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’…)