Nov 09

A-HA – “The Sun Always Shines On TV”

FT + Popular67 comments • 6,095 views

#564, 25th January 1986, video

“I fear the crazed and lonely looks the mirror’s sending me these days”: its showiness may be several cartwheels away from “West End Girls”‘ austerity, but the second number one of 1986 shares a little of the first’s dread and dislocation. Anxiety always sits well on handsome shoulders – the idea of the heart-throb with hidden depths has been a motivator in pop since, well, Sinatra at least: even so Morton Harket’s combination of florid woe and extreme Scandinavian prettiness is particularly enticing.

It helps that he has such an unnatural, catwalk voice – that combination of studied ESL cadences and poperatic reach means that every phrase is a pose, with that “crazed and lonely” line delivered with delicious aplomb. Unlike a lot of mid-80s pop, the singing – trying for theatre, not a cramped and nervous misunderstanding of soul – actually matches the crash and crunch and thrill of the music. After the panto gothickry of its echo-laden piano intro, “Sun”‘s grandiose clatter reminds you of Duran Duran’s confused commercial peak, only married to a stronger chorus than anything Duran managed post-’82. And speaking of 1982, this shuddering, soaring, synthetic thing is as close as we ever come to the full-blown Associates sound at number one, a gleaming bridge between the awkward sometimes genius of the new pop era and the heartbreaks of teenpop to come.



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  1. 51
    Pete on 9 Nov 2009 #

    Yes, lest you forget the emotional power of Ordinary World.

    8 for me and much concurring with what is above. I have both this and Take On Me on vinyl single and this I think I have come to prefer. However the song has a much more resonant meaning for me.

    In the summer of 1989 a friend and I ended up on Capital Radio, doing Gharam Dene’s “Wall Game” This was a complex lunchtime quiz show where four contestants would be wittled down to one who could then win a prize of the order of a CD player or stereo. This was a special half term kids version, but the questions weren’t exactly dumbed down. More importantly along the line Jakki Brambles (who was the producer on the show at the time) got out of me my admiration for Belinda Carlisle’s cheekbones. I digress.

    Anyway in the final round I had to answer three questions out of five about 1986 correctly (it being the “year” round). The music question was on A-Ha, as they had played Hunting High And Low. And it was simple, name another A-Ha hit from 1986.

    So I said The Sun Always Shines On TV, confident that it was number one in early 1986. Wrong – they said. This threw me because
    a) I knew I was right
    b) I had to get three out of the next four right.

    I did manage to get the three, but as ever this burned in my soul, as clearly Capital Radio had just looked in the Guinness book of hit singles and seen that The Sun Always Shines On TV was released on the 28 December 1985, and thusly a 1985 hit.

    I started listening to Radio One soon after.

  2. 52
    Tom on 9 Nov 2009 #

    Apologies to “Ordinary World”, whose chorus is indeed a pearler.

    (I really like some post-82 Duran – as my generous marks for them suggested – but almost never for the choruses – they were good at, er, vibe I guess.)

  3. 53
    Izzy on 9 Nov 2009 #

    I could never get into ‘Ordinary World’ – ‘Come Undone’, on the other hand… I think this reflects nothing so much as a natural affinity for minor chords.

    Duran Duran had a fine indian summer around that period. For most people that came to a shuddering halt with that covers album they did, but I really liked about half the tunes on there, acoustic ’911 Is A Joke’ included. I fear digging it out again, lest reality spoil that little bit of contrarianism.

  4. 54
    Alan on 9 Nov 2009 #

    I really liked Ordinary World at the time, but I’ve head it recently a couple of times on the radio/telly and was struck by how it goes on and how plodding it seems as a result. i cannot square this realisation with my love for darren hayes’ stuff :-/

  5. 55
    Billy Smart on 9 Nov 2009 #

    Ordinary World was written after Le Bon suffered the traumatic experience of going to the supermarket and nobody recognising him, IIRC.

  6. 56
    pink champale on 9 Nov 2009 #

    this is a brilliant thing for a pop song to be about of course.

    as it happens, i often see paul young doing his shopping – notably un-mobbed – in barnet waitrose, his masterpiece no doubt brewing.

  7. 57
    Pete on 9 Nov 2009 #

    The irony of Ordinary World being about a pop star no longer being a pop star being the song which then made Duran Duran popstars all over again was terrific.

  8. 58
    ottersteve on 9 Nov 2009 #

    An 8 for this?

    It’s not a patch on “Take on me”. To my ears this sounds like a B-side track. Something hastily put together when A-ha realised they were suddenly famous and needed to keep the momentum rolling – as so many groups have done in the past. The sad thing is that this time the wrong record made it to No.1 – Part of the post Xmas “what single shall we buy?” syndrome that so often happens. That would apply if the brilliant PSB’s hadn’t got there first.

    A 4 from me.

  9. 59
    swanstep on 9 Nov 2009 #

    @53 Izzy. I’m with you on ‘Come Undone’. A seriously beautiful song – more graceful than I’d have ever thought was in the cards for DD. Great drum sounds, great guitars, and esp. great backing vocal hook from Tessa Niles. (She’d been the female voice on ABC’s Lexicon of love e.g., on ‘Datestamped’, and it was *great* to really hear her cut through again. Subtlely, sonically connecting the Duranies back to their pomp…this was a production master-stroke.)

  10. 60
    George Tait on 12 Nov 2009 #

    ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ shares a gene pool with The Eurythmics’s ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’, surely. 14 years later, a really BIG band would steal the melody for one of their number ones. Jeez, it’s so hard finding new things to say on here. You guys and gals really know your stuff.

    And Duran Duran? Post 1982 it may have gone a bit wonky for them but you have to admire the chutzpah of a band who thought they could cover Public Enemy and get away with it. And then there’s ‘Electric Barbarella’ with its dubious lyrics and even more dubious video. But what a cracking tune.

  11. 61
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    I remember with A-ha being alienated by their beauty, but this song made me retrospectively like all their music.

  12. 62
    Brooksie on 21 Mar 2010 #

    I always liked this. It sounds epic, but in a house of cards ‘fragile’ way. It’s clearly contrived to be emotional and over the top, but isn’t all pop an attempt to market ‘feelings’, often at the cost of honesty?

    A-ha at this point were the group gaining all the new girly fans, many of them were ex-Durannies jumping ship. You could practically feel the posters of LeBon et al being torn down from the bedroom walls as their extended absence gained these new Euro pretty-boys much needed space to advance unhindered. Spandau too were losing fans. Wham! timed their breakup just right, as they were the only remaining members of the teenybopper three to strike back in late ’85 / early ’86, and by announcing their split, they set a closing date for their fans to cling to which worked like a charm. As a result, there was no loss of face or ‘fans moving on’ for them.

    A-ha were certainly more consistent (and better IMHO) than the other ‘big’ new groups of the year – ‘Five Star’ and ‘Curiosity Killed the Cat’. Both of whom would have short survival rates and little enduring fan appeal. But saying that, A-ha never really convinced in their position as popstars the way Duran did, there was very little seductive glamour. And they were easily as patchy a singles band as Duran (they were no Wham! in this regard). So even after a strong 1-2 punch, they tapered off, never again bothering the top 3 of the charts. Their follow-ups were good, with ‘Hunting High and Low’ and ‘Cry Wolf’ as standouts, but things like ‘Train of Thought’, ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ and ‘Manhattan Skyline’ were never going to bother the top 3. Also, Duran always managed to add something new every now and then to show that they were attentive to what was going on, and at least somewhat progressive. A-ha never managed that (‘Living Daylights’, while a fine song, lacks the punch of ‘View to a Kill’ and owes more than a little to that songs ‘orchestra crash’). Their third album, while containing some good tunes (‘Stay On These Roads’) was no more advanced than their first, and by then SAW were moving many units, so A-ha’s time was done.

    Also worth pointing out; while Duran had at the very least three worthy pin-up members, it seems that A-ha really only had one – Morten. Yes, the other two were ok looking, but as a band, they really only graced the bedroom walls because of Morten, unlike Duran and Wham! where the as-good-looking-as-a-model ratio was higher.

  13. 63
    Rory on 21 Mar 2010 #

    @62, I agree that “Manhattan Skyline” was never going to bother the top 3, but it’s a fantastic song – one of their very best.

    Mags Furuholmen was only “ok looking”? Blimey, tough crowd. I’d have said a-ha’s 2:1 ratio compared very favourably to Duran’s.

    Having now caught up on a-ha’s later output, I have to question the comparison with Duran on that score too. The band sound rather bitter in interviews about their record company forcing them to keep working with their original producer and sound for that third album when they were keen to move on.

  14. 64
    DanH on 26 Jan 2013 #

    “Walk of Life” is memorable because the U.S. video is basically 4 minutes of “Sports Bloopers.” I think the U.K. video is just a band ‘performance’ of the song?

  15. 65
    Mark g on 27 Jan 2013 #

    It was half and half

  16. 66
    hectorthebat on 11 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 6

  17. 67
    Rory on 21 May 2015 #

    Disbanded no more! A new album, Cast in Steel, is promised for September.

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