[Top 10] Best Savoy songs

You are probably here for one of two reasons – you were knowingly led here and are interested in what is written below, or you clicked out of curiosity, (oddly) asking yourself “who are Savoy?” And you might think you know who Savoy are but, no, this is not the American electronica band.

Savoy consist of a-ha guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, his wife Lauren Savoy and drummer, Savoy Unneland.

Frode, Lauren, Paul.

Just kidding – it’s Frode Unneland.

Formed in 1994, just as a-ha were grinding to a halt on the back of their 1993 album, “Memorial Beach”, Savoy have released six albums and, per Wikipedia, have won 2 of 3 Norwegian Grammy Awards they were nominated for (in 2000 and 2002). For a side-project they are hugely successful with a string of terrific albums and some real stand-out tracks. This article is going to list what I find their best songs to be.

I actually found this process of selecting my favourite Savoy songs to be more difficult than picking out my 10 underrated a-ha songs. Different types of list, I know. But I have such a connection with Savoy’s music that I feel like I’m being a bit mean to songs for not including them.

Savoy are primarily an alternative rock band with splashes of airy sixties pop and gritty dance influences, with vocal duties split between Paul and Lauren. There are crossovers with a-ha – “Sycamore Leaves“, which was on a-ha’s 1990 album “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, was re-recorded for Savoy’s second album. There are other examples that we’ll touch on later.

There is probably plenty of history that is unknown to me and frankly I’d love if Paul wrote an autobiography some day because the story of his band – and his relationship with a-ha – has the potential to be fascinating.

For those who might be uninitiated with Savoy, here are the albums and years of release for context before we get in to the list: “Mary is Coming” (1996), “Lackluster Me” (1997), “Mountains of Time” (1999), “Reasons to Stay Indoors” (2001), “Savoy” (2004), “See the Beauty in Your Drab Hometown” (2018).

On to the list! I compiled by going through their albums and selecting the songs that were in contention. I ended up with eighteen. If you want the full gamut, here’s the five that don’t make the top 10 (and obligatory honorable mentions). And note that where there is no recording on YouTube, I have linked to an mp3. If you like the song, buy it!

The peppy, upbeat “Raise Your Sleepy Head” (from “Mary is Coming”) is a melodic delight; 2004’s “Melanie Lied to Me” a bitter alt-rock broadside; “The Breakers” (with vocals from American artist, Jimmy Gnecco) from the same year (initially an a-ha demo sung by Morten) goes from slow-burning hypnotic hum to an emotive and explosive finale; “I Would Not Change a Thing” (from “Reasons to Stay Indoors”) a beautiful pop ballad that focuses on the little things; and, most recently, 2018’s “Night Watch“, a rocktronica cut with an immense trance-like breakdown in the middle-eight.

And, with that, we move on to the …

Honorable mentions

Bovine

Album: Savoy | Year: 2004 | Vocals: Paul

It’s a curious song, no doubt. But “Bovine”, with it’s fish-out-of-water theme, jaunty country-style and quirky lyrics (“You have to be gifted/to get me out of bed”), hits a home run. I don’t have the album credits in front of me to see what’s going on here but there’s all sorts of instrumentation and backing vocals that would be interesting to distinguish and pinpoint.

See What Becomes

Album: Mountains of Time | Year: 1999 | Vocals: Paul

It’s electric but haunting, chaotic but controlled. The grunge-esque arrangement of gentle reflection followed by a confrontational chorus is further upended by a disconcerting guitar part in the mid-section, followed by what seems to be a clement outro before the band bring us to a roaring conclusion.

The whole song can be summed up in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it backing lyrics, “I’m in a daze“.

The One that Got Away

Album: Reasons to Stay Indoors | Year: 2001 | Vocals: Paul & Lauren

Reasons to stay indoors, eh? 2020, eh??

Such an interesting recording. I’m not going to pretend to be a student of music but listen to the time signature in the verse – ba-ba-ba / ba-ba-ba – before returning to a regular beat for the chorus. Lyrically it’s a hard-hitting message of resignation (“The one that crossed the line/The one that saw the sign/The one that did the time/It’s way beyond me“) before frustration boils over in the chorus – “You don’t respond to people/Who want the best for you/It’s something that/You’re working through“. It seems hopeful but hope doesn’t last (“The one that came undone/Right in front of you“). 

Top 10

10. Any Other Way

Album: Mountains of Time | Year: 1999 | Vocals: Paul

(I wish there could be) Mountains of Time

If you thought the last few tracks were a bit intense, here’s “Any Other Way”. There’s a 60s vibe to this endearing pop-rocker which features one of my favourite lyrics (“Things will get better with time/And I know that’s a wonderful line“) and a driving rhythm that culminates with the protagonist asking “if there’s any other way/ To say the things you say/I can’t believe it has to be that way/Up until yesterday I was your sweet baby“. Utterly, utterly charming and was thrilled to see Savoy perform this live in 2008 at the Royal Albert Hall.

9. Unsound

Album: Lackluster Me | Year: 1997 | Vocals: Paul

Savoy – Lackluster Me (1996, CD) - Discogs
It knows. It bloody nose.

Why is this a brilliant composition? I say, structure – verse/pre-chorus/verse/pre-chorus…chorus. We find out that the subject has something going on (“You say, you think, you know/What’s wrong with me…You say, that you see/Winter wants me empty“) but we are left waiting for two minutes until a dirty guitar tells us that he is “Unsafe, unsound/Unwise to be around“.

I think a lot about whether or not these Savoy songs could have been on an a-ha album with Morten on vocals. And while “Unsound” might have fit well on “Memorial Beach”, I doubt it would have worked as well as it does here.

8. Ocean Floor

Album: Mountains of Time | Year: 1999 | Vocals: Paul & Lauren

‘Mountains of Time’ was re-issued

Perhaps “Mountains of Time” is the most appealing of Savoy’s back catalogue – I’d have to think about that. But for the second time in three tracks, I’m going to describe a recording from that album as “endearing”. Here we have a rollercoaster love story using metaphors from below (“There’s a hole in the ocean floor/That I’m sinking through“) and above (“There’s a hole in the polar-sky/I can see right through“). Strings, hand-claps, great bass line – this is a fantastic song.

7. Velvet

Album: Mary is Coming | Year: 1996 | Vocals: Paul

‘Velvet’ reached #1 in Norway.

Remember “Sycamore Leaves” that we mentioned earlier? Well, this is the reverse. A Savoy song that ended up on an a-ha album (2000’s “Minor Earth Major Sky”).

It’s strength is in its straightforward pop sensibility, a modern ballad about an emotionally cold lover (“Her touch would be tender/Her lips would be warm/But when we’re together/I’m always alone“) with Norwegian singer Simone Larsen providing an almost-mocking “ahh-ahhh-ahhh-ahhh-ahhh-ahh) backing vocal in the chorus.

It’s easy in hindsight to compare this to the more well-known a-ha cover (with Morten on lead vocals and Larsen featuring again). I enjoy the original one with the electric guitar really bringing it to life in the closing third of the song. But a-ha’s take feels different and both are bona fide hits that probably deserved more recognition. The latter version was featured on the soundtrack of the 2001 fun, farce movie, “One Night at McCool’s”.

6. Man in the Park

Album: Mountains of Time | Year: 1999 | Vocals: Paul

You know when someone takes your photo and you’re not expecting it?

The opening track on “Mountains of Time” has a terrific little groove. First of all, there appears to be a duet in the verse but no one else is specifically credited with vocals on the track. Is it Frode? Is it Paul double-tracked? If anyone knows what’s going on there, I’d love to know.

“Man in the Park” is about the people you may not notice – or you may notice but ignore: “Hey, talk to the girl ’cause she’s good/She’s a little misunderstood“. And, ultimately, that we should have more understanding of these people: “I think you’ll find that what he says/Doesn’t seem that crazy when you’re in his head“.

All the usual Savoy elements are here – strings, guitars and contemplative lyrics: “And I think you’ll see that what he thinks/Makes a lot of sense when you’re on the brink“.

5. Lackluster Me

Album: Lackluster Me | Year: 1997 | Vocals: Paul

Wonder if they ever mix up their guitars after which hilarity ensues?

Starting out with Paul singing mainly over an acoustic guitar, “Lackluster Me” is full of begging desperation – “Lackluster me, stands before you/What can I be to make you want me?” before the rest of the band kick in as he declares “Lackluster me, there I said it/You could break me, don’t you get it?“.

There are signs of consensus in the middle (“we will get out while we can/we’ll pull our heads up from the sand“) but it’s raw stuff, benefiting from Paul’s howling vocal in the closing moments.

4. Once Upon A Year

Album: Reasons to Stay Indoors | Year: 2001 | Vocals: Paul

Imagine your dad is PAUL WAAKTAAR-SAVOY!

Paul has always been the “quiet one” in a-ha. But, aside from the talent and modesty, he’s also an interminable romantic. Obviously he took his wife’s name – which is something – and, in the early nineties, he wrote the brilliant “Angel in the Snow” as a wedding present for Lauren.

And that’s where “Once Upon a Year” comes in – a semi-autobiographical tale of their life together.

Starting with “Once upon a year/We had a boy“, he continues to relate other experiences (“Once upon a day/It started raining…Once upon a park/We took a walk…Once upon a house/We lived awhile) before he concedes “I couldn’t believe it/I couldn’t conceive it“.

If I was to try and explain why this song is so stunning, it’s just that everything – from the guitar to the strings to the lyrics to the vocals – fits so beautifully together.

3. Fearlist

Album: Reasons to Stay Indoors | Year: 2001 | Vocals: Lauren

I like the photography.

“Fearlist” hurtles out of the gate with its minacious rattle and an eyebrow-raising lyrical intro: “It’s so itchy that you have to itch/It doesn’t matter if it bleeds“. Where do you go from there?

You go to a list of discombobulating rapid-fire questions: “Did you spill the milk? Did the milk spill?/Were you late for work? Did your head hurt?/Did your mind ache? Did the daybreak?/Did the car stall? Did the waterfall?

Brilliant nonsense set over a bristling beat and uneasy synth riff. Quite an experience.

And, just for something a little different – if it’s still uploaded – check out this live rock version from 2018. Woof!

2. Daylight’s Wasting

Album: Mary is Coming | Year: 1996 | Vocals: Paul

Debut album. What is that?

This is where it all began – track one from the debut album. “Daylight’s Wasting” tells its story very effectively, becoming more forceful as it goes.

While the opening verse is musically and lyrically restrained with Paul relating his general, every-day frustration (“Outside the dog run, don’t be late/Most of the time I’d sit and wait“), the guitars kick-in at the chorus to amplify the aggravation (“Daylight’s wasting/Your Daylight/I can taste it/It falls from the sky“).

But, here we go. With (I assume) Lauren duetting on the second verse with a megaphone-voice effect, Paul let’s loose on his former bandmate: “I had a band of certain fame/’The brownstone walk ups’ was our name/Singer was fair but got it wrong/He never did justice to my songs/He did more for me and that’s a fact/When he went and stabbed me in the back/So I’ve gotta do now, don’t you know?/What I should have done five years ago“.

The furor continues with insistent guitar work and more ‘daylight’s wasting’ refrains until the message has been considered well and truly delivered, efficiently so, in less than 180 seconds.

He’s not the first singer to explicitly call out former bandmates or managers or whatever. But it seems so out-of-character for the otherwise-unassuming Waaktaar-Savoy. Morten Harket appeared to reference this in an undated interview with Puls magazine, saying: “If Paul writes lyrics about a problem he’s having or something he needs to put into words, in his own way – even if it is a stab in the back to me – that’s okay with me. I don’t have any problems with that. I’m sitting there, not sure of whether he really needed it or not, but that isn’t particularly interesting.”

1. Whalebone

Album: Savoy | Year: 2004 | Vocals: Lauren & Paul

‘Whalebone’ featured on the soundtrack of Norwegian movie, “Hawaii, Oslo”.

It was a surprise when a-ha chose to end their 2002 tour performances with the little-heralded “Locust” (from 1993’s “Memorial Beach”). But buried in that song is a verse that has been re-used in my number one Savoy track:

“Oh, weeping night/Oh, grieving sky/Oh, rabbit wind/You just flew by”

The enigmatic lyric fits right in to the evocative “Whalebone”, a sometimes-fragile, sometimes-rousing musical noir.

Lauren sings the verses (“Don’t ask questions/You don’t wanna know“) and Paul sings the choruses (“/A whalebone, washed on the shore/Like knowledge gained, you can’t ignore“).

A beautiful solo and Paul’s stirring wail takes this sweeping classic home.

Just one more thing…

When I listen to the back catalogue, I am amazed at how good some of these songs are. Shouldn’t more people know about this band? And then I recall the lyrics from 2004’s “Is My Confidence Reeling?”: “What’s the point of writing songs that no one hears/Little wave of sounds falling on deaf ears/All the care and thought/Was it all for naught?“.

0930 CST 16 Mar ’21: Updated to correct the nationality of Jimmy Gnecco & make a few format changes.

0725 CST 17 Mar ’21: Updated to correct vocalist of a-ha version of the Breakers.

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