a-ha Hunting High And Low
1 Take On Me 3:46 (UK single, #2)
2 Train Of Thought 4:11 (UK single, #8)
3 Hunting High And Low 3:43 (UK single remixed, #5)
4 The Blue Sky 2:22
5 Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale 5:00
6 The Sun Always Shines On T.V. 5:06 (UK single, #1)
7 And You Tell Me 1:51
8 Love Is Reason 3:04
9 I Dream Myself Alive 3:06
10 Here I Stand And Face The Rain 4:30
Well, it transpires that my favourite a-ha album in 2016 is actually their debut, and not Scoundrel Days. What happened?
Well, the five-disc Super Deluxe Edition of Hunting High And Low is what happened. This has always been an album very close to my heart, for a multitude of reasons tied in to experiences I had at that time, so it’s not a case of belatedly recognising what a classic it is. The four singles reached either #1 or #2 on my personal charts of 1985/1986; in fact, for many years The Sun Always Shines On TV was both my longest-running #1 and my #1 single of all-time – yet the Super Deluxe Edition from last year gave me a renewed appreciation of the album as a whole.
Most importantly, the revelations contained in the liner notes detailing the album’s lengthy and rather convoluted genesis, combined with a plethora of demos and works-in-progress revealed that, contrary to even my own assumptions, the career arc of a-ha in a musical sense was not quite as it seemed.
Although this debut album presented them as a clean-cut pop trio with a penchant for rinky-dink synth melodies, at their heart the band’s natural style was more complex and idiosyncratic. Many of the unreleased recordings from the Super Deluxe Edition have more in common with their later efforts from the 1990s, and it’s clear that the version of a-ha presented to the world in 1985 was significantly influenced by Warner Brothers and the production/mixing skills of Alan Tarney.
It’s no bad thing, of course, since all the best things about a-ha for me have been harnessed and streamlined into these 10 songs, and if it took an outside hand to help bring that about so be it.
Side A (in old money) is flawless from start to finish, kicking off with a trio of singles, then one of my personal favourites in the melancholic The Blue Sky, before concluding with the stately Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale where Morten’s vocals are allowed to swoop and soar quite magnificently.
Side B used to get the most plays in the months immediately after buying the LP, simply because it begins with The Sun Always Shines On TV – the most epic slice of tortured Nordic synth pop/rock known to man. After that, it does suffer a bit from “typical second side” syndrome, but whether intentionally or not, the final pair of tracks signal the direction they’d follow on the next album Scoundrel Days.
There’s probably a justice of sorts in how one of the most evocative albums of my youth has regained its place in my affections thanks to a 30th Anniversary reissue, reminding me of why I used to love it so much while simultaneously helping me to see it in a fresh light.