And we got nothing to be guilty of… (Part 8)

I’m loath to label this one even remotely a guilty pleasure, because I genuinely think it’s a great song – and from a much underrated band. But seeing as others may disagree…

As we all know, a-ha appeared in the mid-80s, all leather wristbands, ripped jeans and posh pop promos. Along with many other 13-year-olds, I begged for their debut album for Christmas, seduced by the ginormous pop choons of their first two singles, “Take On Me” and “The Sun Always Shines On TV”. However, after repeated listens on my crappy bedroom boombox, it was the title track, “Hunting High And Low”, that I came particularly to love. Something about the juxtaposition of Morten’s keening vocal and the warmth of the musical backing rendered it irresistible to me: I understood the yearning but craved the comfort.

When their second album came out, I saved up to buy that too. But nothing from it spoke to me in the same way: “I’ve Been Losing You” was too rocky (no really!), “Cry Wolf” was just silly… And besides, it had come to my attention by this point that liking a-ha was considered ‘a bit gay’. Which, for obvious reasons, was the last thing I wanted to be accused of back then.

So a-ha and I went our separate ways. I started listening to more ‘serious’ music: The Cure, The Bunnymen, Kitchens of Distinction (only years later would I realise that the latter were actually far more gay than a-ha – and what a joyous relief that would prove to be). But I still kept an ear out for what my erstwhile-favourite Nordic boyband were up to. And mainly it was pretty rubbish: their “Living Daylights” Bond theme, “Touchy!”, a cover of “Crying In The Rain”…

Rubbish except for one tune: the title track from their third album. This was “Hunting High and Low” times a thousand: that aching vocal again, wrapped up in a 15-tog synth-duvet. It sounded to me like being driven along windswept fjords, perhaps in a reassuringly sturdy, cosily heated Volvo (due no doubt to the title – I’m nothing if not literal in my imagination).

Listening to it now, I still think it’s a beautiful record. If you ask me, Morten’s cheekbones pulled unfair focus from his abilities as a singer. His voice is astonishing on this track. And the synth soundscapes created by Mags are extraordinary – and extraordinarily ambitious for a ‘pop group’. In terms of their credibility (if not their chart success), the band were almost undoubtedly hampered by their looks. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world to happen to one, I’m sure, but is a little unjust.

Anyway, here they are. Enjoy if you can: a-ha and “Stay On These Roads”.


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13 thoughts on “And we got nothing to be guilty of… (Part 8)

  1. Nothing guilty about this one as far as I’m concerned.

    Aha were one of Maki jr’s favourite bands back in the day. He had two cassettes and limited pocket money. The question was always: what do you want to listen to next, mum? Wham or Aha? Aha or Wham? A difficult time for Mrs Maki, but one that she remembers very fondly. Aha bring those memories back. Funny how music does that.

    Loving this series, Bish.

  2. I’m with Makinavaja here, nothing to be guilty about, I didn’t like the most recent album as much as the earlier ones (but the single Foot of the Mountain was good), I particularly like the title track of Scoundrel Days where I think Morten sounds fabulous

    (I do admit that the promo video for Take On Me may have first got my attention and Morten’s cheekbones helped, but I do think they’ve endured rather well)

  3. I like “Hunting High and Low” but I can’t hear it without thinking of this…..

    eeh lad, they had proper Eurovision songs in them days.

    Stay On These Roads is rather good in a “Vienna”/”Maid of Orleans” kind of way. I do prefer their faster numbers though. His voice is sublime.

  4. I’m struggling to understand how you can possibly imagine that this belongs in the same universe as latter-day Bucks Fizz, let alone the same series…

    • Oh these are just a few of the many tunes that, over the years, people have berated me for enjoying, Abahachi. No connection between any of them apart from that!

    • It’s funny, but I have no recollection of anyone ever telling me that there was anthing wrong with liking any particular sort of music. Maybe I just wasn’t listening to those people. Or, more likely, I ignored and forgot. Whatever, I was never in any way, shape or form, fashionable.

      • I remember being told by a pompous colleague of my father’s that I would soon grow out of all that pop rubbish and start appreciating proper music like jazz and classical. (I did think of trying to explain that I didn’t really like pop music but decided it wasn’t worth the bother.)

  5. Absolutely. Nothing. Guilty. About. A-ha.

    Really.

    (Unless it was “Touchy” that was your favourite, I suppose; I think that was the one that propmpted me to stray from those particular roads. Appalling use of English – a shame, when they had demonstrated their excellent grasp of the language – and such a weak tune.)

    After an initial obsession that only a just-turned-on-to-music teenager who just happened to be in search of a harmlessly distant pop star to have a crush on* could possibly manage, I strayed. I didn’t buy the third album. But I did buy an anthology many years later – which concentrated on those early albums, naturally.

    However, I’ve remained interested, and there’s some good stuff from the later years too. “Sycamore Leaves” f’rinstance – dark, gloomy Scandic stuff. The voice is on top form.

    *I consciously chose to have a crush on Morten, because it seemed like the thing to do (i.e. have a crush on a pop star – at least I was discerning enough to like the music first). I was 15, and felt like a late developer.

    • Don’t remember Sycamore Leaves at all. Not bad at all. Not sure about Morten’s headband, mind. The one that has stayed with me from after they stopped having regular UK hits is this one:

      Just ace.

      Oh, and it was always Mags I had a crush on. Not that I’d have admitted it.

      • My sister liked Mags. I suspect that was as conscious as my liking for Morten. I always felt a bit sorry for Pal – nobody seemed to fancy him, and he was the main songwriter.

  6. I don’t know much about A-ha except for Take On Me and some follow up single, the title escapes me for the moment. I liked Hunting High and Low just fine, and Stay on These Roads too (was i not supposed to?) If neither were songs i’ll remember after today, they’re not hard for me to listen to either. I think that’s down to the fact that i agree with Bish – Morten is a very good singer with a lovely voice. And to be boring, he was the hottie in the band for me too.

  7. I was always Norwegian Woodn’t where a-ha were concerned but I don’t remember them lacking credibility. I seem to recall Morten’n’Mags being talked up as the pop perfection-seeking, Scandanavian Lennon & McCartney for the 80s. You just get used to these acts having a short shelf-life once they’ve been exposed to the withering glare of the pop idol industry – I mean, I guess there is an industrial need for One Direction to exist at this time but who among even their devotees really cares how they develop musically? A-ha deserved better than that, I’m sure, and the fond recollections here seem about right, but my abiding memory of Morten is seeing him interviewing Eurovision contestants backstage when Norway was hosting one year (over to you for the stats, bish!) and my mate saying, “He better hope the dole isn’t watching this.”

  8. another winner Bishbosh ! Although, I think I prefer them in poppier mode.

    I think May is right, A-Ha always had a bit more credibility than, say, Bros and are definitely nothing to be guilty for

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