If I had to choose one song that is my favorite by a-ha it would be this one. I love it because it is such a departure from what I had come to expect from the band. I will admit to not liking this song at all the first time I listened to Scoundrel Days; that all changed when I heard them play it live. When I saw a-ha, their second album had just been released and they played most of the tracks from it. “Manhattan Skyline” packed such an enormous punch live that had to go back and really focus on it – and it is brilliant. I am overwhelmed with the raw emotions in the lyrics that are compounded with that harsh guitar in the chorus. The speaker in the song is leaving – going to America. It seems that the end of the relationship is causing some major changes. He is literally starting over by leaving the country and chasing the promise of a new Eden in New York. He says, “How can you say that I didn’t try / You see things in the depths of my eyes / That my love runs dry – No.” Later he is clearly content with his decision to leave, “So I read to myself: / A chance of a lifetime to see new horizons / On the front page a black and white picture / Of Manhattan skyline.” Now consider the music. A clear keyboard sustaining the song’s situation and creating some tension. Then that harsh guitar kicks in enhanced with a driving beat. Hartek’s vocals capture just how much he is agonizing over this decision. The somber keyboard over the final verse reaffirms his thoughts – he is leaving.
This song is from the band’s sophomore effort Scoundrel Days. It was the first single released in European countries, but did not dent the AT 40. Here is another relationship gone bad song, but this one contains some clear imagery that add a darker feel to the emotional conflict. These lyrics jumped out at me right away, but I am not sure exactly what it means, as the sentiment is not repeated anywhere else in the song: “It wasn’t the rain that made washed away / Rinsed out the colors of your eyes / Putting the gun down on the bedside table / I must have realized.” No more violent suggestions anywhere else in the song, so this line throws me. Later in the song Harek sings my favorite lines, “I can still hear our screams competing / You’re hissing yours like a snake / Now in the mirror stands half a man / I thought no one could break.” Despite a turbulent relationship, he is finally realizing that he cannot live with her. This is clearly echoed in the chorus, “I have lost my way, I’ve been losing you.” I am still drawn to this song (and tomorrow’s as well) because a-ha is is musically evolving. This song is not completely dependent on synthesizers and keyboard hooks to win their audience. The guitar work plays a much larger role. The guitarist, Paul Waktaar-Savoy, is allowed to show that he can play and carry a song with an excellent rhythm guitar. I also love the end – just when you think it is over, they add a little flourish (So wait for it).
This is a beautiful ballad that captures the listener right away. I really enjoy the phrasing of the lyrics that can be seen right away, “Here I am / And within the reach of my hand / She’s sound asleep and she’s sweeter / Than the wildest dream could have seen her / And I watch her slipping away.” Lyrically, the song is the story of a man searching for the woman he let get away – nothing earth shaking, but a-ha adds a haunting quality to the music and vocals. The listener can sense the man’s desperation as he expresses the regret of having let her go. You can also sense his determination to never give up on his search, “I’ll always be hunting high and low / Hungry for you / Watching me tear myself to pieces / . . . There’s no end to the lengths I’ll go.”
Musically the song keyboard and synthesizer based, but is not reliant upon that catchy keyboard hook to impress the listener. “Hunting High and Low” is a smooth, beautiful song that displays the range that this band has – once again demonstrating the strength of their debut album.
Hi Everybody! Our special guest writer, Robert Mishou, has come up with an awesome new series that I am so excited about. We’ll call it Deep Tracks. Today’s song happens to be my a-ha tune. We’ll let Robert describe the premise of this new series. But first, I would like to give a shout-out to my very good friends Mario and Sean from 2 Friends Talking, who just published an interview they had with Robert. Please check it out and show them some love.
What you see here is the first installment of a new series. There are so many great songs in the ‘80s – so many hits that we all know and love, but too many of us are missing some awesome tunes that were minor hits or not even released as singles. Hence my series. I am going to take a look at songs by artists that did not hit the American Top 10. Album cuts, minor hits, and unreleased songs are all tunes that could make an appearance here. One artists in a week – five songs – one per day.
The first artist is a-ha (you never capitalize the band’s name!).
Everyone reading this right now knows a-ha’s #1 hit “Take On Me.” Just as many are picturing that amazing video right now. I will confess to being a HUGE a-ha fan – so much so I even saw them in concert November 7, 1986, at the Frankfurt Festhalle. Remember, I grew up in Germany (1981-1987), and this band has been enormously successful across the European continent. In the U.S. they are definitely one hit wonders; in Europe they are one of the biggest musical acts to come out of the ‘80s, amassing twenty top 40 hits; they were able to extend their careers well into the 2000s. I love their albums (in the ‘80s: Hunting High and Low, Scoundrel Days, Stay on These Roads) and would like to give you five songs that are essential listening for a-ha in the ‘80s.
The Sun Always Shines on T.V. (1985)
This song was the second release from a-ha’s first album Hunting High and Low. While it is true that I got hooked on a-ha with “Take On Me”, I like this song way better. It did reach #20 on the AT 40, but was a top 5 hit in Germany, Holland, Ireland, and England. Back when I owned this on cassette, this was the first song on side 2 – many were the times that I listened to the album beginning on side 2 – that is how much I like this song. The songs begins with with calmly paced keyboards and Morten Hartek’s high pitched, haunting vocals, “Touch me, how can it be / Believe me, the sun always shine on TV / Hold me, close to your heart / Touch me, give all your love to me / To me.” . . . then the song kicks in with an admirable, harder than expected, rhythm guitar. I really like this song because it shows a bit of diversity in the music (way more of this is coming). There is a strong keyboard presence, but the song is not completely dependant upon it like “Take On Me” is. a-ha is also able to achieve a much fuller sound with strings that are added later in the song. Lyrically, this song is a bit more intriguing than then their earlier mega hit. The first verse shows more depth than most would expect based on “Take on Me”; this one contains, “I reached inside myself and found / Nothing there to ease the / Pressure off my every worrying mind / All my powers waste away / I fear the crazed and lonely / Looks the mirror is sending me these days.” This song is an excellent place to bust through “Take On Me” and begin your exploration of a-ha in the ‘80s