Welcome back as we conclude this week’s countdown! It has been fun getting back into this. There are some classic songs in this top 10. Again, you can click on the album cover to get the song from Amazon, and you can click on the song title to watch the video on YouTube. WARNING: If you click on the #3 song title, you can’t unsee or unhear that song! Now, let’s Return to the U.K. for the week ending July 12, 1987, and wrap up this week’s countdown!
This is my favorite song of the countdown by far! I cannot believe that this didn’t even chart in the U.S. I had never heard of it until I bought Heart’s The Road Home album (1995). I instantly fell in love with the song, and looked more into it, and found out that it was an ’80s song by Australia’s John Farnham. There are several versions of this song, and every one of them is really good.
This song was the lead single off of Richard’s Always Guaranteed album. I like all of his songs when they appear on these countdowns, yet I still don’t own anything by him. I’ll have to rectify that. Or at least add him to some of my Spotify playlists.
I recently posted an article covering my favorite music videos as part of an ’80s Crossover event with the ’80s League. Now, Robert is sharing his favorite video. Please check out our fellow members of the ’80s League who participated in this event:
Recently (August 1) MTV celebrated its birthday. Thirty-six years ago the channel that changed pop culture and affected the way all of us listened to – and watched – music played the first notes of The Buggles Video Killed the Radio Star and followed that with Pat Benatar’s You Better Run. The rest, as they say, is history. The channel that many thought could never work definitely worked and influenced music sales for the next two decades. Not everyone liked the shows MTV would add later and not all of them were successful, but that beginning, that core of music videos, concerts, and interviews with the artists left an indelible impression on all of us who sat glued to that cable channel.
Personally, I did not truly watch MTV until I moved back to the United States after living on an army base in Frankfurt, (then) West Germany for six years. Music videos did become a very precious commodity, though. In those years before MTV Europe, friends and/or acquaintances would travel back to the United States for holidays and summer vacations. Whenever anyone came back to the U.S., they always returned to Germany with a six hour VHS tape full of MTV – commercials and all. Those tapes made the rounds and were dubbed and dubbed and dubbed. We watched these videos until the tapes broke. Do not forget that these were the days before YouTube and there was really no other way to get a hold of these sacred clips. I vividly remember the all night sessions of Atari video games (that would later evolve into Commodore 64) with these VHS tapes of MTV rolling in the background. We would be mashing the buttons on the joysticks and singing at the top of our lungs. And when it was not our turn to play, we turned around and watched those videos – and sing at the top of our lungs.
Like most teens in the ‘80s, MTV was a major part of my growing up and I do really miss it now. Just a month ago I was visiting my best friends in Louisville. We did not turn on MTV as that would be a futile effort today. We went to Youtube and found a playlist of ‘80s hair bands and feasted on those classics!
Simply put: MTV helped form me into the adult I am today. Now as I am faced with a crossover event with our fellow ‘80s brothers and sisters, I am able to write about my favorite ‘80s video. There are so many choices, but my choice is an easy one. To me, despite all of the possibilities, my favorite ‘80s video begins and ends with a-ha’s Take On Me.
Yes, I briefly considered a few others like, well, no I really didn’t. a-ha’s song was the first one that popped into my head and stayed there. Yes, I am an a-ha fan. Growing up in Germany in the ‘80s made this a natural. I saw the band in concert in November of 1986 at the Frankfurt Festhalle shortly after the release of their second album Scoundrel Days. I have always felt they have been unfortunately labeled as one-hit-wonders here in the U.S. I know it is true here, but they had twenty consecutive top ten hits on the European continent – just nothing else here. Despite their clearly European sound that is not a rousing success for many here in the States, the video propelled this song to number one for the week of October 19, 1985. I love the song, but there are better, for sure. In 1985 alone Money for Nothing, Power of Love, Shout, and Broken Wings all hit #1 and are all songs that are better. But the videos are not (although Money For Nothing is an extremely close second). Remind yourself and watch the video again:
The story is simple: lonely girl falls for a cute boy in a comic book; boy pulls the girl into the comic book; boy gets into trouble; boy helps girl get back to real world; girl sees boy get beat up; boy escapes the comic book and rejoins girl in real world – that old chestnut. The story is not a complex one, but I do have a preference for videos that tell a story. There is not much time to develop character or plot in three to four minutes, so the video’s creators must rely on archetypes and stock characters and situations, as this one does. It is the creative twist of enhancing a regular comic adventure and combining it with live action that makes this one stand out. The aspect that really makes this one jump out, though, is this combination of drawn scenes and live action scenes within each other – not just as clever cut away edits.
The hero (Hartek), after winking at the girl, reaches out and brings her into his comic book world.
In the above scene lead singer live action Morten Hartek sings the chorus to the comic book version of the girl.
Now reverse the scene as the girl looks amazed at a comic book Hartek. Note that in both stills the panels of the comic book remain, giving the viewer the sense of remaining in the comic book with the characters.
Here, the hero Hartek breaks out of the comic book and into the real world.
Clearly, technology today is way better than it was in 1985, but the creativity used in the creation of this video is a clear hallmark of what videos could be and what they will become. I give the slight edge to a-ha’s video over Dire Straits’ Money for Nothingbecause of the lack of the burgeoning computer technology. I absolutely love both the Dire Straits video and You Might Think by the Cars and the way computer graphics are used. Both are clever and original, but both are also missing the clear story and characterization. Neither have a clear series of events that lead to a true climax. To me, Take On Mecombines the “story-ness” that I love in videos with comic book cartoonish graphics, and live action that is cleanly originally blended in to heighten the overall video experience. All of this packed into a whopping 3 minutes and 43 seconds. It will always be my favorite video of all time.
Today, we wrap up Robert’s coverage of a-ha’s deep tracks. There will be more bands to come. Please feel free to let us know what you think of this series. Are there any bands you would like to see on here?
Now, the conclustion of this week’s Deep Tracks:
The Living Daylights (1987)
Yes, James Bond fans this is the title song from that Bond film starring Timothy Dalton. The video comes complete with clips and images from the film. The song was written by Paul Waktaar-Savory and it is clearly meant for this particular Bond film. The music has the starts and stops with keyboard burst that surfaces in most Bond themes, Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” for instance. a-ha includes an extremely rare saxophone solo of sorts. The lyrics also capture the Bond features in the movie, “Comes the morning and the headlights fade away / Hundred thousand people, I’m the one they blame / I’ve been waiting long for one of us to say / Save the darkness let it never fade away / In the living daylights.” This is not my favorite song by a-ha, but it is serviceable.
The five a-ha songs we covered this week offer some insight to a band that had a meteoric start in 1984, but, in the United States, quickly faded away. a-ha is a talented group of musicians and songwriters who do not completely deserve the “one hit wonder” slur that is typical laid upon them. There are many other songs by them that are as good as the five featured here this week. Spend a little time on Youtube and “take on” a-ha and I think you will agree.
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