564. ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, by A-ha

One of the things I liked about our last #1 – Pet Shop Boys’ ‘West End Girls’ – was the song’s slow build-up. I’m a sucker for a strong intro. That intro, though, is small fry compared to the bombast and drama offered here…

The Sun Always Shines on TV, by A-ha (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 19th January – 2nd February 1986

Before we actually get down whether this record is any good or not, I have to say that a song with a minute-long intro – featuring at least three different synth lines – has an automatic head-start towards greatness. Touch me… pleads Morten Harket in his distinctive falsetto… Give all your love… as the synths wind slowly towards the peak… To me…!

As with ‘West End Girls’, there’s another great beat drop, when chugging guitars, stabbing chords and beefy drums grab us by the scruff of the neck and whip us along. It’s fun, it’s got great energy; but it’s not everything the intro promised it would be. It’s very Duran Duran, and it emulates their most recent #1, ‘The Reflex’, by chucking every trick they can think of into the mix. At time it’s a bit much, the synths especially can be a little too flourishy.

Like much of the mid-eighties, ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ is simultaneously modern and cutting edge, dated and of-its-time. Lyrically, it seems to be about the falseness of fame: I reached inside myself and found, Nothing here to ease the pressure, Of my ever-whirring mind… and the music does a good job of creating the image of a chaotic paranoia. Paranoia that you can dance to.

A-ha are, of course, Norwegian. And Harket has what I’m going to call ABBA-English. Perfectly good English, just slightly off in pronunciation and stress making it somehow even more appealing. For me, his high-pitch and his accent all just add to the frenzied drama. I believe, unless I’ve forgotten someone obvious, A-ha were the very first act from Norway to hit #1 in the UK. This wasn’t, though, their first big hit. It was the follow-up to ‘Take on Me’ – undoubtedly their signature song – which had been held at #2 by ‘The Power of Love’.

Can we say that this was a ‘shadow number one’, making top spot by basking in the glow of its predecessor…? It wouldn’t be the first. And while ‘Take on Me’ is the better song, and would have been a worthy #1, ‘The Sun Always Shines…’ has enough oomph and dynamism about it to suggest that it could have been a chart-topper under its own steam. The video links the two songs by having the start of this one act as a fake ending to ‘Take on Me’.

While the intro here was extended, the ending is not. A sudden, clanging piano note slams down, as if the band is shouting ‘Enough!’ That’s all we’re getting. It draws to an end a run of #1s that appeals to my inner chart-geek: the past six chart-toppers, since Feargal Sharkey’s ‘A Good Heart’ in early November, have all spent a fortnight at the top. Without checking too thoroughly, I think that’s the longest run of its kind… (It’s been surpassed many times since by one-weekers, though).

And finally, I have to mention why this #1 has such resonance for me, why it is a ‘line in the sand’, as I put it in my last post. ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ is the very first number one, five hundred and sixty four songs and four and a half years of blogging in, that I was alive for. To be fair, I was two days old when it got knocked off the top, so my recollections of its time as the biggest hit in the land are hazy. But as a Birth Number One I think I got off quite lightly. (I know people born under the reigns of ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’, and ‘Nothing’s Going to Change My Love for You’…)


14 thoughts on “564. ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, by A-ha

  1. Heh. I loved A-Ha and wish more hits were sent to the US.

    Early 1986, huh? I am just months away from being 20 years older than you. I’m quite old enough to be your mother. I knew you were born in the 80s, I just wasn’t sure when, exactly.

    I was in my sophomore year of college when this came out and was dating my first hubby. Good, good memories.

    • I just had a look at their discography, and was surprised by how few hits they had in the US. Not even their Bond theme…

      Yep, January ’86. What was your birthday number one…? Apparently were I American, mine would be ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ by Dionne Warwick and friends… I’ll stick with A-ha!

  2. Well i bought this one specially so it would be number one on your birthday, no need to thank me 😀 actually, much as i love West End Girls i love this one more. Its a toss up between Tears For Fears Everybody Wants To Rule The World or this for record of the 80s. Its also better than Take On Me for me, and i know im in a minority there, i adore epic full bodied widescreen masterpieces and this is right up there with the very best of em. It builds, its hyperactive, mortens vocals are jaw dropping. I really dont think anyone could cover this in his key without doing themself an injury! Its also got a gothic darkness to it and not entirely due to the video, in contrast with the frothy fun Take On Me. They had some fabulous records, Manhattan Skyline, Hunting High And Low and more, and a shout out to producer Alan Tarney – see Cliff’s We Dont Talk Anymore – for out-Trevor-Horn-ing Trevor Horn!

    • Wow, that’s quite the statement. It is a good song, but Take on Me edges it… It does a very good job, though, of sounding crazed, which complements the lyrics.

      I just checked the full charts around my birthday – some iconic acts with Madonna and Dire Straits, Grace Jones further down, and even further down… Sue Pollard. I’m not sure I want to investigate further…

      • Re the Bond theme. It did inspire a member of Duran Duran to drunkenly inform Barbara Broccoli that “if AHA could do it just wait until you see what we could do.”

        Ps. Sort your cookie warning out please. The accept button is off screen so I have to read your (very entertaining) blog in half a screen

      • I do get a childish chuckle from the fact that there’s an extremely influential film producer called Barbara Broccoli..

        Thanks for reading! I’ve tried to rejiggle the Cookies widget… If that hasn’t worked I think it might be out of my hands and something controlled by WordPress itself

  3. Pingback: 565. ‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’, by Billy Ocean | The UK Number Ones Blog

  4. I’ve just been visiting Norway and they are very VERY proud of their biggest ever rock act. There’s a rock music museum in Olden which highlights about thirty Norwegian acts and I’d be surprised if any non-Norwegian could name more than three of them. By the way, AHa was after Duran Duran in the James Bond songs chronology so not sure how that quote came about.

    • And so they should be I guess… That’s a good point re. the quote. Probably something a-ha said about Duran Duran – in which case they were misguided as ‘View to a Kill’ is the much better song IMO!

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