This is about the chart, not art.

Magne FWhen I declared in a hyperbolic manner a few days ago that Magne F fans were “horrified” with the new a-ha single I was quickly pulled up for my “exaggeration”.  Which is fair enough – that’s what hyperbole is.  So let me simply say that they many seem discontented.

The focus of their ire?  The new a-ha single “Foot of the Mountain” is a shameless re-working of a track called “The Longest Night” that appeared on [a-ha keyboardist] Magne’s 2008 solo album “A Dot of Black In The Blue Of Your Bliss”.  How shameless?  Well, you decide.

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Listen to “The Longest Night”

on Magne F’s MySpace page.

Listen to a-ha’s new   

single “Foot of the Mountain“.

So what’s the big deal?  The vocal majority of Magne fans have issues with the new a-ha song.  Points made publically on a relevant Facebook group are many and varied.  Some think that interfering with the song in the way the band did was completely unnecessary given what a strong recording the original was … and that the new one does not match up.  Some think the new chorus is lyrically detached from the rest of the song.  Other points made are that it is “lazy”, that one should not cover “god”, that hearing Magne’s song first makes it hard to appreciate the new one and that it is “too polished”.

Some counter-points include the view that Morten’s vocal is superior to Magne’s and improves the song; and that the track may actually have been written for the band before Magne decided to throw it on to his solo record.  That’s a good point.

But what do I think? 

I have to admit to not recalling the Magne song at all when I first heard “Foot of the Mountain” – in fact I immediately thought I was listening to something Keane had written for them.  It turns out I did hear “The Longest Night” on Magne’s webpage about a year ago and saw him perform it at a gig last May.  I think it’s a very good track but that’s in the context of the lower expectations I have for Magne’s music. 

Without the handicap of being attached to the Magne song, and so judging “Foot of the Mountain” on its own merits, I think a-ha have a really great pop song on their hands.  

This single is all about getting on the radio, not creating an artistic masterpiece.  To that end they have a polished, catchy pop-song with a great hook and a superior vocal from Morten.  

To hold a-ha to some higher creative moral standard is really counter-productive.  They should do whatever it takes to get a hit whether it be a cover version (“Crying in the Rain” was an immense recording) or with the assistance of Max Martin or any other songwriters for hire.  This is about the chart, not art. 

As far as I’m concerned the solo albums should be nothing more than a sandbox and not a place for the band member’s best material.  There aren’t significant numbers of fans buying the solo work these days so if they write 12 solid tunes (which Magne did on his “Past Perfect Future Tense” album) it will go unnoticed (“What’s the point of writing songs that no one hears?”).  

I’m fairly certain that 99% of Capital Radio’s audience who might hear “Foot of the Mountain” have never heard “The Longest Night” or had any idea that Magne releases solo music – in fact many may not know specifically who Magne is.  And it’s this audience that are key to putting a-ha back in the charts – a few thousand loyal a-ha fans can’t do it alone.  

Unfortunate as it is that some fans are disappointed that the band have plundered an existing recording, I can assure them that, as someone who is not “Magne-fied”, I think the new a-ha single is a winner.

And if it’s not? Well it’s only pop music.

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26 thoughts on “This is about the chart, not art.

  1. You’re making valid points there. I must admit that when I heard the a-ha single first it sounded somehow familiar but as I haven’t paid too much attention to “A dot of black…” I didn’t realise where it was from. I only realised later through the discussion on facebook.

    This is not the first time the band has “recycled” a song of one of the solo projects though. What about “Holy ground” (Morten), “Velvet” (Savoy) or “Dragonfly” (Magne)?

    I’m not disappointed they do recycle a song. The disppointment imho is due to the fact that everybody is waiting for the new album and was looking forward to hear something NEW in this single.

    Imho the badn has gone much more mainstream anyway since chaning the record company. They seem to focus more on selling, so it’s definetly “chart” before “art”!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Nette. I think that when the band have taken on an existing track they have a mixed record. They did a great job on “Velvet” even if I prefer the original but “Dragonfly” is a pretty awful song no matter who sings it. “Holyground” sounded great acoustic but a bit too overblown on “Analogue”. Clearly the new single is the biggest departure from the original material but I think they’ve done a good job with it. Glad to see you agree with the focus of the blog 😀

  3. I agree with the focus of the blogost, yes. And yes, the new singe is what we call an “earworm” in Geman which is mostly due to the keyboard chords I think.

    Of course Morten’s singing/voice is clearer than Magne’s and the new chorus brings more climax to the song than the one of “longest night”.

    Would like to see you write about Magne’s music in general, or have you already and I’ve missed it?

  4. @Nette – “earworm” – yes I understand! I haven’t done anything on Magne’s music (it’s on my “list”!). I don’t know much about his early work though…

    @Nicola – interesting! I think it’s a shame that the single is not getting great reviews as I think it’s very pleasant indeed. Maybe they prefer something meaningful but dull like “Cosy Prisons”, I dunno.

    Morten still has ridiculous biceps, doesn’t he? He must inject them with “muscle juice”.

  5. I agree – I really like it. It’s catchy, which is what a-ha need if they are going to have a hope at troubling the charts…

    I also *love* Cosy Prisons, but it certainly wasn’t single material…

  6. Hei Graham!
    I agree with everything said here ENTIRELY. Some people seem to have these Magne-tinted specs on and they need to remove them and listen to the track as an A-HA track.
    I also agree with it sounding like a Keane track, specifically Crystal Ball, (even the promo image / logo is very Keane-esque!) but that’s not a criticism either, as I spent all summer 2006 singing along to Crystal Ball 😉
    As such I think it will be a hit FOR ALL THOSE WHO HAVEN’T HEARD MAGNE’S SOLO WORK, which is most of the target audience 😉
    This is no different to when Coldplay did their own version of Hunting High And Low, but the difference is, no one will have heard Magne’s original (except for a very small percentage).

    I personally love the dichotomy between A-ha tracks and the solo work, it creates an interesting dialogue between the two 🙂

    Helen x

  7. Ooh new word “hyperbole” – I like!

    I think you pretty much know what I think already. This band have to shift some cd’s, or we WILL be waving goodbye to them. The very real economics of the music biz, is that money has to be made in the present. Past success and glory is all pretty meaningless, until it comes to repackaging that greatest hits cd (again), once they have been dismissed by their label.

    I think I’ve said this somewhere else already, but we should be celebrating the difference in the 2 songs and not pitching them against each other. Both versions are interesting and entertaining, although Foot of the Mountain is clearly aimed at the mass market and quite rightly so! Let’s hope they get the airplay and the promotion they deserve.

    “As far as I’m concerned the solo albums should be nothing more than a sandbox and not a place for the band member’s best material”

    Totally agree with this.

    Good blog 9er.

  8. @Debbie – Hyperbole is awesome isn’t it? Yes, this could be make or break for them. I’m sure Universal weren’t overly impressed with the 300k units or whatever it was that “Analogue” sold. They must have a friend high up in there because bands are sent packing for far higher sales than that.

    I do like both songs and their differences should be appreciated in the same way that I feel “Minor Key Sonata” and “Analogue” were.

    On the final point there is plenty of strong material on the solo albums but not songs that might suit an a-ha record. “A Fine Blue Line” and “A Reason For It” probably didn’t belong on an a-ha record. But equally “A Dot of Black” and “Whalebone” could have been amazing a-ha tracks…

    Thanks for the read and comment!

  9. I couldn’t agree more.

    The difference for me though is that I had actually heard TLN many times over, and when I first heard the chords of FOTM I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed.

    But as soon as the chorus started, the disappointment was long gone. I think the a-ha version is far, far superior in “cathiness”.

    This is a huge leap forward from the disaster named Celice, which was an awful choice for first single, almost as if they were reluctant to have a hit.

    So is it very safe and middle-of-the-road? Yes! But who cares if it’s good? I don’t care about the recycling either, as long as it’s good music. At least we know the amazing Shadowside is going to be on the album and that’s a true original!

    This could be their most catchy first single since… well, Take On Me.

  10. Hey MoonBoy, thanks for the comment. Would agree with you on the catchiness.

    A US friend of mine, with no great knowledge of a-ha short of “Take On Me”, listened to both songs as part of my “research” and told me two days later that she can’t get FOTM out of her head!

  11. I should admit that i hate solo albums. not for their music ofcourse , just because i dont like that they represent any song in separate way and i say myself , wish to hear all of savoy morten magne timbersound songs under the a-ha brand. this is only my view , and ofcourse they will attain some charts with these songs.

  12. now a question has apeared. why they release some new singles just for 2 or 3 countries, (uk, Germany and Norway). this is obvious that maybe they have not enough success into these countries but maybe they have more attention in other nations such as canada forexample this year or Brazil Russia south africa and more..

  13. TLN = Good song
    FOTM = Great song

    TLN = Magne
    FOTM = Magne + Paul

    Q: Taking into account the above mathematical formulas – what element differentiates a great song from a good song? Or to express it another way what is the ‘greatness’ element?

    Working:
    Great song – Good song = Greatness element

    (Magne + Paul) – Magne = Paul

    A: Paul Waaktaar

    Q: Why are Magne fans upset about a-ha’s reworking of TLN?

    A: Because it provides incontrovertible proof that Paul is a better writer than Magne.

    I will now be going into hiding for some time.

  14. @Fardad: Thanks for your comment. It is a difficult issue. The band like to do their “own” music for creative purposes. And when they do take their own songs and put them on a-ha albums we end up with a disjointed record (such as “Lifelines”). They need to completely separate the solo albums from the music they write for a-ha.

  15. @Fardad: On your other point… I think it might be a case of wanting to be successful in the UK. I believe that was one of the main reasons they signed with Universal after being disappointed with Warner’s promotional efforts. Germany and Norway have been two of their more successful markets since the beginning.

    I also think that promoting in far-away places is not their favourite thing. Promoting in western Europe is easy! Look at how tired they are every time they are interviewed in Brazil!

  16. I don’t really have a brain that works in formulas, particularly mathematical ones but I would just like to say, it’s Magne’s song. Yes, from start to finish, it’s Magne’s song. Okay, it’s been finely tuned by Paul (we assume) and the production team, but it’s Magne’s song.

    Ugh! I hate how defensive I sound, but that’s the way it is! 🙂

    Good music 🙂

  17. I agree in part with what Graham’s said.

    I guess having heard the song as Magne’s TLN I didn’t like the song had now become FOTM. I personally prefer Magne’s version – is that because I heard it first? I don’t know.

    IMO I don’t think TLN & FOTM marry together as one song and you cannot compare this to Velvet, or any other song written with the intention of it being a Savoy release and/or then put into the setlist or released as an a-ha single. The only thing that changed for Velvet was Morten sang the a-ha version.

    I also don’t think that this is a great first single for a new album, ok the majority of non-aha fans wouldn’t know TLN or indeed Magne has a solo music career so yes they might hear it on the radio and think its a catchy pop song, which is good but I’m disappointed, waiting 4 years for a new album and the first single is a duffer if you ask me. Why not have released a bloody fantastic single first with Riding the Crest?
    That has an instant hook, it doesn’t sound like a-ha and is going to more chart wise than a song that was written by two people separately – who knows if it was ever intended to be used on the new a-ha album as TLN or were they short of one track and said let’s stick TLN with some lyrics Paul’s written and rename it FOTM? IMO FOTM isn’t even a decent album filler. OK so you know I don’t like it, its the first a-ha single ever I’ve disliked so that’s got to count for something.

    Finally, I don’t see any comparison with FOTM to a Keane song. I just think its a crying shame that they have rushed this out, made it download only, when if they had maybe worked on the song a bit more they could’ve come out with something much better or even had time to write an awesome first single.

    FOTM is less than middle-of-the-road for me.

    If I had to rate it out of 5 (with 5 being the highest) I’d give it a 2.5 but solely because of TLN part and not award any points for the FOTM.

    I don’t mind if the majority like the song, I’m just saying as a fan whose been there pretty much since the beginning I don’t like it and it’s my opinion and I hope the 2nd single is better, and the album doesn’t have any other songs like this on it because we’ve been waiting a long time for a new album and I felt that Analogue wasn’t as good as MEMS, although the biggest mistake from Analogue was not releasing Celice as a single in Europe!

  18. A spirited rebuttal, Karen. I’m in a hotel on expensive Internet so won’t be writing loads 🙂 But it doesn’t need an argument – you don’t like it much and that’s fair enough.

  19. “…Why not have released a bloody fantastic single first with Riding the Crest?
    That has an instant hook, it doesn’t sound like a-ha and is going to more chart wise than a song that was written by two people separately…”

    This is how Paul and Magne have worked many times before, so in other words it’s the classic formula and it doesn’t get more a-ha than this.

    Btw, how can you be so sure that Paul hasn’t made any contributions to Riding The Crest? As far as I know, there hasn’t been any official credit for that song.
    Of course it was written for a-ha, the only thing remaining from Running Out Of Reasons is the riff. So sorry, but this is just as much a-ha as the current single.

    “the biggest mistake from Analogue was not releasing Celice as a single in Europe!”

    What are you talking about? It WAS released in Europe, with the UK being the ONLY exception. The problem was just that no one wanted to hear it.

    So let me rephrase your sentence there:
    The biggest mistake from Analogue was releasing Celice as a single in Europe!

    Oh, people with their belief in Celice as a commercial single, please just stop. It’s not hit material, it would make most non-fan’s ears bleed. And it’s too cold for radio.

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