[Album Review] “Headlines and Deadlines” – a-ha

Headlines and Deadlines - a-haAlbum Title: Headlines and Deadlines: The Hits of a-ha
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1991
Running Time: 68m 32s

Track listing: 1 Take On Me; 2 Cry Wolf; 3 Touchy; 4 You Are the One (remix); 5 Manhattan Skyline; 6 The Blood That Moves the Body; 7 Early Morning; 8 Hunting High and Low (remix); 9 Move to Memphis; 10 I’ve Been Losing You; 11 The Living Daylights; 12 Crying in the Rain; 13 I Call Your Name; 14 Stay on These Roads; 15 Train of Thought (remix); 16 The Sun Always Shines on TV

Where were you when the intricate keyboard notes of ‘Take On Me’ first infiltrated your brain? It’s not quite in the same league as the ‘where were you when Kennedy was shot’ question but for me A-ha were one of the finest bands ever to grace popular music culture. A-ha defined perfect pop – a sound which hadn’t been witnessed so consistently since the Beatles. This greatest hits collection is a real trip down memory lane. All the hits from 1985 to 1991 are included, spanning four hit albums although the decline in sales is noticable as you get towards the fourth album, ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’.

Looking at the album chronologically, starting with Phase 1 of the A-ha story, ‘Take On Me’ is a keyboard-based cut possessing one of the most unforgetable tunes of all time. It was followed closely by the powerful follow-up single, ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’. If ‘Take On Me’ demonstrated a bouncy, jaunty side to the band’s music, ‘Sun …..’ showed a moodier and more determined facet. ‘Train of Thought’ is an interesting keyboard and drum-based jaunt – it’s even better in this remixed form – and ‘Hunting High and Low’ is a wonderful orchestral ballad and a great vehicle for Morten Harkett’s athletic voice.

Moving on to Phase 2. ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ veered in to view sensationally with a top-notch mid-tempo melody, a chorus of brass instruments and an inspired guitar presence, rhythm and bass. The closing break-down and finale is a real triumph – a mature pop song. ‘Cry Wolf’ is a strong tune but seems slightly insipid in comparison to ‘I’ve Been Losing You’. It’s bright and very distinct but the keyboard strokes become a little overbearing at times. ‘Manhattan Skyline’ is a strange power ballad concoction. A mellow verse is arrested by a strong guitar and drum-driven chorus and a slight but welcome guitar solo.

Phase 3. ‘The Living Daylights’. And despite the presence of Timothy Dalton as James Bond, this movie soundtrack was a super tune. Taking the elements of adventure and excitement present in the movies, A-ha crafted a pop song that suited it’s purpose perfectly. ‘Stay on These Roads’ is a pleasant enough ballad but never really reaches near to the quality of ‘Hunting High and Low’. Meanwhile, ‘The Blood That Moves the Body’ was an excellent tune that for some reason struggled in the lower half of the top fourty – the first time an A-ha song had failed to make the Top 20.

Next up is the indulgent ‘Touchy’ which dug A-ha out of a bit of a hole. The song was a big hit and a popular radio friendly tune. The buoyant keyboard vibrations were the perfect summer tonic in 1988. ‘You are the One’ was a popular release too but was a fairly poor relation to it’s predecessor, ‘Touchy’ and sounds dated and cliched in hindsight.

Phase 4 was a more inconspicuous phase for A-ha and one I am not too familiar with at all. Youth culture now embraced dance music and I personally was embracing the emerging grunge and rock scene. This shift left A-ha fairly redundant in world terms. However, October 1990 saw the release of their superb cover of ‘Crying in the Rain’. It was a great job, musically and especially vocally, by Morten. ‘I Call Your Name’ followed and the maturity of the group was highlighted by the piano and sax that replaced the usual keyboard strokes. Not so inviting was ‘Early Morning’ which ambled along with little direction and a retro sound that was totally at odds with the previous release. But it was just a blip as the bass-propelled low-key ‘Move to Memphis’ was pleasing enough on the ear in many departments.

And that’s where this story ended. There was another (critically acclaimed) album but commercial success on a world scale was minimal. At the moment, the band members, Morten, Pal and Mags, are pursuing their own agendas so it might be a while before we get some new music. This collection though is pretty essential for 1980s pop fans.


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