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”.