Number Ones: #95


  • a-ha Manhattan Skyline (Warner Brothers)
  • Week Ending 28th February 1987
  • 2 Weeks At #1


Though it missed the UK Top 10 (their first single to do so since Take On Me eventually became a hit in 1985), the final release from Scoundrel Days – that “difficult” second album – was a-ha’s fourth number one on my charts.

Manhattan Skylinea compelling, schizophrenic mess – was a surprising pick for a single, although in fairness aside from The Swing Of Things, there wasn’t a lot to choose from. Dreamy passages about keeping newspapers dry and watching umbrellas fly abruptly switched to an abrasive, jerky chorus with echoes of the histrionic brilliance of The Sun Always Shines On T.V. (if Warners were perhaps hoping for a repeat chart performance, they would be seriously disappointed).

When the Scoundrel Days album came along in October 1986, this was one of the tracks I immediately gravitated to (along with Weight Of The Wind and the title song….I did love my overwrought Nordic drama). I’d play it to death over the winter, and its place at the end of Side One was a main factor in my decision to upgrade to the CD just before Christmas (becoming only my 2nd album on the format at that time); so much easier to program in Track 5 than keep fast-forwarding and rewinding the cassette!

As much as I was just a bit obsessed with Scoundrel Days as a whole, the peaks for its first two singles on my Top 40 hadn’t quite reflected that; I’ve Been Losing You lost out to Howard Jones’ All I Want, while Cry Wolf made #3 as 1986 became 1987. Largely written in haste, during the touring and promotion of Hunting High & Low, the lack of obvious hits among its 10 songs made for a tricky (and short-lived) campaign.

I’ve Been Losing You‘s dark, muscular sound was impressive but it failed to appeal beyond the band’s loyal fanbase (America, so receptive initially to Take On Me, swiftly checked out), so the slow-burning Top 5 success of Cry Wolf was doubtless a relief to all concerned. A proper hit single saved Scoundrel Days from an early, ignominious journey to the reduced bins, and allowed the need for a third single to wait a little longer.

Timed to coincide with a-ha’s UK tour dates in the early Spring of 1987, Manhattan Skyline could only reach #13; their lowest-charting single in Britain. Not even a TOTP studio performance managed to rescue matters. Would it have been a different story with The Swing Of Things?

When asked on British TV for his favourite track from the album, keyboardist Magne “Mags” Furuholmen opted for Swing…, but was chief songwriter and guitarist Pal Waaktaar behind the decision to go for the heavier, rifftastic onslaught of Manhattan Skyline? Was this possibly an early sign of the divisions and power struggles within a-ha that would eventually cause so much grief?


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