I may be the one pulling A Fine Blue Line down in the ranking.


Oranges On Appletrees
Lifelines (2002)

JP: A rare collaboration between Magne and Morten at a time where they seemed to gang up against Pål. A song for those who want their a-ha upbeat and with (too) clever lyrics. I don't hate it but I certainly don't love it either. Still, it's not one that I normally skip when I listen to the Lifelines album, which I suppose is a sort-of-quality stamp, and I find myself listening to it in my head every now and then which must be a sign as well. Lyrics like "multigender wannabes" would probably not have made it onto the album had it been released in 2021.

JSS: Magne played this to Morten thinking he would hate it. The opposite was the case and it got recorded. Very (pun intended) Pet Shop Boys, which is no surprise since it was produced by Pet Shop Boys producer Stephen Hague and more. A bit too silly for me, but enjoyable from time to time.


Little Black Heart
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JSS: A song that I liked a bit at the time, but it really does not stand the test of time. And the whole Frozen by Madonna-sound is not well placed. A boring chorus too. Should have been lower on the list in hindsight in my opinion.

JP: William Orbit/Madonna-style beats anno Ray Of Light. I really like this song and could easily have seen it go a bit - but probably not a lot - higher on the list but that's what compromises are all about. The lyrics are bleak (it's a-ha after all) but manage to stay on the right side of self-pity, and the middle eight works as an efficient counterweight. The fact that it doesn't have much of a chorus actually works in its favor. Definitely a hidden minor gem.


Holy Ground
Analogue (2005)

JP: One of the few Morten-penned tracks, here with lyrical input from Norwegian poet and long-time collaborator Ole Sverre Olsen. Must have been included on the Analogue album because Morten insisted on contributing his own songs, because there is absolutely no a-ha flavour here, and apparently neither Pål nor Magne were involved in the recording. Still, it's interesting to witness again how different the three members of a-ha are when it comes to writing lyrics, and there is definitely a spiritual aspect to Holy Ground that you don't find in Pål or Magne's lyrics. A lovely little song that suffers from some poor production choices and one that would have fitted better on a Morten solo album.

JSS: Oh, how I remember seeing Morten on TV playing this song on his acoustic guitar. It was really cool and the song was very nice. Again, a nicely written song was destroyed by a disgusting production - especially the cheesy drums that drag the whole song to the (holy) ground. Still, this is not a bad moment in Morten's songwriting.


White Canvas
Lifelines (2002)

JSS: I was love sick at the time of the release of Lifelines, and this song gave me a bit of hope with the lyrics "Follow me out / Follow me 'round / Let's make the road up as we go along / Just as we planned". I later moved on, and I have moved on from this song as well. But it is nice enough, and Morten sings it well.

JP: Is the musician also a painter or is the painter also a musician? Magne blends his two main forms of artistic expression - painting and music - into a rather cohesive piece of work. The chorus is quite gorgeous with a wonderful melodic flow and Morten's vocals lifts it further. Maybe it should have gone a bit higher on the list? Caution: Do not listen to the demo version (titled One in a Million) on the deluxe edition of Lifelines if you wish to keep an untainted image of White Canvas. It's the equivalent to discovering that a painting you like is painted on top of a really embarrassing first sketch and it takes something away from the end result.


Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)
Single release (2010) / 25 (2010)

Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah) single cover - the layout was nothing to cheer about

JP: Released in connection with the Ending On A High Note farewell tour in 2010, Butterfly... was intended to be the last ever recording by a-ha which luckily it wasn't. And I say 'luckily' both because I never wanted them to stop in the first place but also because the song isn't quite the classic it should have been. Not bad at all, but considering Pål's flair for writing epic album closers you could rightfully have expected something grander as a (at that time) career closing track. Interesting lyrics that seem to be a mix between very literal and very abstract thoughts about what will come after a-ha. "These stained glass wings could only take you so far" is a beautiful lineThe music video for the song reunited a-ha with director Steve Barron (the man behind many a-ha videos including Take On Me) and I must admit that my eyes got a bit moist when I first saw the finished result.

JSS: I remember Magne saying that this was the best song Pål had written in many years. I liked it too, and I actually cried a bit when someone played it in our music club (a bunch of music enthusiasts - not all a-ha fans - who get together 3-4 times per year to introduce new music to each other), because it was a big thing that a-ha was not going to make more music together anymore, which we later found out was not the case. I am not too sure about the song today. It is alright, above average for a-ha standards, but I am happy that it was not their swan song.


Time & Again
Lifelines (2002)

JSS: I never really got the fuss about this song. I normally agree with Pål's taste, but not so much here. The vocal lines are dragged so long and on top of that they are repetitive. Pål produced it himself in the "Hunting High And Low tradition" - whatever that means. The song itself lacks the quality from 1985 - that's for sure. I would have ranked this lower.

JP: I believe this is one of Pål's own favourites. It's not one of mine. I just hear a really nice song which showcases Morten's vocal abilities. The song benefits from the slow build up, but the semi-electronic drum beat doesn't do it any good and the climax never really takes it all the way. However, the melody has a certain quality, and the lyrics are good in that usual/unusual Waaktaar-Savoy way. Could go a bit higher on the list for me, but nowhere near the top.


This Is Our Home
MTV Unplugged - Summer Solstice (2017)

JP: A Magne composition premiered at the MTV Unplugged session, so it's difficult to judge if the instrumentation on this version is what Magne had intended when he wrote it, or if it would have ended up in a more electronic/electric format had been released on a studio album. Among the better new songs from his hand, and it does have a certain warmth to it but it doesn't do a lot for me. I could have placed it outside top 100 as I think there are better songs lower in the ranking.

JSS: A little disappointing at first listen, but this song has grown on me. Trademark Magne and a nice homage to Norway (I think) and therefore a natural first song at the homecoming for MTV Unplugged.


The Sun Never Shone That Day
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

The Sun Never Shone That Day single cover - at least it won't reflect in the TV screen then!

JSS: This was for a long time one of my favorite songs on the album. Written by Pål and Lauren. The bass line is great, but in reality this is not well sung by Morten. It sounds a little off in places, and the chorus is repetitive and a bit boring. Time has not been good to this song, but the drive and the backing vocals singing the title still keeps it within the best 100 songs.

JP: Up-tempo song with a driving beat and vocals that here and there sound slightly distorted. Not Morten's best performance but nice enough to hear him use his voice in a somewhat different way. The song benefits from the - relatively - fast beat on an otherwise mid-tempo album. Strange composition and structure where the bridge sounds like a chorus and the maybe-chorus loses pace. Hasn't aged that well.


You'll Never Get Over Me
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JP: Nice melody and the almost duet-like chorus part works really well as Morten and Lauren's (Pål's wife) voices actually suit each other remarkably well. The lyrics ooze jealousy out of every pore, but the song itself is too long and repetitive. A trimmed version might have worked better.

JSS: Middle of the road. Nice with Lauren doing the backing vocals to counter Morten's vocal. OK melody, but a minute too long in the end.


The Bandstand
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

JSS: This song proved to me that Magne and Pål could still write together. A very good album opener and nicely weird. Both verse and chorus are really cool. Like other a-ha songs this is one of those that I have never heard similar anywhere else.

JP: Foot Of The Mountain included a small handful of otherwise very rare post-2000 collaborations between Pål and Magne and while that idea alone warms the heart of a long-time fan, in the case of The Bandstand it doesn't quite reach the quality level of the earlier days. It's still an absolutely decent effort, though! Slightly annoying keyboard riff and a too high pitched chorus takes away from an otherwise really enjoyable melody line. The "A neon glow shining down on us" part is absolutely great, and it was a strong live track on the 2010 Ending On A High Note farewell tour as well. Try again, Pål and Magne!


To Let You Win
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JP: One of Morten's strongest contributions to the a-ha songbook. Very subdued and very honest. Beautiful lyrics as is actually often the case with Morten's songs - solo or with a-ha. I'm not sure the electronic beat does it any good though, and the Christmas inspired bells sound out of place, except maybe for... well, Christmas! But it's not exactly a song to put you in the mood for Yuletide!

JSS: Super nice song with very strong lyrics about relationship problems. I really like "...but I wasn't strong enough to let you win". The production takes a little away from it, but it does not destroy the song as with Holy Ground.


Foot Of The Mountain
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

Foot Of The Mountain cd single cover. No feet or mountains pictured.

JSS: I simply don't get why this has become a fan favorite in some circles. First of all, Magnes original song The Longest Night from his 2008 solo album is much better. The production and the chorus was great and had super energy. Well, this one ended up as a mix and match piece with chorus from Pål - and certainly not one of his best - especially since Morten sings it off key almost every time it is played live. On top of that, Magne's lyrics are another frontal attack on Pål, so he did not want to glue the song together. The idea came from their manager, and apparently it ended up being a matter of survival for the band, so Pål had to give in. I never liked it in the first place, and was very disappointed when I first heard it. They should have done better. And could have.

JP: A cut and paste song with Magne contributing with the verse while Pål brought the chorus. The same principle was used on Manhattan Skyline but to much better effect. Both of the original songs that were glued together to create Foot Of The Mountain were better than the end result. Magne's verse is obviously another knife in Pål's back which isn't pretty. It must have felt pretty strange for Pål to see his chorus being forced together with a verse that is a slap in the face from another band member. Still, it's a good pop song but never really a favorite of mine. Reasonably big hit in Europe overall and massive in Germany. Bonus info: Together with Zoe Gnecco Pål released an album as Waaktaar & Zoe with another version of Pål's original take on Foot Of The Mountain now called Beautiful Burnout featuring another chorus. That's still the best of the bunch with its lazy 60's vibe.


Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

Velvet single cover - and arguably one of the worst designs of the a-ha logo
JP: A favorite among quite a lot of fans it seems and also appears to appeal to the casual a-ha listener. And it is a good song, but the original version released by Pål with Savoy is far superior. a-ha's version is bereft of any of the danger found in the original. It's gone from being a song about a dangerous, toxic woman to an ordinary love song. The video is among their best, though. It's funny, dark and controversial - none of which can be said of a-ha's version of Velvet.

JSS: Had it been the Savoy-version this track would have been higher on the list. I would have preferred just having Morten's voice singing on top of Savoy's version - having said that, I think that this track is better and really benefits from Pål's indie voice. The Savoy version has much more power and depth, whereas this one just ends up a bit bland. Simone Larsen is still doing the female voice in the chorus, but it lacks a lot. Nice use of four chords. It's not like Pål to do things as simple as this, but it is a nice track.


Stay On These Roads (1988)

Touchy! single cover - from the cover you wouldn't expect this to be very up-beat

JSS: It was never a favorite to me in the long run. Yes, it was alright when it came out, and would have been an obvious first single for the album - certainly not third. The video has some humour to it - way better than You Are The One, which was really bad. Touchy! was actually pretty cool live - best known on the Live In South America video from a-ha's 1991 tour, where Magne did a great harmonica. But all in all a wrong direction despite the small guitar solo in the middle, and in that sense Stay On These Roads was a better choice for a first single.

JP: Consistently slagged off by many fans as an example of a-ha when they are worst and some even feel embarrassed by it on a-ha's behalf. I don't. I really enjoy it and have fond childhood memories of being 12 years old, standing with bare toes in the grass on a warm Saturday summer morning hearing Touchy! playing through the speakers on my double-cassette ghetto blaster with the red and mint green labels as it shot to the top of the local radio charts. I even prefer this poppy version over the rockier live version. It's about time they bring it back to life in concert where it hasn't featured since 1994. a-ha, stand by your song!


To Show It Is To Blow It
Lifelines Deluxe Edition (2019)

JP: A lot of Savoy and a lot of Beatles. I could easily find a handful of songs on Lifelines that To Show It... could replace to make it a better album. Is this what a-ha v2.0 would have sounded like if Pål had had a bigger say? In that case I wouldn't have minded at all. One of the newer favorites for me and it should be a bit higher on the list at least. I for one think it suits a-ha and Morten's voice really well. Plus the lyrics are brilliant with only subtle hints of what is troubling the narrator. Great song!

JSS: This one was only released recently on Lifelines Deluxe Edition. Very Savoy'ish but not suiting Morten's voice very well. Would have been an album filler on any Savoy album. Has some nice things towards the end of the song - a little Radiohead. But all in all forgettable.


Cannot Hide
Lifelines (2002)

JSS: I really like the slide guitar and the drive of this song. Morten sings pretty cool and verse, bridge, chorus are hanging together nicely. Especially the chorus is cool in my book. And yes, Magne is enjoying a French moment, where he allegedly just sang nonsense sounding French. This is not half bad for a song by Morten in a-ha context.

JP: The 'sexy song', according to some fans! Would have been a good choice for a single back in 2002 as it's short, to the point, and with a driving beat. Maybe the chorus could have had bigger wings, but I don't mind. Morten trades in his famous crystal clear vocals for something grittier. Magne speaking in French supposedly about money for stamps and telephone cards is a nice addition which is introduced with the promise "I'll speak French to you, baby". A highly likeable song albeit not heavy on substance. Well done, Morten.


Cry Wolf
Scoundrel Days (1986)

Cry Wolf ltd. edition single cover - wolf possibly hiding in the grass

JP: A song that divides opinions. It seems a popular choice among the broader audience while many fans tend to cringe. As the opening track of the B-side on Scoundrel Days it cannot help to disappoint compared to the majestic tracks on the A-side, but I think it's getting too much unjust criticism. The drums and bass are great and the verses work really well. The chorus is the weak(est) point, but in recent years it has been a concert highlight. I can't decide if Cry Wolf actually deserves to be higher on the list or if it's just nostalgia trying to trick me. So we'll leave it here.

JSS: We will get shit for putting Cry Wolf all the way down here. But this two-chord song is not really great although it was quite a big hit for them. It is sung cool in the verses, but the chorus is just too simple and - even though fast - quite boring. Funnily, the demo was a bit better and the live versions with a chord change in the C-part makes the track much better. So, yes to hearing it live, no to the studio version. And also no to the maxi-single, but that is another story...


Shapes That Go Together
Shapes That Go Together single (1994) / The Singles 1984-2004 (2004)

Shapes That Go Together ltd. edition cd single cover - A single shape...

JSS: The Olympic song. I always perceived it as degrading that they "only" got the Paralympics. However, the lyrics are quite nice and fits the occasion. I used to like it somewhat, but to me it's more of a testament to the first break-up of the band, and not the greatest melody either.

JP: Shapes... never got the public attention it deserved, but let's face it: by that time a-ha were largely ignored by everyone else except the hardcore fanbase. I've just always really liked this one. The lyrics with the dichotomies never fail to move me ("When you were wrapped in tangles / I was free / And when you were undecided / I believed"). Unfortunately - like several of their songs - it sounds like the verse, the pre-chorus and the middle eight have been given more attention than the chorus. Great beat. Beautiful vocals. Uplifting song.


Analogue (2005)

Celice single cover - graphics overload!

JP: A really cool track by Magne. When I first heard it I was certain it was a Pål composition as it's build around a solid guitar riff that didn't sound like anything Magne had done for a long time. Driven forward by changes in pace, great guitars and solid drums. Not a bad choice for a first single from the Analogue album but it didn't do too well commercially. Possible too unconventional in its structure. A somewhat controversial video probably didn't help, but a-ha looked super cool in it! I wonder why we didn't put Celice higher on the list, but logic will have it that you can only have 75 songs in top 75.

JSS: Really cool track. Nice energy and drive and a good first single and album opener. Magne wrote it as a slow song, and I think it was Martin Terefe that suggested making it an upbeat song. At any rate, it was a good decision, and the video is pretty cool too.


Forever Not Yours
Lifelines (2002)

Forever Not Yours cd single cover - Car not included in purchase of single

One of the biggest hits of their career. I can't say that I am proud of that, but it is a nice pop song. The keyboard riff is really good and the verse and chorus are alright. Fine collaboration between Morten and Magne. The video was entertaining as well with a bunch of contemporary artists in the arc - and with Magne cleaning toilets and Pål doing the dishes. Not the style I prefer for a-ha, but this is enjoyable and did give them nice airtime.

JP: Great pop song. Not a-ha at their most artistic, but it has "hit song" written all over it. In some interviews Pål has claimed that Morten, who in a rare event is the main composer behind this track, has the most commercial taste of the three band members which certainly comes across here. Still, it towers above many other big hits of the era with its Nordic Noir melancholy-infused lyrics and dark undertone. Very catchy chorus. Well done, Morten. Great video as well showing that a-ha don't (always) take themselves too seriously.


We're Looking For The Whales
Scoundrel Days (1986)

JP: In concerts often introduced by Morten as a song that helped set the direction for the band and showed them that they were finding their identity. Not a bad song by any account but it pales besides the many classics on Scoundrel Days. The "I found angels / Beached outside your doors" part is absolutely gorgeous, though. The song is one of the unexpected highlights on recent tours where it benefitted from a slightly heavier guitar sound and more energetic beat. A slightly underrated song, maybe because it sits among so many other fantastic tracks on Scoundrel Days. I've grown to reappreciate this one over the years.

JSS: That side two on Scoundrel Days has some issues for me. This one is in the middle of the five songs. Sounds a bit too perky coming after side one. Lacks the melancholic edge, but it is an ok pop song. Nothing more. The middle part is the high point of the song.


The Breakers
Lifelines Deluxe Edition (2019)

JSS: As much as I hate to admit it, this one sounds better and fits better with Jimmy Gnecco, who sang it on the Savoy version. Also - and who would have thought - he hits higher notes than Morten, and that makes the a-ha version a bit weaker. I still like the song and I can point out several songs that it should have replaced on Lifelines. It is a slow song with balls.

JP: A song left off of Lifelines and later used for Pål's other band, Savoy. According to Jan Omdahl's fantastic book "The Swing Of Things" from 2004 Pål thought The Breakers was a killer song, but the others wouldn't have it (although Pål speculates that Morten might actually have liked it because he at times responds to the slightly off songs). a-ha's version was finally released in 2019 and while it doesn't differ greatly from the Savoy release it's always interesting - and sometimes depressing - to know what a-ha could have sounded like after 2000 if Pål didn't have to (or decided to) divide his songs between a-ha and Savoy. Why a-ha voted against this one in favour of some of the less memorable tracks on Lifelines can only be explained by democracy, p***ing off territories and bad judgement overall. Really good song, solid lyrics, strong chorus. Shame on whoever booted The Breakers off the Lifelines album.


Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

Shadowside single cover - shadow at the foot of the mountain

JP: This has been a slow grower for me. I wasn't a big fan at first to be honest, not even when a-ha debuted the song at concerts in 2008 as one of two new tracks ahead of releasing Foot Of The Mountain. Back then I preferred the other new song, Riding The Crest, but the observant reader may recall that Riding The Crest actually sits in place 124 on our list now, so opinions do change (and I got wiser, I suppose). As for Shadowside it features bleak lyrics bordering on the exhibitionistic and self-pitying, but it just about manages to stay on the right side. An absolute masterclass vocal delivery from Morten from low to high. Definitely one that has won over time.

JSS: From the first time we heard it in London's Royal Albert Hall I liked it. This is pure Pål, and the chorus is really beautiful - both melody, singing and lyrics: "I don't wanna see myself descend / To the shadowside again...". Lovely. A shorter version without the last part of the bridge was released for the single version, but the long one is the best. Very nice build up to the chorus. A high point on the album.


Case Closed On Silver Shore
Analogue (All I Want) CD single/7" single (2006)

JSS: Another B-side that should have gotten more attention. Great lyrics from Pål about a murder case - less subtle than I've Been Losing You, and the fact that the intro of the song is 53 seconds long adds to the drama. The chorus could have been better, but all in all a great song.

JP: a-ha haven't exactly spoiled fans with B-side releases on singles (a dozen different remixes do not count...) but here we get a rare and interesting one. Written by Pål it bears a distinct Savoy feel - maybe a reason why it wasn't included on the Analogue album. At the same time it doesn't feel like it would belong there either. Still, it's far superior to many of the other songs on Analogue and could have taken a-ha in an interesting direction. Intriguing use of sound effects like an old camera taking pictures of the crime scene. Morten's voice gets plenty of room to show how versatile it is. An odd song but better for it!

And with this rare and semi-strange single B-side we're now ready to move into the top 75 of a-ha songs. If you have made it this far it probably means that you have a healthy (or unhealthy, according to some) interest in the band and their songs, so why not continue the countdown with us as we get closer to the top? You might have noticed that the countdown from 147 to 76 hasn't been crowded with songs from the period between 1985 to 1993 but there are also still enough songs from the year 2000 onwards to mix things up a little. So come join us for the next episode. Or to quote Summer Moved On that started the comeback in 2000: "Stay! Don't just walk away". And speaking of Summer Moved On... where do we find that one on the list? Read on.