a-ha 1985

VIEWS: ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ – 35 years of a-ha

Celebrating the very best of a-ha

a-ha. Ah ha! Morten, Mags and Pal. Thirty five years ago they impressed themselves upon the charts and on MTV with the completely uncopiable video for “Take On Me”. Why uncopiable? Well if anyone ever dared replicate a video like that, they would forever be branded a imitator. Maybe some have paid ‘homage’ to it but no one will ever quite match the freshness and originality in creating a live action mixed with pencil drawing/outline film that accompanies a three minute music video. Yes, it was of its time, but with over a billion YouTube views now accorded, “Take On Me” was, is and will always be simply in a league of its own.

a-ha’s story actually began a year earlier, in 1984, when “Take On Me” was released as their debut single. It went to No.3 in Norway, but did nothing outside their homeland. That all changed twelve months later when the song hit No.1 in fifteen countries across four continents, selling over seven million copies to date. That was the making of a-ha and one which still sees them play to sellout crowds the world over today. “Take On Me” stopped at No.2 in the UK, but a-ha’s next single, “The Sun Always Shines On TV”, went the full distance. Odd, as it was just GB that loved that song more. “The Sun Always Shines On TV” was still a major hit globally, but in a reversal of fortune, that song topped the UK singles chart, their first, and to date, their last.

Maybe the rest of the world had already started buying their debut album, “Hunting High And Low”, by that time. The album topped the Scandinavian charts and with eleven million copies sold worldwide, took a-ha into 1986 and beyond, and with “Train Of Thought” giving the trio a second Norwegian number one and the album’s title track going top five in the UK, Harket, Furuholmen and Waaktaar now joined the ranks of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet as one of the 80’s biggest acts. They paused for only a few seconds mid-86 before unleashing their second album upon us all. “I’ve Been Losing You” kicked phase two off with another chart topper in their home country, while “Cry Wolf” quickly became a standard and much sought after a-ha smash across the globe, including the US, where the song gave the band their first hit since “The Sun Always Shines On TV”.

“Scoundrel Days” was released in the Autumn of 86 and within a year, was being furnished with multiple Platinum discs across Europe, Australasia and the Far East. “Manhattan Skyline” remains the only other significant single from that album in early 1987, for that Summer, the boys were summoned to follow none other than Duran Duran themselves to record the title theme song for the new James Bond film, ‘The Living Daylights’. History records it was not a happy experience for both a-ha or film composer John Barry, but a song was fashioned, arranged and made Bondian for the title sequence. Whatever the difficulties, the film was a huge hit and re-booted the series with new 007 Timothy Dalton making his debut in readiness for the 1990’s. The song went to No.1 in Norway and No.5 in the UK.

By now, the group were already writing and recording for a third album, which was planned for released in the Spring of 1988. The lead single and ultimately the title track, “Stay On These Roads”, is generally acknowledged to be one of their most outstanding songs. A down-tempo number that showcases Morten’s superb vocal talents, “Stay On These Roads” gave the threesome a fifth number one at home and another top five smash across most of the rest of the world. The album, which has sold over four million copies, would yield three more unforgettable hits with “The Blood That Moves The Body”, the catchy “Touchy” and “You Are The One” at the end of ’88, and with their own version of “The Living Daylights” added on just to keep things together, five singles that spanned sixteen months made this the longest the band worked with and around one album.

1989, for the first time, saw a complete absence of a-ha chart activity as the boys completed touring, took time out and began the process of writing once again for a fourth long player. “East of The Sun, West Of The Moon” would eventually come some two and a half years after “Stay On These Roads” and was lead by the band’s version of The Everly Brothers 1962 hit “Crying In The Rain“, which saw a new maturity in their musical style. The song was a huge hit, more so in some territories than the original, nearly thirty years earlier. Two more singles followed at the end of 1990 and early 1991, “I Call Your Name” and “Early Morning”, but these, like the album saw diminished interest than previous efforts. A best of, “Headlines And Deadlines”, came later in 1991 that would bring Platinum success for the first time in four years, together with the added bonus of a hit single, “Move To Memphis”.

a-ha were back two years later with “Memorial Beach” which featured the top five hit “Dark Is The Night” but following “Shapes That Go Together” in 1994, the trio wisely observed that it would be a good idea to stand down for an unspecified length of time. That lasted just six years. As the 20th gave way to the 21st century, a-ha were back with a superb new album, “Minor Earth, Major Sky”. The album included any number of potential hits, but “Summer Moved On“, “Velvet” and the title track were the ones that were eventually released separately and commercially from the album. “Summer Moved On” went to No.1 in Norway, their seventh and their first since “Crying In The Rain”, a decade earlier. There was now renewed interest in the band and this was cemented two years later with the album “Lifelines”, along with another chart topping single, “Forever Not Yours”.

Similarly, their 2005 album, “Analogue”, kept the a-ha flames burning ever brighter, thirty years on from “Take On Me”, with an ninth number one “Celice” and their first UK top ten hit in eighteen years, “Analogue (All I Want)”. “Foot Of The Mountain” in 2009 went to No.1 in Germany, No.2 in Norway and top five in the UK, while their most recent album, “Cast In Steel”, in 2015, followed suit. Although there was another anthology (“The Definitive Singles Collection”) released in 2005, the groups most successful compilation since their first back in 1991, was “25”, released in 2010 and celebrating their first quarter century in music. Despite time off and many threatened withdrawals and retirements, the lure of the masses and the demand to see a-ha again and again, keeps the three friends busier than ever. The Electric Summer tour of 2018 quickly gave way to The Hunting High And Low world tour of 2019 and with sales in excess of 100 million records, it’s likely we will see a-ha taking to a stage for some time yet.

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