06 January, 2022

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

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

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

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

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


A Fine Blue Line
Analogue (2005)

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

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


Oranges On Appletrees
Lifelines (2002)

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

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


Little Black Heart
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

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

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


Holy Ground
Analogue (2005)

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

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


White Canvas
Lifelines (2002)

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

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


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

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

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

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


Time & Again
Lifelines (2002)

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


The Bandstand
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

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

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


To Let You Win
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

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

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


Foot Of The Mountain
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

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

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

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


Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

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

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


Stay On These Roads (1988)

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

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

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


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

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

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


Cannot Hide
Lifelines (2002)

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

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


Cry Wolf
Scoundrel Days (1986)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Analogue (2005)

Celice single cover - graphics overload!

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

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


Forever Not Yours
Lifelines (2002)

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

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

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


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

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

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


The Breakers
Lifelines Deluxe Edition (2019)

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

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


Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

Shadowside single cover - shadow at the foot of the mountain

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

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


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

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

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

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

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!"