20 January, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shadow Endeavors
Cast In Steel (2015)

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

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


Minor Earth Major Sky
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

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

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

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


Lie Down In Darkness
Memorial Beach (1993)

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

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


Scoundrel Days (1986)

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Summer Moved On
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

Summer Moved On single cover - Magne is there somewhere

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

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


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

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

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


A Little Bit
Lifelines (2002)

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

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


Barely Hanging On
Minor Earth Major Sky (2000)

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

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


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

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

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


Make It Soon
Analogue (2005)

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

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


Take On Me
Hunting High And Low (1985)

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

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

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


How Sweet It Was
Memorial Beach (1993)

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


White Dwarf
Analogue (2005)

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

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


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

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

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

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


Train Of Thought
Hunting High And Low (1985)

Train Of Thought single cover - pan flute not depicted

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

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


The Blue Sky
Hunting High And Low (1985) 

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

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


The Weight Of The Wind
Scoundrel Days (1986)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

11 January, 2022

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

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

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

As always before we continue the list do take the opportunity to also check out the countdown in podcast format. Here you'll hear more discussion about each of the songs, arguments of the friendly and constructive kind (we're not a-ha after all so we keep it nice), and basically just a couple of a-ha fans having a good time once again discussing their favorite band like so many times before. Just look up 'a-ha - Ranking Highs and Lows' on your favorite podcast app, and hopefully that should sort you out.

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

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


Start The Simulator
Foot Of The Mountain (2009)

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Analogue (2005)

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

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

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


There's A Reason For It
Lifelines (2002)

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

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


Cast In Steel
Cast In Steel (2015)

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

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

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


Less Than Pure
Lifelines (2002)

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

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


Lifelines (2002)

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

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


I Dream Myself Alive
Hunting High And Low (1985)

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Sole Survivor
Lifelines Deluxe Edition (2019)

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

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


Bar Room
Memorial Beach Deluxe Edition (2015)

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

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


Hurry Home
Stay On These Roads (1988)

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

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


Angel In The Snow
Memorial Beach (1993)

Angel single cover - no snow in sight

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

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


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

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

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


Goodbye Thompson
Cast In Steel (2015)

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

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


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

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

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


Keeper Of The Flame
Analogue (2005)

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

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


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

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

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

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


Afternoon High
Lifelines (2002)

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

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


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

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

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

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


Lamb To The Slaughter
Memorial Beach (1993)

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

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


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

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

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

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