Pop Essays #6: A-Ha, ‘Analogue (All I Want)’

Hello there and happy Thursday, time as always to throw back and shine light on some lesser starred musical gems of yesteryear with Pop Essays. Now, if you’ve been watching The Masked Singer, you’ll know Morten Harket was recently unveiled as Viking – but of course, his band made a comeback on UK shores before that…

  • Artist: A-Ha
  • Song: Analogue (All I Want)
  • Release Date: 23/01/2006
  • Writers: Magne Furuholmen / Martin Sandberg / Paul Waaktaar-Savoy
  • Producers: Max Martin / Michael Ilbert / Paul Waaktaar-Savoy
  • Chart Run: 10 – 20 – 32 – 47 – 75

The UK charts in the mid-00s were a troubled beast; the music industry as a whole in this country having failed to move and respond to changing consumer habits as quickly as they should have done, with the decline of the CD single and the rising of the digital download. It thus meant that for the large majority of that decade, we were left with charts which barely represented what was the actual zeitgeist at that point in time, like that one friend of yours who catches onto the latest thing months after everyone else does (I must confess, dear reader, that at 31, this has in fact become me. And I feel that bit freer for it). What this situation did afford as an upside, however, with sales so low, was the unexpected moments of glory it gave to acts long presumed to be past their best commercially speaking.

Ask most people in early 2006 what they thought of when A-Ha were mentioned, and the answer was pretty straightforward. Norwegian synth pop kings off of the 80s, fronted by Nordic man hunk Morten Harket, most known for their Transatlantic 1984 chart banger ‘Take On Me’ with THAT legendary video, and other esteemed hits like ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, ‘Hunting High and Low’ and ‘The Living Daylights’, right? Well, to a certain degree, yes. But even though it had been a decade and a half since their last truly notable hit in the UK of any kind with new material (their most recent, ‘Summer Moved On’, had been a low charting in-out top 40 entry in May 2000. To find their last top 10 was 12 years before that in 1988), they were perhaps a little bit better poised for a renaissance than anyone realised at the time.

It’s commonly accepted that those who adopt the newest methods of music consumption the quickest are generally those in their 20s and 30s – they have more disposable income to do so, and generally it’s more adult contemporary choices of music thus emanating and rising up the charts. Such was the case with digital downloads and the fledgling iTunes, and why the mid-00s charts were full to bursting with trendy dance and US hip hop records, or the infamous ‘landfill indie’ wave, where any random batch of Northern/Southern blokes singing perky indie rock in skinny jeans could get a record deal off the back of the Arctic Monkeys‘ success.

But there was a flip side to this too; the very same twentysomethings/thirtysomethings of the mid-00s were also more than likely to have been in single digit ages in the 80s, and who thus felt a bit nostalgic for the bangers of their early youth. It thus explains why the likes of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and The Proclaimers‘ ‘(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles’ – themselves reactivated as chart toppers for other acts in this decade – were a constant fixture on the iTunes top 100 around this time. But so too was ‘Take On Me’, which was still publicly familiar to many in the UK at this point from the version that A1 had taken to number one back in September 2000, but which was also a frequent fixture of the music channels’ countless ‘Best 80s Videos Ever’ countdown shows.

It was against this backdrop that, signed to Polydor, A-Ha released their eighth studio album Analogue first in their native homeland in November 2005, and then a UK release at the start of 2006. Produced by the legend that is Max Martin (and if you don’t know who he is then quite simply what rock have you been under for the last 22 years?) the genesis of the title track and first single was an interesting one. A demo called ‘Minor Key Sonata’ (which did in fact end up the B-side to this single) that had been produced with Martin Terefe (KT Tunstall, James Morrison, Jason Mraz). What they ended up delivering with this extra production heft behind it was a record that we would argue is one of the most influential of this period.

A gentle chugging guitar, drum and piano riff opens the song, which when we first heard it at the time we mistakenly thought was Coldplay – then in the throes of their X&Y galactico period, lest we forget. Then Morten’s fragile and cautious vocal begins: ‘Come back my darling one, I’m calling on ya / The road ahead is long, and I must warn ya’. It’s a gentle reintroduction to a band who most people had mainly associated with more upbeat electronic efforts until now, but sounds completely at home on a more contemporary track like this.

It’s as the bridge builds up: ‘I wonder / Where did she go? / If I failed you’ – and then explodes into the chorus – ‘I’ll tell you right now’ – that suddenly the song epically comes into its own: ‘All I want you to know / I love ya / All I need is the time to show you’. It’s simply effective as the hooks that bought them global chart domination back in the mid 80s, but lifts it and brings them forward into the 21st century. And repeated listens of it whilst writing this blog entry have only further confirmed my belief.

2006 was also the year that, after a decade of dormancy, Take That reconvened, toured again to massive success, and released ‘Patience’. And I’ve a sneaking suspicion that as their tour dates were selling like hot cakes and the public were welcoming them back for good, that Gary Barlow was sat listening to ‘Analogue (All I Want)’ and was thinking ‘That’s the way to do it’. ‘Patience’ and indeed how Take That returned after so long away is often argued to be the gold standard of how to do a pop comeback, but I dare say without A-Ha taking this – relatively less feted – turn 10 months previously, it wouldn’t have happened.

What it did do for A-Ha was return them to the UK top 10 for the first time in 18 years in any case. ‘Analogue (All I Want)’ peaked at #10 at the end of January that year, whilst the Analogue album itself was a top 40 hit and went silver, yielding just one more single on these shores in the form of ‘Cosy Prisons’ that hit #39 in April that year, thus prompting a more wider positive reassessment of their body of work to the point where they are now considered to be one of the greatest bands from their era.

It’s a shame in many ways that the climate is such that whatever are the most popular tracks in chart terms these days have an extended logjam in the upper reaches of anywhere between 3 – 4 months, thus denying brief but beautiful moments like A-Ha – or any artist now considered to be ‘heritage’ (which is just a polite way of being ageist, I would argue) a return to their old stomping ground sales wise. When the music’s as good as this soaring pop rock belter was, there should be room for everybody no matter what the era.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new Pop Essays playlist on Spotify, which includes all the songs we’ve written about. What are your memories of this week’s featured song or band? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or message us on our Instagram.

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