20 January, 2022

a-ha - ranking highs and lows - Part 5: Rank 50-26

Welcome back to the countdown of a-ha's songs from worst to best, or what we like to call Ranking Highs and Lows. We are making our way into the top third by counting down from 50 to 26 which in other words means that these are songs we consider absolutely essential listening in a-ha's catalogue. We're pretty excited ourselves and hope that you are ready to continue with us.

If you happen to join us at this stage we'd like to remind you that there are four blog posts preceding this one that count down the songs from number 147 to 51. Check them out as well if you like. And in case you need a little introduction to the Ranking Highs and Lows project you can find it here. And as always you're more than welcome to head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment - maybe there's something you think we've gotten all wrong in the ranking!

As always do take the opportunity to check out the countdown in podcast format as well. It's good fun, or at least we think so ourselves. But as a-ha's discography shows it's not always the artists who are the best to judge the quality of their own work, so don't take our word for it but go have a listen yourself. Just look up 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows' on your favorite podcast app, and hopefully that should sort you out.

With that friendly reminder we are ready to move into the top 50. And make no mistake: this is where it gets really difficult to rank the songs! Not only because they all have an incredibly high quality, but also because our willingness to make compromises slowly shrinks as we move towards the top of the list. It's easier to let go of your own rank 92 and agree to move it to 97 than it is to willingly let your number 23 be relegated to a position outside the top 25. Phew... we're beginning to understand why a-ha argue about which songs should go on an album and which ones shouldn't.

Still, there's no way around it and we can't have two lists, so compromises were made, handshakes given and agreements reached, which leads us straight into what we consider a-ha's 50th best song.


Shadow Endeavors
Cast In Steel (2015)

JSS: I will never forget the first time I heard this song. The first part of the song is one of a kind and I was not sure what I felt about it. Then the second part came, quiet with a great atmosphere. When Morten started to sing, I noticed after two words that this was something that I recognised from the earliest demo of Scoundrel Days - the middle part of the song. I have always regretted that they did not use that in the final version of that song. So hearing it there in my headphones lying on the couch I almost lost it. It is still among the best parts of any a-ha song, but the first part of the song - although being a lot better after some spins - puts it a bit down the list for me.

JP: One of the songs on Cast In Steel that reunite a-ha with Alan Tarney, but it doesn't resemble anything on the first three albums that Tarney (co-)produced. A lot of fans seem to prefer the final third of the song, possibly because it brings back a verse from an early version of Scoundrel Days, and in many ways that part is classic a-ha and perhaps also the real Tarney link. But for me the absolute highlight comes at the 1:56 minute mark ("Let us pay no mind / To their words and bitter lines") where there is a sort of underplayed urgency or push in the electronic backdrop. Put on your best headphones and be amazed! Also the song makes some of the best use of Morten's high notes in recent times throughout the verses. As is often the case these days Pål seems more occupied with the verse than the chorus, which is a shame. Still, I adore this song and its touch of weirdness and had it not been because of compromises this could have been a handful of positions higher on the list.


Minor Earth Major Sky
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

Minor Earth Major Sky single cover - minor hit, major song

JP: The opening track of the comeback album and one that promised more than what the album ultimately could hold. It had a power to it and a solid production that didn't hint at the stale sound (and varying quality) of many of the songs later on the album. There are some great remixes of the song as well that show how it could have sounded in a more rock-oriented version. Another one of those a-ha songs where the chorus takes the tempo out of the song, but here it fits well with the overall feel and theme of the song although it likely didn't help commercially. A '2nd coming' semi-classic in the a-ha catalogue.

JSS: Hearing that song set my expectations for the rest of the album sky high - so to speak. That song is so distinct and cool, and a lot of the mixes of the song are really good too - especially the more rocky version in the Black Dog Mix and the mellow Millenia Nova Mix. So many good memories. The chorus with almost no instruments and the great guitar sound take this song to high grounds.


Lie Down In Darkness
Memorial Beach (1993)

JSS: I was so happy about this song when the album came out. It was my favorite track for a long time - maybe the first 6 months or so. Really cool and authentic with a great guitar riff, great vocals, great drumming and the addition of the female choir in the chorus I had not heard before in that way. Really great song, but as with I Call Your Name, it has lost its force a little over the years.

JP: When Memorial Beach was first released Lie Down In Darkness was one of my top 3 tracks on the album. It's still a great song but it maybe hasn't aged as well as some of the other songs. The background vocals are still great though, Morten sounds pretty cool and more loose than usual, and overall there's a very "live atmosphere" here although it's clearly still a studio performance. Also it was a nice new addition to the a-ha sound that background vocals by somebody else than the band members were used on the track. It added some soul and warmth to the whole thing. Lie Down... is maybe not as important to me now as it used to be and I'm not sure I'd put it on a "Let me show you what a-ha is all about" mixtape, but old love dies hard. I still like it a lot.


Scoundrel Days (1986)

JP: Another compromise puts October way too far down the list for my taste as I consider it pure a-ha gold and a shamefully over-looked classic! I could definitely see it go inside the top 40 and possibly even closer to 30 than to 40. Not just the intro but the whole song is packed with atmosphere. "Wherever you may be right now / It must be getting late / You're probably asleep already / I'm wide awake" is rivalled only by The Swing Of Things from the same album when it comes to describing a long-distance relationship. Morten sings it all with a hushed voice and a fantastic vocal delivery a long way away from his trademark falsetto and it's no less impactful. October also includes another one of Pål's best lyrics: "Loneliness can be ignored / And time has shown me how". Pål's cover version of October with Savoy is awesome too with a more waltz-like melody, but a-ha's version is the superior one. For me this is a 10/10.

JSS: This is a compromise. I always felt that this song was the odd one out - and not in a good way - on the A-side of Scoundrel Days. I understand what it is trying to do and I like Morten's vocals, but the keyboard sound and the bossa nova rhythm is not that enjoyable in this context. And the bossa nova can be great as we will discover further up this list. The Savoy-version recorded years later for Savoy's Velvet-single is much cooler and more enjoyable for me. And Pål sings it really great in a lazy way.


This Alone Is Love
I've Been Losing You (1986 single) / Stay On These Roads (1988)

JSS: The real version for me is the first one released as B-side to I've Been Losing You. A lot of elements from the song May The Last Dance Be Mine from Bridges (Pål and Magne's band prior to a-ha), which was also great. The chord progression in this song is simply great and Morten's voice is so great. The polished version on the Stay On These Roads album is not as great - and it was somewhat of a disappointment that they also included that in a re-recorded version as they did with The Living Daylights. Hearing the demo with the Scoundrel Days chorus was amazing and the recent live version from MTV Unplugged - Summer Solstice was really one of the biggest highlights on that album. All these versions just proves that this is a great song at its core.

JP: The first version I heard was the 1988 version on Stay On These Roads (singles weren't really a thing in the village I grew up in...), so that's the 'real' version for me. The chorus melody is one of the best of any a-ha song, and the vocals are first class. I've always enjoyed the small injections of electric guitar in the verses like small electric shocks to balance or maybe even disturb the smooth synths. The outro adds more guitar, which is a welcome change as well, and in some ways This Alone Is Love points both backwards and forwards in time for the band. For me this is an essential a-ha track. The original 1986 version seems to sound-wise relate to Driftwood which in my view is true of a number of the demos from around that time and sounds more organic whereas the 1988 version is very synth heavy. The version on the MTV Unplugged - Summer Solstice album is amazing as well, and the demo version that combines the verses from This Alone Is Love with the chorus from Scoundrel Days is a-ha at their most mind-blowing! Even Bridges' song May The Last Dance Be Mine which featured some of what later became This Alone Is Love is a quality song. This Alone Is Love is a song that basically just works in many versions and another one of those 50 songs that all deserve to be in top 25, which sadly isn't possible. Love it!


Move To Memphis
Headlines And Deadlines (1991) / Memorial Beach (1993)

Move To Memphis single cover - Memphis looks an awful lot like South America...

JP: Here we mainly talk the 1991 original version, which I prefer over the version included on Memorial Beach. It seems that Magne in retrospect has dismissed Morten's vocal delivery on some of the rockier 1990s material and claimed that it didn't feel honest, but I honestly love it when there's a bit more grit in Morten's voice. Apparently a-ha's manager at the time, Terry Slater, also didn't think much of Move To Memphis and saw it as a sign that a-ha wanted to be something they weren't. In some ways I get his point, but it's still a good song. I can agree that the "funky" guitar is maybe not as funky now as it seemed 30 years ago, and the bass break in the middle is also a bit outdated now but back then it was a logical step towards the Memorial Beach album and I still like it. The version on Memorial Beach is heavier but somehow lost some energy. The video is great, too, for anyone who likes Morten with long hair and bare chest. Which is pretty much everyone, I assume.

JSS: Like I've Been Losing You this song is driven by a signature bass line that makes the track energetic and crisp. I liked it from the beginning with the "aaaaaaaahhhhhh", and I don't think that anyone in the world could have sung those verses better than Morten - it is beyond cool. The version on Memorial Beach lost some power. The video for this song was pretty cool too with Morten having really long hair and he really liked to show off his chest at that time. A solid track that has worked pretty well live also in the last 10-15 years.


Waiting For Her
East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon (1990)

JSS: Don't get me wrong. This is a nice pop song. However, in my opinion it is too poppy for the album as a whole. Lying between Sycamore Leaves and Cold River on the B-side the change of style is too big, and it leaves a close to perfect album a bit unfocused right there. In isolation, I also feel that this is a somewhat middle of the road pop song.

JP: I'm the one who pushed this song into top 50. In my opinion it's a hidden gem and sadly overlooked. You can argue that with its mid tempo melody, the soft strings arrangement and the gentle harmonies it somehow just floats along, but that's where the strength lies. It's a song I still regularly play just to feel how it washes over me. The interplay between the piano, the strings, the bass... It's just wonderful, really. Melancholy runs through the whole song. The line "And when she's sleeping by my side / Eyes closed, all knowledge trapped inside" is as a-ha as it gets and feels like a nod to The Swing Of Things. And the instrumental part towards the end after Morten's "I'm telling you" is just beautiful!


A Break In The Clouds
MTV Unplugged - Summer Solstice (2017)

JP: This one really moved me when I first heard it. Although it was considered a new song when it premiered as part of the MTV Unplugged concert the later release of the Lifelines deluxe edition album suggested that at least the chorus had been around for a good 15 years. Since the released version was part of the MTV Unplugged concert it is of course difficult to judge what a studio version would have sounded like, but if A Break In The Clouds is indicative of the direction a possible 11th a-ha STUDIO album could have taken then I'm just even more gutted that it doesn't look like it's ever going to happen (note: I am aware that a-ha will be releasing a live album of new songs - True North - in 2022 but that's a different beast than a studio album) . There's something sad, yet uplifting, about A Break In The Clouds which is a unique combination that a-ha does better than any artist. Beautiful melody both in the verses and the chorus and, in the unplugged version, a delicate addition of strings. A Break in the Clouds is a superb song and one that certainly deserves the studio treatment. Now go do the next studio album as well, guys!

JSS: A really positive surprise on the MTV Unplugged album. Amazingly strong chorus and the violins used in this one are really adding to the feel of the song. Apparently, this was a demo back in the Lifelines period, where the chorus was added to There's A Reason For It. It actually works better in that version, because the verse is stronger on TARFI and the chorus is stronger on ABITC. Might have been intended for Savoy as well, where it could have worked well too.


Summer Moved On
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

Summer Moved On single cover - Magne is there somewhere

JSS: Uh, this is going to divide the herd. Yes, this is a fantastic song, and yes the melody is great. Mortens' vocal in the chorus - not least the 20 second note at the end of the song - is almost as well known as the high notes on Take On Me if you are just mildly interested in a-ha. And this one could have been a top 15 track. But the production in the studio version - especially the now well outdated drums - simply drags the song a few levels down. Sometimes, a-ha can have a tendency to use stings per default, but here the strings are key to the song, which is cool. As my middle name is Sommer (Danish for Summer), I want this song to be played at my funeral.

JP: It's possibly a surprise to many that Summer Moved On isn't placed higher on the list considering the impressive comeback it paved the way for. Isn't this a-ha at their most epic, melancholic and soaring? All the things we love? Yes to all that. But for me a lot got lost in the stale production with the very 2000-ish programmed drums and the overall un-organic feel. Morten's vocals are of course nothing short of impressive, and the 20 second "Aaaaask" showcases everything he's famous for vocally. But on occasions I get a bit annoyed with the stop'n'go melody in the chorus and the almost insistent use of falsetto. There's no denying that this is a great song and an a-ha classic, but the first presentation of the song at the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize concert was far superior in structure, instrumentation and sound and would easily have made it significantly higher on our list. For me that version would have been a likely top 25 contender. Something got lost on the way.


Out Of Blue Comes Green
Stay On These Roads (1988)

JP: A fan favorite and I count myself among them. It's almost seven minutes long, and you could argue that the long outro doesn't add much, but the intro is fantastic and builds up to a wonderful, flowing melody both in terms of the instrumental and vocal parts. It appears to be a song about Pål's relationship with his parents but one that is easy to relate to whether you share the same experience or not. Another stellar vocal performance by Morten and the guitar takes a leading role at times which gives the song a rockier tone than on most other songs on Stay On These Roads. An a-ha classic and severely overlooked by the band in concerts!

JSS: I really embraced the direction when hearing this song on the album. And it is one of the songs that points to where a-ha would go next. Filled with potent drums and vocals and it's really showing the mature side of the music. Some of the highest notes ever sung on an album by Morten, and really an epic piece. Morten played this live at solo concerts after a vote from fans prior to the tour and goes to show that this is a fan favorite. Deservedly.


A Little Bit
Lifelines (2002)

JSS: This song was so important to me at the time of its release - again love trouble. And I really liked how it changes tones throughout the song and you never really know where the song is and where its going. I still struggle with that almost 20 years later. Reportedly, this was Pål's attempt to steal back what U2 took from The Sun Always Shines On T.V. on Beautiful Day by making a song with reminiscence to One. Well, it may not have reached that level, but it is a really nice song.

JP: "Welcome to Pål Waaktaar-Savoy's counselling for the brokenhearted". Pål offering his best advice to someone who has been dumped by a girlfriend or wife. The strength for me lies in the repetition and the gradual build-up. An often over-looked song that is a bit to the left of what you might describe as "the a-ha sound". Listen to it repeatedly and I'm sure you'll like it. I just might take a little bit of extra time.


Barely Hanging On
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JP: This is Pål coming clean on his social phobia. The lyrics go deep but with the usual flair for unconventional phrases and words to describe the feeling. "I used to be so comfortable in a suit / Almost presentable next to you" is so image evoking in its own quiet way. The music is like a heavy waltz, the use of (digital) strings, background harmonies and mix of acoustic and electric instruments all add to the rich sound, and the chorus - consisting only of the song title - is wonderfully repetitive in the best sense of the word. Unusual and great. Sadly never played live.

JSS: Already released with the Summer Moved On single in a slightly different version. As it goes with all songs from a-ha that has been remixed for an album, the first version is the best. It has a little more edge to the sound and the instrumentation. The text about a man who has basically lost all his confidence is a little pathetic, but the sound and not least vocals saves it from taking it over board. This is a really enjoyable song, and arguably a song that could have been a Savoy track as well.


Mary Ellen Makes The Moment Count
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

JSS: This is how the whole comeback album would have sounded in a perfect world. Incidentally, this is the only track produced by Pål alone and just proves that he should have had more control. Regarding the song itself, Pål's story telling comes to life in the best way: A insightful story about loneliness and letting the micro moments in life count in spite of everything. The sound is more Beatles than The Beatles. Morten gets everything out of it and he sings it so cool with a raspy voice and some great high notes. The choir is where the Beatles inspiration is most apparent and the sound in the small guitar solo in the middle of the song is just amazing. It stands as a testament as to how great it could have been if the return had taken departure in New York instead of Nürnberg/Germany.

JP: The final song on the comeback album and it continues the band's run of great album closers. It's a standout track on Minor Earth Major Sky both because of the storytelling and the melody but also because the production was handled by Pål himself, which sets it positively apart from the stale production that taints a lot of the album. It wouldn't have been out of place on a Savoy album either, but I'm glad it ended up with a-ha. Superior vocals from Morten with backing from Pål. I would honestly have preferred it if a-ha v.2.0 had pursued a sound like this, but I'm at the same time not so sure that it would have had massive commercial appeal, which to be honest also seems to be important for sustaining the 'a-ha modus operandi'.


Make It Soon
Analogue (2005)

JP: A surprising contribution from Morten on the Analogue album. A rather short song but with a lot of punch. The first half of the song is a ballad set to a acoustic guitars, a simple keyboard riff and a programmed drum beat while Morten's voice finds a soft spot between a mid- and low-range. After the break the song explodes in a cacophony of distorted guitars, voices and drums the like of which we haven't heard from a-ha before or since, before we return to the soft acoustic guitar and Morten almost sighing "My love" in a style reminiscent of Soft Rains Of April. It doesn't appear to be a fan favorite but I think it's a super cool song which confirms that Morten, given the right production, is capable of writing great stuff for a-ha as well. He's done some quasi-rock songs as a solo artist (Ape Angel, I'm looking at you!) but nothing that matches the intensity of Make It Soon. We may be a bit too kind by putting it into top 40, but its oddness alone gives the song some extra credit.

JSS: The best song on an a-ha album written by Morten. Co-written with Ole Sverre Olsen, who has written some very good songs with Morten over the years. I liked this from the first time I heard it, and I was super impressed by it - still am. The rhythm is a little odd in places which really adds to the complexity and hence the listenability over time. The acoustic guitar and the weird sounding keyboard-like instrument really compliments each other. Till this day I still can't time the first "make it soon" in the song - it comes off ... so off. I love it. Interviewing Morten back in 2005 when it came out, I think he was surprised that I pointed that song out as one of the album highlights, but it sure is. The amok section of the song is almost too much, but then it ends and song finishes where it started. Just great.


Take On Me
Hunting High And Low (1985)

Take On Me single cover, third version - clearly a very cheerful song

JSS: Make no mistake. This is a great song, but it was not what got me into a-ha in the first place. That was the second single - more on that later. And so, you might claim that this is surely the best song a-ha ever did, because it is by far their biggest hit and maybe even some of the reason that they still get airtime when they release new stuff. But it is far from the best song they have written. In fact, there are 35 better songs as it appears. And that is basically the point of this list. I respect that the song is good, but I always find myself defending that "it is NOT the reason why I am an a-ha fan". Because even though most people like and respect the song, it does not feel very serious to be a lifetime fan of a band on the basis of that song. Well, I will take the dancefloor any day and tap dance to Magne's great keyboard riff, but that's where it ends. No need to describe the song as it has been analysed from all angles throughout the years. I will say though, that the chorus, which I think that Morten came up with to a large extend is a piece of genius. A lot of people have tried to sing it, and the second tone in the chorus always comes out wrong "Taaaaaake ooooonn...". I might add that the song is actually pretty complicated with Gregorian elements to it. And apparently, it also works as a slow song, which they proved very well on the MTV Unplugged album. I was really proud of that version as a fan.

JP: Ah yes, THE hit! When people say "Take On Me is so 80's" I actually think they are wrong. Take On Me didn't really sound like anything else at that time. For me the correct way to describe it is the other way around: that the 80's over time have come to sound like Take On Me. By that I mean that there's hardly any other 80's song that has a legacy like it and which has transcended decades and generations without losing its appeal or sounding dated. So therefore it has become a decade defining song, but the appeal in 1985 was to a much greater extent that it sounded different, not that it sounded like everything else. Morten has often described Take On Me as having a life of its own whether a-ha want to be a part of it or not, and in many ways I think a lot of us a-ha fans feel the same way. To many - including myself - Take On Me is a brilliant pop song but by far not their best and not the song we'd want the band to be most associated with. But I still feel strangely proud when it reaches another crazy milestone, gets new recognition from younger audiences, and reaches further into modern pop culture. And it is a fantastic pop song with a keyboard riff that hasn't been topped by anyone before or since, a chorus that almost defies gravity and vocals that forever has earned Morten a well-deserved place on various lists of "greatest pop vocalists ever". I rarely ever play it myself but when it comes on the radio I never change the dial. And without it there probably wouldn't have been a list of almost 150 songs to rank. Oh, and I think there was a music video, too?!


How Sweet It Was
Memorial Beach (1993)

JP: An atmospheric song from their darkest album. Part up-tempo, part slow and plaintive. A driving drum beat, great piano/keyboard sound, excellent vocals, haunting lyrics and plenty of room for the electric guitar. Could maybe be accused of trying to be semi-funky (and a-ha are many things but funky is a long way down the list...) but I think it has stood the test of time.

JSS: This was really one of my favorites on Memorial Beach when it came out. The hard-edged rock guitar combined with a lovely piano that starts and ends the song in an equal way - plus really cool vocals from Morten that really proves to me that he was more of a rock singer than pop singer. Somehow it has lost its edge over the years, but it is still a great song. The chorus with "One to the nightfall..." etc. and the melancholic piano always gets me in a good mood.


There's Never A Forever Thing
Stay On These Roads (1988)

JSS: I actually think that this is the song with the highest vocal notes of all a-ha songs. I have the sheet music, and it looks ridiculously high. And it sounds good too. Great atmosphere and lyrics sung with a lot of passion and some great chord changes throughout the song. There is an acoustic demo that further proves that Morten is one of the greatest singers of all time. Certainly a highlight on Stay On These Roads.

JP: Stands out more than anything thanks to Morten's vocal performance that really shows what he's capable of. It is full of sensitivity, compassion and comfort and always borders on the right side of schmaltz. The same can be said for the lyrics and in that respect the melody and the lyrics are a perfect fit. When Morten sings "Hush, wipe your tears away / There's never a forever thing" and lets it all out you'd have to be pretty tough not to get the occasional goosebumps.


Days On End (demo)
The Demo Tapes (2004) / Scoundrel Days Deluxe Edition (2010)

JP: A demo with all the qualities of a potential a-ha classic had it been further developed. It wouldn't have sounded out of place on the B-side of Scoundrel Days as a replacement for Maybe Maybe. The opening line "Do you know why winter's such a cold and lonely place?" is delivered with such ice-cold despair which only a young, struggling, hungry Norwegian singer discovering his voice in a rotten bedsit in London could do. A ballad full of beautifully conveyed resignation and doubt as showcased in the closing line: "Do you love me anymore?"

JSS: One of the best demos that was ever made. I love this song, and it should have been included on one of the first two albums. Written by Pål and Morten in collaboration, which in itself is haunting. Morten plays the trombone and sings beautifully. So much atmosphere and you can almost feel the cold (no pun intended) of winter.


The Living Daylights
The Living Daylights single (1987) / Headlines And Deadlines (1991)

The Living Daylights single cover - elegant use of the 007 gun

JSS: This is a difficult one. Slightly better than Take On Me? - not many would agree to that. But this is a really potent track, and certainly one of the best Bond theme songs in my book. Not better than A View To A Kill by Duran Duran though (and a few others). I remember hearing it for the first time on the radio while being on summer holiday at my aunt and uncle. It was just an amazing feeling, and felt so proud as an a-ha fan. The voice, the clever chord change from verse to bridge and the anthem-like chorus - which turned out to be anthem at concerts where the chorus always gets some rounds with the audience. John Barry did not like working with a-ha, and I would imagine that there could have been some kind of personality clash in the studio. At any rate, John Barry did a great job especially with the middle part, and the film version is produced so tight and cool, which is not the case with the album version on Stay On These Roads. I might add that the 12" single is one of the best a-ha ever did: Here you can hear the instruments separately and the guitar sound is especially cool and rough. A worthy Bond track, which should have gotten higher acclaim in the broader public.

JP: Back in 1987 I'd record this song on cassette tape every time I heard it on the radio, which was pretty often! I was immensely proud that a-ha got to do the James Bond theme even if I at 11 years of age didn't fully realize what a place in pop culture it guaranteed the band. Sadly it didn't bring a-ha back into US mainstream focus and the song "only" got to number 5 in the UK. I was sure it would have gone to number 1! The verses are great, especially the build-up to the chorus and the song has all the right characteristics of a great Bond tune including the strings, the brass and the drama. Morten's vocals also travel from low to high notes and sound very playful and energetic. Maybe we're being slightly too kind to the song but it's also from an era where I just thought a-ha were exceptionally cool, and nostalgia is a powerful force! The chorus is maybe not the strongest, but it always works in concert. The extended version on the 12" maxi single is worth a listen, too. Quite consistently rated low on 'The best 007 theme songs', which in my - possibly slightly biased - view is nonsense. The Living Daylights is an underrated Bond song from an underrated Bond movie featuring an underrated Bond actor.


White Dwarf
Analogue (2005)

JP: "Everything's expanding in a constant state of change / Everything's demanding in a constant state of pain". This is Pål yet again using space and astronomy (here a dying star) as an analogy for inner turmoil. The music is fittingly spacey and there is a certain chilling quality to Morten's voice that adds to the feeling of cold, dark space. It's one of those somehow atypical a-ha songs that pop up here and there on later albums which shows that there's still room - and a desire - to experiment with the a-ha sound.

JSS: A masterpiece on Analogue and one of the reasons that the album stands out as the best since Memorial Beach - at least from a production point of view. Great melody and vocals to die for, and the lazy tambourine that is placed a little odd fits the whole atmosphere of the song so well. I would play this spacey song any day to an interested soul. The lyrics about stars in the universe are certainly intertwining with the music, and leaves you out there...


Crying In The Rain
East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon (1990)

Crying In The Rain single cover - a great looking cover for a great sounding cover

JSS: I will never forget how proud I was when this song reached no. 2 on MTV's European Top 20 back in 1990. Everyone had called off a-ha as relevant - the heathens leaving then for the likes of Bros and even worse things. And there they were; back to life, cooler than ever with a great song, which I at first did not realize was a cover song written by Carole King and Howard Greenfield initially, but no-one has ever made it so beautiful and cool. Till this day I still enjoy how they created an authentic atmosphere with this song, and even though it is pretty tiring to hear it live these days it is still a great song and the greatest cover of that song. There is by the way a funny pop-version by Carole King herself on her album Speeding Time from 1982. To the best of my knowledge, there are two versions of the video for reasons I never understood - maybe some scenes were too brutal for MTV - who knows? I learned to play guitar a few years later, and this was often played trying to impress girls at parties - with minor success I remember...

JP: When I saw a small picture of a-ha on the cover of German teen magazine Bravo with the words "a-ha Comeback" in September 1990 it was like a shock to the system! I'd been waiting for this since what felt like forever. And when I then heard that the new single and first new song in 2½ years would be a cover version I didn't like it one bit, because the fact that a-ha wrote all their own songs meant a lot to me as a fan. When I finally heard Crying In The Rain I was relieved. It was still a-ha! Since then they have done a few cover versions live and on record, but Crying In The Rain is by far the best. They managed to give it the proper a-ha-treatment, and it stands among their most beautiful songs even today. Both the lyrics and melody fit perfectly with the melancholic tone in many of their best songs. I'd hate to say that it marked the beginning of a more "mature" sound for the band, because there was (almost) never anything childish or teeny about a-ha's sound on the first three albums, but for me as a 14-15 year old fan in 1990 it was the perfect segway into a different sounding album. Should have been an even bigger hit.


Train Of Thought
Hunting High And Low (1985)

Train Of Thought single cover - pan flute not depicted

JP: The third single from Hunting High and Low and arguably the most forgotten in the public mind. I love the interplay between the very synth driven sound and the organic elements from acoustic guitar and, well... pan flute. The lyrics have just the right amount of both mystery and specificity and they are perfectly delivered by Morten who gives one of his best performances on the album - and possibly even one of his best overall. Fantastic synergy between the hectic beat that conveys the fast-paced work life and the almost schizophrenic lyrics. A fantastic song although not the best sales pitch for office work ("He grabs a pile of letters from a small suitcase / Disappears into an office / It's another working day") but it's a chilling and excellent description of losing yourself in the rat race. 

JSS: This charted very well in England, but never got the same attention in the rest of the world. It is trademark a-ha and one of many a-ha songs that does not sound like anything I have heard before - due to the verse, the chorus and not least the pan flutes. It just works. I really like the mundane lyrics about a life being lived - they are not too far away from Mary Ellen Makes The Moment Count. Many versions of this song were made at the demo stage, and the connection to the 5 years later released Cold River is known to keen listeners. a-ha even tried the combination on their Electric Summer Tour in 2018. Well, I think you have to be a fan to appreciate that attempt, but I like it all. The video was cool too and also with animations by Michael Patterson, who did Take On Me. Both also directed by Steve Barron. The first three videos formed a nice trilogy. I also enjoyed the 12" for many years... clocking in at 8:31. I would only recommend it to hardcore fans today.


The Blue Sky
Hunting High And Low (1985) 

JSS: We struggled to agree on this one. I find it enjoyable, and it is really a good song. I like the storytelling throughout the song - it was revised in the process, since singing about "I'm dying for a cigarette..." already back in 1985 was too much for the record company. It is a short song, but it was actually the one they really had working well on the first world tour due to a great guitar solo by Pål. Had it been a single, I am afraid that a-ha would have been placed in the teenie pop category for good, but as an album filler it is really good.

JP: Extremely underrated in my opinion. Possibly also the most clear-cut synth pop song on the debut album. The lyrics offer a glimpse into life before the "fame train" hit the band, beautifully describing Pål's doubts and insecurities as a struggling foreigner during the band's early years in London. A short track but packed with the best lyrics about being young and unsure of yourself: "Though I'm older than my looks / And older than my years / I'm too young to take on / My deepest fears" is out of this world, and the simple but profound "Oh, I used to be confused / But now I just don't know" gets me every time. You may not notice at first because of the fast paced beat, but the lyrics are dark to say the least. Fantastic combination. The Blue Sky is a song for anyone who is or has ever been young!


The Weight Of The Wind
Scoundrel Days (1986)

JP: This has some of the same hectic feel to it as The Blue Sky does, but lyrically we are in a very different territory with a tale of jealousy that is bringing the protagonist down. Pål demonstrates once again how strong a lyricist he can be, and Morten showcases his voice to full effect. The last minute of the song is among the best on the Scoundrel Days album with fantastic background vocals, and it peaks with Morten singing "Looo-oo-ve will never be found" in the outro. Another goosebumps moment. I have nothing but love for this song and could even see it squeeze into top 25 on a good day.

JSS: In my mind this song is where the Scoundrel Days album finds its way back to the great side A. Super energetic and with great vocals and great keyboards. This is such a great pop song and still it has this melancholic feel to it. A crazy great chorus. And when Morten in the second verse sings "You see their snakey arms entwined / So clear and cruel / In your jealous mind!" it really leaves the ground - if it hadn't already. I remember them playing it on tour in 1993 with Pål doing it on an acoustic guitar. That was great too. Unfortunately, I can't find any recordings on YouTube or anywhere else. A very overlooked song.


The Blood That Moves The Body
Stay On These Roads (1988) 

The Blood That Moves The Body single cover - no red stains

JSS: This song proved that a-ha continued to surprise and make songs - and even singles in this case - that were never heard before. The bassline is great and combined with the dramatic strings, dramatic keyboards, cowbells(!) and cool vocals by Morten it is working great. They must have believed even more in the song themselves, since it was later rereleased in a rockier version in 1992 in different "gun-mixes" - they were pretty cool too. And they have often used the song as the first song at concerts. The video was the best of the bunch from the Stay On These Roads album. There was an angry looking woman with an angry looking dog and Pål writing at a desk - I like the latter the best.

JP: Often described as a could-have-been-a-James-Bond-theme song, and it certainly has all the qualities of a Bond tune with its efficient use of strings, strong bassline and overall cinematic aura. One of a-ha's least successful singles from the first period but one that has stood the test of time. The break ("Not long ago / It hurt us so...") is stunning, and when the strings spiral upwards halfway through the song it's difficult not to crack a smile and shed a tear at the same time. The video? It doesn't have much of a plot but you are reminded that a-ha were not only easy on the ears but also on the eyes.

Wait, what?! Take On Me outside the Top 20, let alone Top 30?? Summer Moved On not even in Top 40? Have we gone mad?? Nope, or at least we don't think so. But we'll happily admit that the top 50 has taken a lot of time, repeated discussions, reconsiderations, shifting songs around again, compromises and cold sweat! Still, we stand by the list as it is, and trust us: Top 25 is awesome! So what are you waiting for? Join us for the last stretch of the marathon that we call 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows'!