11 January, 2022

a-ha - ranking highs and lows - Part 4: Rank 75-51

Welcome back to Ranking Highs and Lows, the countdown of all a-ha songs from the worst to the best. If you come here after reading the first three blog posts counting down from 147 to 76 then we truly applaud and appreciate you! If on the other hand you've decided to skip the bottom half and only join us here then we welcome you on this part of the journey as well but also urge you to check out the previous posts. Maybe some of your personal highs and lows can be found there!

We remain committed to reaching the top, much like a-ha did in the years before the breakthrough. But unlike a-ha we have no plans of taking long breaks between releases so with this blog post we now move into the top 75, where you might find a couple of surprises or some of your own favorites. And that's the beauty of it: There's plenty of a-ha for all of us whether you like the early days or the newer material best, whether you're a synthie or a rocker, a ballad lover or an up-tempo appreciator.

As always 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, arguments of the friendly and constructive kind (we're not a-ha after all so we keep it nice), and basically just a couple of a-ha fans having a good time once again discussing their favorite band like so many times before. Just look up 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows' on your favorite podcast app, and hopefully that should sort you out.

And in case you need a little reminder or an introduction to the Ranking Highs and Lows project you can find it here. Or simply head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment there. We'd love to hear what you think!

And with that let's move into top 75, something a-ha has actually done 22 times so far on the UK singles chart. The last time was with Foot Of The Mountain, which reached number 66 on the UK singles chart in August 2009 but only made it to number 88 on our countdown. What's maybe more interesting is that we'll encounter a UK top 10 single very soon... Come see! 


75

Start The Simulator
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

JP: For me it's one of the absolute highlights from the Foot Of The Mountain album, probably even the highlight. The lyrics are based on transcripts from the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, and it's incredible how much emotion is hidden in those technical terms when set to a beautiful melody. Cold, desolate, claustrophobic with a strange sense of optimism hidden below the whole thing. "You're in control now / Now you're on your own" sounds both deeply depressing and strangely uplifting at the same time. Possibly Morten's best vocal performance on the record, and one of his most moving overall. The final two minutes of the song are the most exciting on the whole album. We can't cram 75 songs into top 50, but it feels weird not to acknowledge the quality of this song with a higher rank.

JSS: Another special lyric by Pål that is out there - so to speak. It is taken from a spaceship manual, and somehow it works perfectly. The mood of the song is great, and again it does not sound like anything that you have heard before, which to me is a sign of quality. I once tried to play it on guitar, and that is not an easy task. Morten sounds great. Another high point on the album.


74

Monday Mourning (demo) 
The Demo Tapes (2004) / Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JSS: I used to like this one a lot. It is maybe going a little over board, but is has a nice atmosphere and the melody is good. It is slow and does not hit the level of other comparable songs, which will come higher on the list. One good thing it did for me is that it spawned a great idea for a funeral parlor named "Good Mourning".

JP: An early demo and a ballad packed with atmosphere. Heartbreakingly beautiful vocals from Morten who seems to explore his capabilities at this early stage of a-ha's career before fame hit. Beautiful imagery in the lyrics: "Monday Mourning / Tears are falling / Down like fluid pain". The song wouldn't have fitted on either Hunting High and Low or Scoundrel Days and has more in common with songs like Driftwood. Maybe there should have been an album between the first two? Or what would have happened if songs like Monday Mourning and other of those dark, atmospheric demos had formed the basis of the the third a-ha album? It would have sounded very different from Stay On These Roads, that's for sure!


73

All The Planes That Come In On The Quiet (demo)
Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JP: Atmospheric and experimental ballad. First recorded by Pål and Magne's old band Bridges (or rather at that time, Poem) but here given the early a-ha treatment. It points in many different directions and underlines that even in the early days a-ha were never (just) about searching for the big hit. Not as polished in the production as some of the other demos but feels like an important piece. I'm not sure it should have been placed higher than Monday Mourning, which is ranked 74, but it's a compromise I'm happy to make as both are excellent songs.

JSS: I used to have a debate with a couple of English colleagues about the title. It turns out that it does make sense in English. Well, I love this song. One of the best demos, and it should have been higher on the list in my book. With a little more work this could have been included on one of the first two albums.


72

Analogue
Analogue (2005)

Analogue (All I Want) cd single cover - in a digital layout

JSS: I thought that Analogue would bring a-ha back on top of the charts all over the world. I liked this song so much. The intro, the verse everything. Somehow it has lost a little over the years. And I like the demo version Minor Key Sonata better, where the chorus was kept more down. It goes to show that I like Pål Waaktaar-Savoy better than I like Max Martin. And that is comforting to know when I go to bed at night!

JP: A concert favorite thanks to the guitar riff and the audience clap-along. A great pop song after Max Martin sprinkled his magic pop dust over the track and an example of when a-ha (or the record company) went directly for the commercial impact, which to be honest feels a bit cynical. The main difference from the original take on the song, Minor Key Sonata, apart from the general production is the new soaring chorus. Unfortunately the massive instrumentation in the chorus almost drowns out Morten's voice which I think maybe prevented it from being an even bigger hit. Still, it put a-ha in the top 10 on the UK singles chart for the first time since 1988. It's undoubtedly a strong song, but it has lost some of its shine over time and I wouldn't object if it was taken off the concert setlist for now.


71

There's A Reason For It
Lifelines (2002)

JP: Another Pål composition that almost certainly must also have been considered for Savoy. That is not a bad thing per se considering the high quality of Savoy's output, but it does take some of the a-ha feeling away. To me it's a prime example of how there were a lot of good songs on Lifelines but a real lack of coherence. Never a strong favorite of mine I've grown to appreciate the song more over time, but I prefer the version with the "A Break in the Clouds" chorus, which is included on the Lifelines Deluxe Edition. Great, contemplating, introspective lyrics in the verses as well as a jab at modern-day throwaway culture: "And everything is all too fast / Just add water, nothing's built to last".

JSS: A clear favorite of mine on the Lifelines album. I know that Pål thinks it sounds like a demo, but I like the analogue feel to it. The chords are great with the Gmaj7 and the lyrics in the second chorus "When your colleagues can't recall your name / Time and time again / There's a reason for it". Some kind of biographical story, and it pains me too that Pål is not known as well as The Edge.


70

Cast In Steel
Cast In Steel (2015)

Cast In Steel - cover for the download-only single (why bother then?)


JSS:
 
A nice introduction to the album. A drawn video was made with the lyrics, which was really emotional to me. The lyrics are great - especially the retrospective "I'll never get over what we said / It lingers in my head". It's beautiful and it sounds beautiful. Very adult pop, but hey, they are adults, and all the fans are too.

JP: Morten singing in a relatively low key in the verses with an extremely beautiful transition into one of the most melodic choruses of a-ha's recent years. Strings are used to great effect as well, and the lyrics bear the Waaktaar-Savoy trademark of being both very concrete and abstract. Absolutely among the best songs on the album of the same name, and the way that Morten delivers the line "It lingers in my head" could almost be trademarked because nothing else sounds quite like that. I can't really see why they didn't choose Cast In Steel as the first single from the album, and in my view it possibly should have been higher on our list as well. In the end it did get a digital-only single release but in a different version produced by Steve Osborne which is clearly inferior to the original. Don't be fooled by copies, kids!


69

Less Than Pure
Lifelines (2002)

JP: A relatively heavy song by a-ha standards (we're not talking Metallica after all) with a great bass sound and a restrained yet melodic chorus which is taken up a notch towards the end of the song. Despite the use of electronic elements it feels more organic than many of the other compositions on Lifelines. Maybe not as fresh sounding today as back in 2002, but that's also a lot to ask for. I still like this one a lot.

JSS: Nice drive and a fair song to bring in on an album that lacks the big moment. I used to like it a little better. It is a clear album filler, albeit a good one. Rock with a special vocal in the verses where it goes from word to word almost seamlessly.


68

Solace
Lifelines (2002)

JSS: This is a perfect album closer by Magne. The lyrics are still touching me till this day, but then again I was a bit heartbroken at the time. I always found comfort in "no-one got ahead standing in line". It is a really beautiful song. It deserves to be higher on the list. Super well written and Morten's voice in the chorus is perfect. Great keys too.

JP: The album closer on Lifelines and while it didn't meet the usual standards for a-has closing tracks (except at that time maybe for You'll End Up Crying) it is certainly one of Magne's best contributions during a-ha's second coming. Helped by the fact that it's written from the third person perspective and by the soaring chorus where Morten sounds like he's almost standing on his toes to reach the high notes, but in a good way. I wouldn't have minded a more organic production with fewer electronic elements, but a beautiful song it is.


67

I Dream Myself Alive
Hunting High And Low (1985)

JP: An song from the debut album that is maybe easy to forget or ignore because it's overshadowed by the big hits or setlist regulars. And while it doesn't quite reach the incredible heights of many of the other songs on Hunting High And Low it is one I still have great fondness for and it certainly belongs in top 75. Morten is using a slightly grittier side of his voice in places, and there is something urgent and intently rushed about the instrumentation. Even as a child I really liked the opening lines "You can't deny / There's something dark against the light / All I can say / It doesn't have to be this way". Could probably work well in a slowed down style, too. Great track.

JSS: Somehow this track never stood out as one of the best, but not one of the worst on the album either. Morten sings great in the verses. The chorus is a little boring, but the middle part with some weird spoken word saves it more or less. But clearly an album track.


66

Go To Sleep (demo)
The Demo Tapes (2004) / Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JSS: I loved this. Same tradition as Monday Mourning, but more chilled and atmospheric. It was also exciting that it had lyrics from And You Tell Me. I still like it, but it has lost some over time.

JP: A demo likely from 1983, two years before a-ha made it big. A wonderful, sweet ballad and Morten's vocals are on top form. It wouldn't necessarily have been a great fit on Hunting High And Low but could have made a fantastic B-side to a single. Shares some lyrics with And You Tell Me but Go To Sleep is easily the better song. I think I read somewhere that Morten really likes this one and so it is no wonder that he does a beautiful vocal delivery.


65

The Way We Talk
East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon (1990)

JP: Upon its release this was something of an unusual a-ha track. Not only was it the shortest song they had released (clocks in at 1:30 minutes) but it was also the only one at the time not to feature Morten on vocals as Magne stepped up to the microphone. A very naked, jazzy, atmospheric track. The vocal melody line is rushed in places, packing a lot of syllables into a short phrase, but it works. It's not a big song, but it's still important for the whole album experience, I think. Honest, personal lyrics. A hidden treasure.

JSS: This has always been a perfect song on the album to break it all up. And great that Magne took the liberty of singing it himself. I always enjoy this one. They could have done more jazzy stuff, but never really did. Allegedly, a tough period for Magne, and this one is about relationship problems. I always thought it was about his personal life with Heidi, but now I guess it could be about him and Pål just as well. Well, maybe not, as he sings that he would change if he could, and none of them are able to change for each other.


64

Cold River
East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon (1990)

JSS: I used to think that this was just the coolest song. This was also a demo for Train Of Thought and the merging of the two songs with the riff from Cold River live is a nice addition to the live repertoire. Nowadays, the song itself is skippable to me. As with Scoundrel Days, the side two of East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon lacks a little quality to be perfect.

JP: One of the rockiest songs on East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Some fairly explicit lyrics that were lost on me when I was 14-15 years old. One of those tracks I never had a chance hear live but would have loved to. The chorus is not their strongest ever, and you can accuse it of being a bit forced overall, but when you're fifteen years old and ready to see 'your' band progress Cold River was a bold step. There is clip from 1987 on YouTube where a-ha is recording a demo version of Cold River that almost sounds like the superior version. Hopefully we'll get to hear that some day.


63

Sole Survivor
Lifelines Deluxe Edition (2019)

JP: I wonder if Pål went through another Beatles-phase while writing for the Lifelines album. That's the vibe I get, at least. Sole Survivor is certainly stronger than several of the other tracks that - through democracy or just sheer stubbornness - got included on the album. Interesting structure and nice vocal harmonies. Lifelines should have been cut to 10-12 songs instead of 15, and Sole Survivor should have been on it (even if I personally still prefer To Show It Is To Blow It from the same Lifelines Deluxe Edition, but Jesper really likes this one and as a-ha's career has shown that you've got to make compromises now and then).

JSS: This is a great song. Nice shifts in the song throughout, and especially the Beatles-like middle part is almost genius. Should have been included on the Lifelines album for sure.


62

Bar Room
Memorial Beach Deluxe Edition (2015)

JSS: I have listened to this so many times since it was released. One of the happiest moments for me with regards to demo songs that never got to be released on an album. Some say that this would not have fitted the Memorial Beach album, but I think it would. It could easily have replace Between Your Mama And Yourself, and the text universe is similar. This one is about picking up chicks at the bar and take them dancing. Nice little air freshener of a text. Great drive in this song, and Morten sings great. They should have finished this song. It could have been a hit single at the time.

JP: Bar Room was mentioned in an article in German teen magazine Bravo already back in 1991/92 (together with another so-far unreleased track called Box on the Air - if anyone reading this knows anything about that song then let us know!) when Pål had started working on songs for Memorial Beach, and since then Bar Room had a mythical status for me. What would it sound like? Slow or fast, rocking or soft? I think I even had a dream about the song once or twice. So when it finally got released on the Memorial Beach Deluxe Edition in 2015 did it meet my high expectations? The short answer is "no", and the longer answer is "no, there is no way it could have". Because you can't go back to those days, can you? The excitement after waiting almost a quarter of a century is enormous, and no song can live up to that. But it's still a highly enjoyable, fun song with almost a country rock feel to it, and it's one I have listened to a lot. Certainly superior to Between Your Mama and Yourself - the other "fun" track from the Memorial Beach recording session - but it might not have been the right fit for the album. Great song but they should have released Bar Room as a B-side back in 1993 instead of waiting 20+ years to give fans a chance to hear it.


61

Hurry Home
Stay On These Roads (1988)

JP: Hurry Home (or "burry bome" as the 12-year old me first thought it was called was when I saw the Stay On These Roads cassette tape cover with the titles written in italic typography which made the h look like a b) made a big impression on me when it was first released. I thought the train-like drums or percussions in the intro were amazing, and I always liked they lyrics with the mix of very specific and abstract imagery. Not often mentioned on any "essential a-ha songs" list Hurry Home is not the strongest track on Stay On These Roads, but I have always had a great fondness for it - not least the "Rolling countries / Fields unfolding" segway into the final verse. Very 1988 but you won't hear ME complain about that. Maybe it's time for a-ha to bring "burry bome" back onto the setlist?

JSS: This is a weird one. It has some of the greatest moments on Stay On These Roads in my ears, but combined with some of lesser quality. It begins well with an almost high energy Stripped by Depeche Mode feeling. The verse and bridge are nice, but then it kicks in; the chorus with "I'm doing it right ...". It straight up destroys the mood of the song. However, the middle eight is one of the finest moments with regards to atmosphere in any a-ha song, and I so enjoy those 35 seconds it lasts. Rewritten a little it could have been so much better.


60

Angel In The Snow
Memorial Beach (1993)

Angel single cover - no snow in sight

JSS: I would so much love to love this more, but I don't. Pål's wedding song to Lauren and still I am not a big fan. I sounds good, the music is nice, but the vocal melody is just a bit boring and repetitive. Increasing a tone in the third verse is not adding anything for me. I know that many other fans recognise this as one of the better songs on Memorial Beach, but to me only Between Your Mama And Yourself is worse. Still, the song is enjoyable and maybe it does not benefit lying between two of the greatest songs on the album either.

JP: When Angel In The Snow was first released I thought it was the most romantic song in the whole world and it made a huge impression on me. My seventeen year old self felt every word and every chord. I remember it even got voted onto a very indie radio top 10 chart in Denmark which made me feel very proud as a-ha weren't exactly seen as very alternative. I was never fond of shortening the title to just Angel for the single. It lost some of the magic, I think. The lyrics are very sparse but sometimes a few words can say a lot. "And always will I be there / Shake worries from your hair" is Pål at his romantic and image-creating best. Commercially it didn't do well, which - apart from the fact that a-ha weren't really in vogue at the time and that the record company didn't seem to care - I partly blame on the lack of a chorus. I still think it's a beautiful song even if I can't continue to vigorously argue that the guitar sounds nothing like U2. The fact that it's ranked 60 on our list is a compromise. I could easily see it make top 50 even if maybe has lost some of its shine over the years. Did I ever quote the lyrics when courting a girl I liked? Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. OK, I did.


59

The Love Goodbye (demo)
The Demo Tapes (2004) / Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JP: I just love this one! It was included on the demo tape that circulated among fans in the early 1990s, and already back then I immediately connected with it. It's definitely one of the best demos from the pre Hunting High And Low days. I'm not sure it would have been a good fit on the debut album (if so then it would have to be instead of Love Is Reason) but the quality is certainly there in its early form. "She's sitting by the window / Clinging to the phone / Dialing endless numbers / No reply / The love goodbye" is such a great lyric. It's probably fair to leave it out of top 50 but it's a fantastic song!

JSS: This is definitely one of the good demos from the early period. Very very cool and well written middle part, where Morten sings: "Oh, there's not a soul / In the streets below ...". It takes the song down in such a nice way. I always enjoy this one and it is the best of the bunch with Dot The I and Nothing To It.


58

Goodbye Thompson
Cast In Steel (2015)

JSS: One of the best songs on Cast In Steel. Pål can really portrait life in New York like very few can. Another song that does not sound like anything else, and I really appreciate songs like this on a-ha albums. It kind of proves that they have not gone all mainstream and that the German sounding production has not completely taken over. The simple yet complicated song is Pål in a nutshell. To the untrained ear this song may appear boring, but I will not hear of it!

JP: Paul Auster has his New York Trilogy, but Pål Waaktaar-Savoy is no stranger to writing about life in New York either - mostly for Savoy, though. This is a song about a shop on Thompson Street with a "Closing" sign on it. You probably won't find many other songs dealing with THAT subject. As the last track on Cast In Steel it is maybe not the grandiose or epic album closer that a-ha have produced so many of over the years, but there is a beautiful sadness or melancholy that stands with the best of them! Morten makes wonderful use of his darker vocal nuances in the verses before letting the notes fly in the final chorus which adds a sense of bleak optimism to the lyrics. The harmonies are among the best on the album.


57

Never Never (demo)
The Demo Tapes (2004) / Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JP: A very cool demo with a raspy sounding Morten in the verses. Has some of the same hectic beat as Train of Thought. I would have loved to hear a fully produced version of this song without the "Hold me..." part that ended up on The Sun Always Shines on T.V. I think it could have been a hidden gem on the debut album. The last line ("I swear to you I'll make this promise hold") is as pure early-days a-ha as it gets. Fantastic!

JSS: Oh, this is a demo that was so fun to hear, when it first appeared on The Demo Tapes that came out with the first edition of the book "The Swing Of Things" by Jan Omdahl. It is cool and Morten sings very cool. It would have been nice to include on the album if it had not been for the fact that there are large parts of The Sun Always Shines On T.V. on it. However, the verse is still up for reuse some day.


56

Keeper Of The Flame
Analogue (2005)

JSS: This is one of the finest moments on Analogue. Songwriting more Beatles than The Beatles. The lyrics about being young and falling in love with music are great. The piano is really cool as well. I remember Pål taking over the piano from Magne for this song at Frognerparken in 2005 and claiming "Now for some real piano playing". That was a great comment displaying that he is a guy full of humour despite that he rarely speaks at concerts.

JP: One of the compromises on our list. I definitely like this song - also a lot - but I still think we put it a bit too high. Maybe it's easy to be charmed by Pål giving us a glimpse into an ambitious teenager's mind where he contemplates world domination and keeping the rock'n'roll flame alive, taking over from past generations. There's a lot of nostalgia in the instrumentation which fits the lyrics and a lovely chorus with trademark quirky wordplays that link back to Afternoon High from the previous album. On the positive side also counts the fact that this is an unusually "out of fashion" sounding song, which is totally applaud. In short: Really good, but not great.


55

Stop! And Make Your Mind Up
Take On Me 12" single (1984) / Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

Stop! And Make Your Mind Up on the Take On Me 1984-version 12" single - including! dodgy punctuation principles

JP: I first heard Stop! And... on a bootleg cassette tape as the original version was difficult to come across. The cassette copy I got was recorded with the treble turned up completely and the bass turned to an absolute minimum to help drown out some of the background noise after repeated copying. So it wasn't until I later found the original Take On Me 12" single that I heard the intended mix. Bass or no bass: It's a hidden gem with a kinship to Driftwood but with a lighter tone. Objectively speaking not one of a-ha's strongest songs, but we're being subjective here. I like this one a lot!

JSS: I have a friend who till this day has this one as one of his favorite a-ha songs. I introduced him to it and I can hear why. I love the energy and the weird sounds in the beginning. It is just a lovely demo-like song, but it does not sound like anything else they have done. It would not had fitted on the final album, so it is well placed as a little gem on the B-side to the maxi-single of the first release of Take On Me from October 1984.


54

Afternoon High
Lifelines (2002)

JSS: This one should have been a single. I love this song. Pål at his best in that period. As is goes, it has some Beatles elements, which adds to the pleasure. It is highly energetic and the text just screams springtime. It is probably one of the only a-ha songs that puts me in a good mood. Note that I don't care for music that tries to put me in a good mood...

JP: Although the title speaks about afternoons, for me this is late summer mornings put to music! Ever since its release I have simply adored Afternoon High. "Daylight hits the corners of your mouth / Steals the words that filled you up with doubt". How can you not love that line? The final quality owes a lot to the production as the original slower demo version lacks some - or rather a lot! - of the album version's charm and goes for a more lazy feeling. Afternoon High has a kind of stop-and-go structure to the arrangement which suits it well. For me it's a classic even if it's not classic a-ha.


53

I Call Your Name
East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon (1990)

I Call Your Name single cover - No need to call. The other two are right next to you.

JP: This one started much higher on the list, but I can't escape the feeling that time hasn't been good to it. Maybe it's the saxophone that locks it in a time loop? Or maybe we got carried away when we did the ranking and relegated it further down the list than what is fair. Because it's still a damn good song!! Maybe a bit too long in the end, but it has a lot of live studio feel to it which gives it a certain atmosphere. Lyrically it's second to none! I remember a single review from Smash Hits (or some other UK teen music magazine) that described it as "more telling lyrics from the mad-genius pen of Pål Waaktaar" and that the song easily ranked among the best from a-ha. At the time I definitely agreed and feel a bit ashamed that it's not even in our Top 50... Maybe the conclusion is that I Call Your Name is one of those songs that you need to be in the mood for. And when you are it's great!

JSS: With this song I realized that a-ha was maturing and that I - at least my taste in music - was maturing with them. I really liked this song - especially the verses. The saxophone was a really nice addition to the soundscape, and I liked the live version they played around in the early 90's with a different middle part that changed tone. However, somehow I have realized that the years have not been too good to this song, but it is still really enjoyable and a cool choice for a second single off the album with a b/w video to match the mood. The only reason it did not make top 50 is that the competition is so fierce.


52

Lamb To The Slaughter
Memorial Beach (1993)

JSS: I think Magne mentioned that this song was "the story of my life - a very heavy waltz". I think he was still suffering in the band during that time and lacking confidence in his songwriting. However, it is certainly a great contribution to the album, and this is such a great song with its dark lyrics. Really nice verse where Morten sings so great and Magne himself does really cool backing vocals. In the demo version of the song there is even more backing with a super melody to it.

JP: Magne's only contribution to a-ha's fifth album (except for a co-write on Move To Memphis) and certainly one of his strongest overall. This is Magne's tale of the toll that the early success took on the band, and it has resignation written all over it. The line "We go down / It's the only way out" was part self-fulfilling prophecy and part description of the decreasing success with each subsequent album release since the debut. I think it's safe to say that this wasn't a great time for Magne. For anyone who is interested in understanding a-ha's career trajectory this feels like a central piece. According to Barry Page's extremely well-researched and great book "a-ha Down to the Tracks" Magne was not happy with Morten's vocals on the song, but then again Magne didn't seem happy with pretty much anything related to a-ha at that time. For me as a fan it sounded awfully cool back then, and I still think Morten did a great job. A heavy song. And excellent.


51

Mother Nature Goes To Heaven
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

JP: One of the best songs on a rather disappointing album. Morten's vocals are mostly in the mid-range which is sometimes underrated, I think, as the audience often seems to be more in awe of the impressive span he often showcases. There's a heavier version on the Cast In Steel deluxe edition which seems to link back to the Analogue album sound, but the final version has a more immediate appeal. "Things you could do asleep / In a not too distant past / Are trying your patience harder now" is another great line from Pål. Could have been lower on the list for me but still deserves a place in the top 75. I would rank Start The Simulator (which stalled at rank 75 which was too low for my taste) higher than Mother Nature..., but that's what compromises are for - you win some, you lose some, and Jesper is really fond of this one. And I am too.

JSS: Without any doubt my favorite on this album - and it was from the beginning. It has a certain bass groove that I really like. And the chorus does not go overboard with high notes and "great wings". It is just a solid melody sung really really cool. The middle part is great too, and to me this is how cool a-ha can be in the later years.


Mother Nature goes to heaven, and so do we now - if heaven is the 50 best a-ha songs! It's safe to say that we are moving into classics territory from here. The quality of the songs in top 50 cannot be questioned although tastes of course differ. And there are still enough songs from across the different phases of a-ha's long career that we haven't counted down so far, so we can proudly argue that we are not falling victim of just taking a trip down memory lane where everything that is old is automatically better. So if you feel like asking the question "Hey driver, where're we going?" then the logical answer is: To the countdown from 50 to 26, of course! A few surprises may even be in store so come join us.

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!


100

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.


99

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.


98

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.


97

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.


96

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.


95

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.


94

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.


93

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.


92

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.


91

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.


90

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!


89

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.


88

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.


87

Velvet
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.


86

Touchy!
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!


85

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.


84

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.


83

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...


82

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.


81

Celice
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.


80

Forever Not Yours
Lifelines (2002)

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

JSS:
 
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.


79

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.


78

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: As 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.


77

Shadowside
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.


76

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.