30 December, 2021

a-ha - ranking highs and lows - Part 2: Rank 125-101

Welcome to the 2nd part of 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows', the complete ranking of a-ha's 147 songs from worst to best. In case you are new here and missed the first countdown: Welcome to the blog! Do feel free to check out the first part where we count down from number 147 to 126. And in case you already did read the first part of the list and have an appetite for more: Welcome back! In any case we're honored to have you here.

In case you need a little introduction to the Ranking Highs and Lows project you can find it here. And if you want to share your thoughts on the ranking so far you are more than welcome to do so on our Facebook page. We'd love to hear what you think.

Also, do not forget that we also discuss the countdown in a series of podcasts. So if you prefer to listen to the ranking rather than reading just search for 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows' in your favorite podcast app and you should be able to find us there. Or read here first and take the podcast with you on a walk, a run or on the train on your way to work ("Disappears into an office / It's another working day" - where are we going to find Train Of Thought on the list??) 

In this part of the countdown we focus on the songs ranked from number 125 to 101 in that order. If you already read the first part you will know that a fair share of early demo songs were placed in the heavy end of the list. But as we continue the countdown we may start to see some more familiar songs as well. And although we're still in the bottom third of the list this is also where we start seeing some rather good songs on the list, which is obviously a testament to the fact that even when a-ha are bad they are mostly still quite good. So, which songs just missed the top 100? And which song from one of the 1990's albums limps in at number 120 as the worst from that era? Let's find out.


Nothing To It (demo)
Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JP: Possibly the song that inspired the band name: "You've got to get on top of it, a-ha / Nothing to it" and for that alone it's relevant. Included on the bootleg demo cassette that circulated among fans in the early 90s and possibly overrated because of nostalgia. I actually really like Morten's voice on this one a lot. A likeable song, a bit on the light side and and a bit of fun but not more than that. Which can be OK sometimes, I suppose. I wouldn't have wanted to be without this one even if it's not a great song objectively speaking.

JSS: Quite naïve keyboards, but this has early signs of a-ha becoming a-ha, so I like it even if it is not the best of the batch of demos.


Riding The Crest          
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

JSS: Magne is again reusing a riff from one of his own solo songs, this time Running Out Of Reasons, which I much prefer. The original riff is played with a real acoustic guitar. This one is certainly not, but played on a keyboard with a rather irritating sound. But all in all the song is pretty nice with a great chorus. I can't say that it has stood the test of time, but that is ok for an upbeat pop song anno 2009. The middle eight that holds the initial song title (Sugar To Make The Pill Go Down) is nice and cheeky.

JP: Upon first listen: "This could be their biggest hit since Take On Me!" Upon twenty-fifth listen: "No it couldn't!" Very heavy on the 80's sound and probably the song on any a-ha album from 1986 onwards that would have blended best with the songs on the debut album. It just feels oddly stiff in melody and structure. Still, I like the lyrics a lot, and I can enjoy the song occasionally. To be honest I'm a bit torn when it comes to Riding The Crest. It's better than I give it credit for but I wouldn't necessarily want a non-a-ha fan to hear it or let alone judge the band on it. On its worst days it belongs in this end of the countdown.


Differences (original demo)
Lifelines Deluxe Edition (2019)

JP: We Are The World infused with Norwegian gloom and lack of hope. Hopeless.

JSS: A weak track that can't deliver on the grandiosity that it promises. I like the way Magne sings the backing vocals and I guess that it is a statement of some sort. However, by no means at the level that Magne can deliver - best example being This Is Now America from the 2019 album White Xmas Lies. That was great, but that might come up again later when we discuss other songs...


Living At The End Of The World          
Cast In Steel (2015)

JSS: Some fans like this one and compare it to Stay On These Roads - they should be ashamed of themselves. It is not the worst song Morten has ever done, and it has its moments. But like so many times before, this is a solo project with Morten's collaborator Peter Kvint and should stay that way.

JP: Apparently a favorite among many fans. Morten's vocals are strong, the melody is decent, and the "We're picking up speed on the highway" bit is quite nice, but to me the song is not nearly as epic as some fans make it out to be. The synths sound a bit like a poor copy of Stay On These Roads, and although it does help make Living At The End Of The World sound more like "old a-ha" than many other songs on Cast In Steel it just doesn't sound as fresh or majestic. An OK effort but somewhat overrated.


Analogue (2005)

JP: Solid vocal performance and nice enough melody but also very representative of Magne's output from 2002 onwards. I would probably have put it higher on the list 10-15 years ago, but it hasn't stood the test of time. Among Magne's better lyrics, though. As a whole: Quantity over quality.

JSS: A Time And Again light - even though written by different persons. This one is Magne's, and to me it is just another boring proof that Morten's voice actually does not sound great in all styles. By no means a bad song - just a little boring ballad.


Between Your Mama And Yourself         
Memorial Beach (1993)

JSS: This one hurts. I so want everything from Memorial Beach to be great, but the truth is that this one is too far off compared to the rest of the album. I would have included Bar Room (see later on the list) any given day instead of this one. The lyrics are cheeky in the same way. This one is about a girlfriend with a great looking mother as Pål said when the album came out. This is Pål trying too hard to be simple rock 'n roll. It does not work that well.

JP: The lowest ranked song from before the comeback in 2000 (not counting early demos). Sadly out of place on the Memorial Beach album. Pål described it as something to clear the air during the recording of the album, but it annoys more than it amuses. Forever a stone in the shoe on an otherwise fantastic album.


Maybe Maybe
Scoundrel Days (1986)

JP: Maybe not as bad as the ranking suggests. Or maybe maybe it is. As charming as the song can be on occasions it's also partly what prevents Scoundrel Days from being a flawless album. Magne doesn't appear to be too happy with the final outcome of the song either, but I'm not even sure there's a big song hidden anywhere inside Maybe Maybe. The demo version for sure held more promise but even that wasn't truly great.

JSS: The demo for Maybe Maybe is much better, much more gloomy and would have fitted the album better. This track is the reason why Scoundrel Days is not a perfect album (and a few other factors we'll come back to). Too much happy go lucky sound, and it does not suit the feel of the album as a whole.


You Are The One         
Stay On These Roads (1988)

You Are The One ltd. 7" single cover - it's understandable that a-ha look unhappy with this

JSS: The middle of this song "I've done all I can do..." is genius in the transition from the interlude after the second chorus and back again to the third verse. However, not nearly enough to make it a great song. The video for this one does not work at all either with the guys running around in sailor costumes in New York. Too much fun and happy sounds for a lyric that is actually more melancholic than it appears. It makes the album weaker.

JP: The lowest ranked song on our list with at least some commercial success at the time it was released, reaching number 13 in the UK in January 1989 and top 30 in a number of other European countries. I can muster up some nostalgic love for You Are The One at times, but even though the song has been released or played live in numerous versions over the years none of them are really very good. The lyrics are much darker than the music suggests, and if the band did a slowed down re-worked version like the MTV Unplugged version of Take On Me it could potentially work really well. a-ha, I hereby challenge you!


Halfway Through The Tour
Analogue (2005)

JP: An honest account of the exhausting touring life and the important role concerts play now that bands only make little (if any) money on selling records: "While there's money to be made / Halfway through the tour / From the public eye we fade". A strange but pleasant enough instrumental second half of the song doesn't add much in terms of quality. A glimpse behind the scenes of a-ha on the road with interesting and quirky Waaktaar-ish lyrics but all in all not a very strong song. Not a bad song either. Maybe one of the most difficult songs to place overall.

JSS: Pål does ABBA and steals back what David Lynch took from him. Sounds weird? It is because the song is split in two. The ABBA part is the first minutes of the song. I like it somehow with it being a testament to life on the road - maybe a bit too honest in the lyrics and lies in the tradition of songs like The Company Man. The last part of the song sound like it could have been in Twin Peaks. Pål actually sent in Sycamore Leaves to Lynch, because he was a fan of the show and never heard back from him. Later, there was a melody on the show called Sycamore Trees. It does not sound anything like Sycamore Leaves in my ears, but stealing is stealing. Well, this last part of the song represents the tranquility after a tour, I guess. I like that idea. Not a bad song at all.


Did Anyone Approach You?         
Lifelines (2002)

Did Anyone Approach You? single cover. Focus, guys!

JSS: As much as I like spoken word in songs from time to time, this one never really did it for me. It is by no means near the greatness of the spoken word in Locust. The sound of the song, the feel, the guitar riff - everything. It just isn't there. I never got why they released this as a third single, when they had songs like for instance Afternoon High on the same album. The video by Lauren does not help either. Yes, I am grumpy.

JP: I liked this one a lot when it was released and thought it was pretty cool. Still it was a strange pick for a third single off Lifelines but that's likely a democratic decision as Morten and Magne penned the first two singles from the album. The song features Morten talk-singing (not to be confused with rapping) in the verses which almost 20 years after its release still does sound quite cool to me, I'll admit. The lyrics can be read as Pål slagging of Magne, which rarely makes for good songs and as such a position in the bottom third of our list is well-deserved. And as we shall see later, the slagging off has only just begun and goes both ways. The song as a whole can be summarized by some of the lyrics from the song: "Doubtful - but not hopeless at all"


Dot The I (demo)
The Demo Tapes (2004) / Hunting High And Low Deluxe Edition (2010)

JP: Another of the demo songs that circulated among fans in the early 1990's. I've always really liked this one, but as a demo it obviously lacks proper production which makes it hard to judge the real quality. Still, a more finished version could have had real potential and would not sound out of place on the debut album, or at least as a b-side to an early single. As synth-pop as it gets. Maybe Vince Clarke of Yazoo and Erasure fame could have done great things with it.

JSS: An OK demo of the early bunch. The chorus is nice, and the piano/keyboard is ok - albeit super naïve. It has some nice chord progressions and effects along the way. A lot could have been better, but it is enjoyable on a rainy day.


Cast In Steel (2015)

JSS: Expectations were high. The title sounded cool, and it was supposed to be Magne's great contribution to the album. I liked it at first, and it is the next best song on the album... of the songs not written by Pål. All six songs by Pål are better. Very industrial, Depeche Mode'ish - but by no way near their level. Morten actually tries to sing cool, but somehow it just does not sound cool.

JP: Another contribution by Magne to the Cast In Steel album and one of the better ones. It leans a bit too heavily on Depeche Mode for my taste but that's possibly part of the attraction for others. Cool vocals in the verse and the chorus isn't bad either but all in all nothing extraordinary. It's funny how Magne has accused a-ha in their 1990's incarnation of being 'dishonest', because to me a song like Mythomania actually sounds more like a-ha trying to be something they are not than pretty much any of the 1990's songs.


Don't Do Me Any Favours 
Analogue (2005)

JP: The slagging off continues! This time it's Magne taking a stab at Pål, which is equally as unpleasant to witness as when the knife is in the other person's hand. I don't care who started the fight, kids. Just knock it off already! The song itself is a decent piano and guitar-led track that Keane and Coldplay would likely approve of (even if Magne forgot to write a chorus), but it's certainly not one that makes a fan feel better about the band chemistry - or the lack thereof.

JSS: One of Magne's slaps in Pål's face, but I like it - the song. Very energetic with great vocals and the lyrics are relatable, if you don't know the story between the guys. Nice stops between the parts in the song. Take On Me-like drums. It deserves to be higher on the list.


Real Meaning
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

JSS: A middle of the road song from Pål. I like the Beatles-like middle part. OK song, nothing more than that. The end of the song sounds like it is borrowed from Hey Luchie, which was on Savoy's second album from 1997 Lackluster Me - Pål's solo project with Lauren and Frode Unneland. This sounds like a love song to Lauren as well, so I might be right.

JP: A love song from Pål to his wife Lauren in which he wishes for things to never change: "And I sure will / Miss us when we're gone". Although Morten in the past has lend his vocals to numerous love songs from Pål to Lauren, Pål should probably have saved this one for his and Lauren's band Savoy. Or just played it to her in their own living room and left it at that.


You Wanted More
Lifelines (2002)

JP: Not a bad song and one that I could see non-fans enjoy as well. Most likely another stab at Pål from Magne about band politics, differences in ambitions and not least songwriting credits, which seemed a recurrent theme after 2000 and certainly a strange thing to put on an a-ha album. But then again Lifelines felt more like two or three separate albums glued together than a coherent piece of work, and You Wanted More was definitely a decent effort.

JSS: Arh, another song that gives Pål a slap. "We had it all, you gave it up, you wanted more", I think with reference to where Pål wanted to take a-ha in a rockier direction in order to more street cred. He did answer back on the Savoy song Rain On Your Parade, where the lyrics go: "Take a good look where we are. Damn right I wanted more". Aside from this kindergarten, the song is pretty much forgettable. It has an anthem feel to it that I am not too keen on, and the production is awful.


You'll End Up Crying
Stay On These Roads (1988)

JSS: This is clearly the odd one out on this album, but somehow it works nicely as a closer. I remember that I liked it after a few spins, but it is not one of the more special songs that sticks in your mind for long.

JP: Legend will have it that Morten always wanted the band to sing this song in harmony when there were girls to impress. Interesting lyrics and arrangement and I can appreciate it for those reasons, but this is one of the weakest album closers a-ha has released. The intro almost sounds Spanish with a wistful trumpet after which the rather sparse arrangement gives room to the - admittedly strong - vocals. Nice use of strings as well. Although it was never a favorite of mine when it was released I'd probably personally still move it a bit higher on the list as I think it's a significantly better album closer than Summers Of Our Youth from Analogue which you can read about later...


Love Is Reason
Hunting High And Low (1985)

Love Is Reason 7" single cover - a-ha proving they were much more than a cartoon band... 

JP: A light and somewhat forgettable song from the debut album. Feels out of place on a record that is far from lightweight despite a-ha being unfairly pigeonholed as a teen pop sensation at the time. But although Love Is Reason seems a bit of a throwaway now I can't honestly claim that I felt that way back when Hunting High And Low was released so it's probably more a case of it not having aged as well as the other tracks on the album. Still, it was a good choice that this was only chosen as a follow-up single to Take On Me in Norway and The Philippines as it could have done more harm than good to a-ha's artistic credentials had it gotten a worldwide release.

JSS: Adding insult to injury coming after And You Tell Me. Those two songs in progression takes Hunting High And Low from perfect to a few steps away. As a 9–10-year-old boy I liked this pure pop song, and it does have its qualities. But the sound of that horn-like keyboard sure does not help a song that is not of the highest quality to begin with. There are later released demos from that era that would that suited the album much much better. And they are higher on this list...


Cosy Prisons
Analogue (2005)

Cosy Prisons cd single cover - did they get four years?

JSS: This is an above average track for me. It is classic Magne both lyrically and with regards to the melody. Lyrics are really good, the piano is really nice, and the analogue production is super nice. Also, layers are added as the song goes along. When the third verse starts with "Your transatlantic shopping spree..." and the drums really kick in, the song leaves the ground and goes in half time rhythm towards the end. I almost forgot how great this song is. I would have had it higher on the list.

JP: Magne seems very pleased with and proud of this song and apparently it's a favourite among many fans, which I in many ways can understand. It's a classic piano-led track but somehow I don't feel the a-ha vibe. To me Cosy Prisons is Magne telling me how to feel rather than making me feel it. Nice crescendo though and change in pace towards the end. Maybe we're too harsh on it and it could possibly have earned a top 100 rank. But that's the thing about a list like this: You start to disagree with yourself already the day after you made it. So let's leave Cosy Prisons here but give it a Shooting Star award as one that could go higher if we repeat this exercise in a couple of years.


The Summers Of Our Youth
Analogue (2005)

JP: Magne sings the verses, Morten does the chorus, and Chris Martin from Coldplay must have been floating in the air around them in the studio when it was recorded. In many ways a logical album closer on Analogue but I just find it a bit boring, to be honest. I like the Analogue album as a whole but there's something in the production choices I struggle with here and there. This also applies to The Summers of Our Youth which I consider the weakest album closer of any a-ha album and therefore would have placed it below You'll End Up Crying if it was just up to me.

JSS: A nice little song, and I always like it when Magne sings a little lead vocal to scratch a bit on the polished surface that Morten creates - and does to perfection most of the time, I should add. The chorus sung by Morten makes the song more interesting. Not the best song they have ended albums with, but enjoyable.


Sunny Mystery
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

JSS: This song reminds me of Everything But The Girl. It is a bit off compared to the other songs on this album, but it is very airy and driven. Not my preferred style of production for a-ha, but this is ok cool and well-written.

JP: There are rays of sun in the music, but the lyrics have a dark undertone which overall fits the title of the song. It is Magne's only solo writing credit on Foot Of The Mountain and it's actually one of the better songs on that album and one that I do find myself humming now and then. Nice sort-of-chorus. The "Life is the dream that you wake up to / Dreams are the life from which you wake" lyrics on the other hand sound like an Instagram post from a travel blogger slash influencer. #Forgettable.


Giving Up The Ghost
Cast In Steel (2015)

JP: One of the newest songs in a-ha's catalogue to feature some of the mood from the Scoundrel Days era, but unfortunately without matching the lyrical and melodic qualities. Another spoken word part by Magne certainly doesn't help. I could have placed this one a little lower on the list. And I do want to stress that I think Magne has released some wonderful solo albums so this shouldn't come across as a dismissal of his songwriting abilities or his huge contribution to a-ha, which honestly has often been underestimated. But on a-ha's later albums I've too often had the feeling that Magne writes for Magne, not for a-ha. But maybe we just have different views of what a-ha is and should be, which is fair enough. After all Magne is in the band, and I'm not.

JSS: This is to me the best song on Cast In Steel not written by Pål. Dark and cool, but by no means more than that. Morten sings it pretty cool, and I like that the song does not have a crescendo. However, the chorus is weak and does not leave the ground.


Nothing Is Keeping You Here
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

Nothing Is Keeping You Here cd single cover - did the guys leave, then?

JSS: This is what I consider middle of the road a-ha. Nice aspects with the piano, but the chorus is really bland and boring. The demo version has Morten singing very high notes towards the end. Actually a better version than the album version. And one thing that really rubs me the wrong way is the way Morten sings "shine" (sjain). It sounds bad and is something that he started doing during the later years. Imagine The Sun Always Sjains on T.V....

JP: A song about suicide? There is a demo version with a slower melody which fits the lyrics better (and Morten's vocals on the demo are absolutely insane!), but overall the album version with its lighter melodic touch and more upbeat tempo actually does the song good. The main issue is that it suffers slightly from the lack of a real chorus. Keeping with the theme of strange commercial single choices in later years Nothing Is Keeping You Here was released as the second single from the Foot Of The Mountain album in the UK but as the third single in Europe, and in both cases the single version was different from the song on the album. Just stick to the album version, though. Overall it's the better version.


Lifelines (2002)

JP: First released as a solo song by Magne in 2001 for the Norwegian movie Øyenstikker (Norwegian for Dragonfly). a-ha's version is definitely a quality effort with beautiful instrumentation and sweet lyrics, but Magne's own take is the superior one for those who can appreciate his vocal qualities - and I certainly can. In the case of Magne's version the frailty in his voice gives a remarkable strength to the song which is naked and tender. Some of this is somewhat lost in Morten's more polished vocal performance.

JSS: Made by Magne - destroyed by a-ha. The original version by Magne was cool and had a certain Nordic feel to it. Really cool. The a-ha demo had the same instrumentation, but in the end, the producers decided to dip it into the Germany-oriented sound machine. A shame. It is a good song.


Door Ajar
Cast In Steel (2015)

JSS: This song is much more clever than it is given credit for. The title is a bit weird to a native English person, I have heard. Still, Take On Me is, too. Notice that Morten starts singing on two different beats in the first and second verse, which works really well. The lyrics gives me images in the head. Somehow it is the The Blue Sky on this album. And nice with Alan Tarney back.

JP: Door Ajar re-unites a-ha with producer Alan Tarney who produced the main part of the band's first three albums, and for that reason alone it is fair to have hoped for more. It's a strange song where Pål's songwriting, Morten's vocals and Tarney's production doesn't create the old a-ha magic. It has it's moments and I like it when a-ha get a bit odd, but the song lacks a chorus which is an issue when there's nothing else to really lift it. Still, I do like the fact that a-ha still challenges the concept of what a pop song can be.


And You Tell Me
Hunting High And Low (1985)

JP: Back to the debut album. Here Pål is trying to convince Lauren that he loves her a lot! They are still together to this day, and if And You Tell Me has contributed to this in any way then I don't have a bad word to say about it. Also I do like the very sincere lyrics. Sometimes it's better just to say what you want to say and not wrap it in metaphors, and this is as direct as can be. It's a strange little song which sounds somewhat out of place on the album but not necessarily in a bad way. Still, it's sweet rather than essential.

JSS: I always saw this one as the odd one out on the Hunting High And Low album. A weird little song to come after The Sun Always Shines On T.V. Later I learned to like it a bit more when the demo version came out as B-side to Train Of Thought. Although, the chords are in fact clever and diverse, it never really leaves the ground.

And there you have them: The 25 a-ha songs that rank 125 to 101 on our countdown from the trio's absolute low to the ultimate high. An eclectic mix of songs from the early days all the way up to the latest album from 2015. If nothing else it shows that old is not always gold, but it's probably also safe to say that the countdown so far has been a bit heavy on material released from 2000 onwards. This of course begs the question: Was (almost) everything just better in the old days, or are we just a couple of sentimental fools who prefer our a-ha songs to be drenched in the nostalgic memories of cassette tapes and colourful posters from teen pop magazines? We shall see as we move on and crack the top 100. Or to put it like Pål in the a-ha Live In South America concert video as the band gets ready to go on stage for the encores:

"Alright, 'ere we go!"

26 December, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Forest Fire
Cast In Steel (2015)

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

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

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


The Wake
Cast In Steel (2015)

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Turn The Lights Down Lifelines (2002)

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

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


What There Is Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Objects In The Mirror Cast In Steel (2015)

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

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


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

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

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

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


The Company Man Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

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

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


I Wish I Cared Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

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

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

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

See you further up the list...