The Sun Always Shines on my Top Five

23 Aug

Inspired by my last post, where I collaborated with a fellow A-ha fan, I thought I would give you a wee run down of my top five A-ha songs.

For those of you who don’t know, A-ha is a Norwegian new-wave synth-pop band that were huge in the ’80s, and despite the lead singer (Morten Harket) and songwriter/guitarist (Pål ((Paul)) Waaktaar-Savoy ) reportedly hating each other, they still make albums from time to time. My friend Susan would have you believe that their success is down to Pål’s songwriting skills, but in fact they are mostly known for Morten Harket’s chiselled cheekbones and almost inhuman vocal range. (And his puff. Apparently he holds the UK record for longest note ever held on a song – longer even than Lovely Daaaaaaaay.)

I should say that this is the top five of their songs that I know. I am not a huge music fan (I’m more of a books person) and I only have a couple of their albums, so these will mostly be smash-hit singles that even you have heard of. Although there may be a surprise at the end.

But before we get into the top five, a special mention to Cry Wolf, the song that got me into A-ha in the first place, about a million years ago. It’s also the first pop song I was really aware of. It’s not their best, but it’s easy to see why a song with the lyrics “Cry wolf, ooh-ooh!” would appeal to a tiny child.

5. Crying in the Rain

This isn’t the upbeat pop that they’re most familiar for, but it has the deep synth and electric piano that make it sound meaningful, an electric guitar solo (I’m a bit of a sucker for those) beautiful harmonies, Morten’s ethereal falsetto, and lyrics that are poignant, simple and memorable.

[Update: My mother had heard of this song, but not by A-ha, by the Everly Brothers. A bit of googling reveals that it was originally co-written by Carole King and was first performed by the Everly Brothers but has also been covered by others many times. As an old person®, my mother is entitled to think that the addition of electric guitar and synth isn’t an improvement, but despite her protestations, Morten clearly sang it best.]

Someday when my crying’s done

I’m gonna wear a smile and walk in the sun

I may be a fool but ’til then, darling you’ll

Never see me complain

I’ll do my crying in the rain

4. The Living Daylights

This is A-ha’s Bond song. Yes, they were successful enough and cool enough back in the day to get asked to do a Bond song! And they did a very good job.

Again it’s not heavy on lyrics and it’s got some fun vowel sounds (this time it’s “Aaah aah, ah ah, the living daylights”). It has the contrast between loud bits and quiet bits that many A-ha songs have (sometimes written by different members), but here the loud bits sound HUGE, and thanks to some effective use of drums, it’s got a real urgency to it, too. A proper Bond song. And the film’s not bad, either.

Set your hopes up way too high

The living’s in the way we die

3. Take On Me

The first shocker in my rankings. How can Take On Me only be third?! Well, because there are two I like better, obviously. But this was their first, and biggest, hit. If you only know one A-ha song, it will be this one. And you probably do know it. It has what has been described as “the crack cocaine” of musical hooks. If you can’t think of it, look it up on your music app of choice, and then spend the rest of the day humming it.

(Shockingly, I discovered while writing this that despite 13 UK top ten hits and 14 number ones around the world, A-ha are considered a one-hit wonder in the USA! No song but Take On Me ever made a dent in their charts – not even the Bond theme! Clearly, America has poor taste in pop.)

English isn’t A-ha’s first language, and you do get the occasional indication of that, such as in the lyrics of this song. Some are slightly weird, including the title. “Take me on”, as my ESOL pal Susan informs me, is a collocation, and you can’t just flip it to “take on me” without it sounding a bit odd. Unless it becomes an international mega-hit; then it’s fine.

Apparently Take On Me was released a few times before it got any traction, and that was mostly down to the video. It’s a film-animation combo, drawn in the realist style and using rotoscoping for the moving bits. It’s clever, exciting and funny, and has almost 1.5 billion views (yes, billion) on YouTube. So follow the link in the heading to watch it yourself – and then spend the rest of the day humming it.

For those of you who can read music, look how insanely high the last note of the chorus is!

2. The Sun Always Shines on TV

So now you know what the post title was referring to. This is the second single they released, and I’m not alone in liking it (slightly) better, as Take On Me got to number 2 in the UK charts, but The Sun Always Shines on TV was a UK number 1.

I didn’t know, before I started researching this, that the video for this continues the story in the Take On Me video, and it is (sort of) continued further in the video of their next single, Train of Thought. That’s some artistic commitment – or the shrewd recognition of a winning formula.

But back to the song itself. It’s quite Bond-song-esque as well, with a big sound that verges into electro rock. The lyrics are mysterious and supposedly about the effect TV has on our lives, but they make more sense when you watch the video, where clever editing (i.e. TV fakery) makes it seem as if mannequins are singing the backing vocals.

I fear the crazed and lonely looks

The mirror’s sending me

These days

1. Manhattan Skyline

So, my number one, and if you haven’t heard of it, fair enough: it only reached number 13 in the UK, and that was decades ago. But it is such a good song. It’s about the pain of saying goodbye to the past and the brittle optimism of an uncertain future. It is sweet and sad (although the poignant lyric below is only on the album version, for some reason) but also fierce and driving.

The quiet bits and loud bits on this song are in two different keys, and the shift between them is so arresting that it was the subject of a sketch on Limmy’s Show (which explains why half the comments on the official music video are about Benny Harvey).

The Manhattan Skyline video is worth a watch, too. As the song starts and ends with a reference to a newspaper, it’s all done as if it’s on paper, with dot-to-dots and crossword puzzles. Has anyone ever looked cooler (or indeed hotter) leaning against a crossword box than Morten Harket?

You see things in the depths of my eyes

My love’s run dry

This has been a lot of fun to prepare, listening to all the songs again and watching the videos. My budgie, Artemis, enjoyed it too, as she thinks I’m usually far too quiet, and she agreed with my choice of top song. How do I know this? Because “more noise = more approval” is a fair translation of budgie communication and she went nuts when we listened to Manhattan Skyline.

You may not agree, however, so feel free to chip in in the comments, or send a link to your own A-ha top five. Yes, I’m looking at you, Susan.


2 Responses to “The Sun Always Shines on my Top Five”

  1. susanmain2807gmailcom August 24, 2022 at 8:23 pm #

    A fine list, although I am that tiny child who loves Cry Wolf.
    5. Take on Me-overly familiar, but just glorious, and just try to make it to the end of the song without attempting to hit one of those high notes.
    4. I’ve Been Losing You-aka the one that I always forget about, or the Bond theme that never was. I almost chose Touchy for the #4 spot, an infernally catchy bit of fluff that seems to have been written in less time than a trolls sneeze.
    3. The Sun Always Shines on TV-I love the intro and the moment when the guitars kick in (you know, “Give all your love to me, to meeeeeeee…..).
    2. The Living Daylights-A-ha + James Bond = the perfect combination. There’s no debate about that, is there?
    1. Cry Wolf (ooh hoo). I defy anyone not to swoon slightly at the charmingly Nordic way Morten pronounces the word “keyholes”.

    • Karen Murdarasi August 25, 2022 at 8:00 am #

      I like I’ve Been Losing You, too, but I’m not a fan of Touchy. How do the lyrics go, again? “Me, I’m catchy, You’ll sing me all day long. Me, I’m catchy, Until you hate this song.” Something like that, right?

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