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Single File / A-ha: Dark Is The Night

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Aha’s “Dark Is The Night” CD single from 1993 (click to enlarge)

May 1993. Almost three years had passed since A-ha last had a top twenty hit in the UK, with sweet harmonies of the Everly Brothers’ cover Crying In The Rain.

The wistful adult pop of follow-up singles I Call Your Name and Early Morning (also from 1990’s East of the Sun, West of the Moon) simply hadn’t connected with the great British public – probably more to do with radio play, than anything else.

Even the insistent poppy beats of Move To Memphis from 1991 hits collection Headlines and Deadlines failed to rekindle the UK’s passionate love affair with the Norwegian band. Beatrice Dalle was in the video, for goodness’ sakes – Betty Blue! Nothing doing, and the track peaked at a criminally low number 47 – a-ha’s third single in a row to peak outside the top 40.

With a whiff of desperation, Warner Bros. put out a remix of 1988 single, The Blood That Moves The Body – it didn’t chart.

If there was a time for Morten Harket, Magne Furuholmen and Pål (now Paul) Waaktaarto to throw in the towel and go off and not be in A-ha, you felt like this was it. North America had forgotten them almost as soon as they’d had a number one in 1985 with Take On Me (Crowded House suffered a similar fate a year later with their number two, Don’t Dream It’s Over), and after Stay On These Roads, the band had seemingly failed ‘to do a George Michael’ and be allowed to grow and develop their music, while retaining an audience. They were, it seemed, trapped in a Smash Hits poster, where your cheekbones and your favourite colour were the issues of the day.

It’s too their immense credit that A-ha didn’t give up. They went and sought out Prince engineer/producer/ David Z, headed over to Paisley Park studios outside Minneapolis and made an even more grown up record than the studio album that preceded it. Memorial Beach remains the bleakest, darkest, most intensely moving album of their career.

Although a re-recorded Move To Memphis appeared on the album, the first single proper was Dark Is The Night. The clock-tick percussion at the beginning of the song leads to a pretty guitar figure as Morten sings the opening lines that perhaps summed up the dilemma of the band and its individual members during 1991 and 1992 “It’s time we said goodbye / Time now to decide”. It’s an incredibly simple, and rather sad song. Morten implores “Oh, don’t you feel so smallDark is the night for all”, reminding the listener that that the winner doesn’t always take it all.

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“Dark Is The Night” was somehow rechristened ‘Dark Is The Night For All” in later years (click to enlarge)



 

Against all the odds Dark Is The Night became A-ha’s 13th top twenty hit in the UK. The CD single was an eight-panel digipack which housed ‘CD 1′ and ‘CD 2′. The second disc was simply a mini-greatest hits featuring The Sun Always Shines On TV, Hunting High And Low (single remix) and Crying In The Rain. CD 1 is more interesting, since it includes an instrumental version what would be the next single from Memorial Beach, Angel In The Snow and a nine minute live medley of Scoundrel Days tracks I’ve Been Losing You and Cry Wolf (from the Live In South America VHS).

A-ha took a break after the Memorial Beach album, returning at the start of the new millennium with Minor Earth, Major Sky. In 2005, twelve years after Dark Is The Night, they finally enjoyed another UK top twenty hit with the title track from the Analogue album. It would be their last.

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A 20-year old digipack, a bit rough around the edges (click to enlarge)

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Morten sporting his long hair (click to enlarge)

 

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21 responses to Single File / A-ha: Dark Is The Night

  1. Don says:

    Awesome feature on an awesome single from an awesome band! “Dark is the Night” is probably one of my top five favorite a-ha songs. Sure, it sounds a lot like they’re trying to recreate a slow-building U2 anthem, but it works. I was kind of hoping this would be the last song they performed during their farewell concert. It’s a perfect fit. Love that elaborate single packaging, too.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Thank you! Saw them in an outdoor concert in the UK in 2005 (I think) when the played in London at the UK Motor Show (of all places). Anyway, as the sun was setting the last song they played was…. “Dark is the Night”. Great memory.

  2. Marko says:

    Great band. Memorial Beach is probably their best album. On second place is East Of The Sun and third Hunting High & Low.

  3. g man says:

    great ‘review’. From an era in my life when i had moved from buying music to going on the lash with the lads instead and then onto settling down to start a family, i was a huge A-HA fan before this and only recently have decided to look into this era…..thanks :-)

  4. Dennis says:

    Definetely one of those criminally underrated songs – I love ‘Dark is the night’, easily in my Top5 A-Ha songs. Excellent arrangement, working so well with the lyrics and singing of Morten.
    Tne only thing that was at times a slight let down with A-ha was the way, the singles were released with very little added value. Not just a problem with ‘Dark…’ but with others as well quite often older album or single tracks were used.

  5. joe johnston says:

    Great piece Paul – absolutely love the album this is taken from. It is so under-rated probably because, as you say, they, and their image, was still trapped inside a Smash Hits poster. Dark is the Night, Locust, Angel, Cold as Stone and Memorial Beach itself are simply perfection. I’ve been looking to pick this album up on vinyl but it always seems to be very expensive. :(

  6. Todd R. says:

    Nice work Paul. I love this single, still proud to have found it by total accident, and it became a staple for years for me. The “middle” material from the band has always been a favorite of mine, especially for the look of shock from people when I tell them who it is playing. I managed to track down both discs in this set, at the same time finding the Charity single “Shapes That Go Together” ….
    Nice.
    TR

  7. Claudia van Tilburg says:

    A great bonus that came with buying that CD single was the beautiful instumental version of angel in the snow.

  8. Steve Marine says:

    Great new feature. I am, sadly, one of those people who lost track of A-ha after their third album. Reading this makes me really want to go back and re-explore their catalog. “Scoundrel Days” remains one of my favorite albums of the 80’s.

    • I was the same, abandoning a-ha after the third album for much more esoteric/hard electronic music in the 90s. Meeting my now wife in the 00s (who’s a rock chick) a-ha was one of the few bands we had in common and I have now grown to love their entire catalogue. But Hunting High And Low + Scoundrel Days will always be my favourite albums of theirs – so glad I managed to see them play both albums live at the Royal Albert Hall almost 3 years ago to the day http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7962692EDF7C2189

  9. The two CD singles were sold separately. The second CD single actually came in a card slipcase/pouch but this is commonly lost when the CD is put in the first CD single’s double digi-pack (as per your pics). The Memorial Beach album has been out of print on CD/physically in Europe for years as it didn’t sell very well thus it’s not the easiest CD to find. Thankfully you can at least now get the music digitally. Angel In The Snow is indeed a fabulous track and I got married with my wife walking down the aisle to that track in an ice/snow hotel in Finland :-)

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      I seem to have lost my copy of Memorial Beach which is highly annoying. I didn’t bother buying CD 2 of Dark Is The Night simply because it had nothing of interest on it. The completist in me wishes I had :) Angel in the Snow is indeed a great track. One of the CD singles of that release included an ‘acoustic intrumental’, I’m assuming it’s different to the instrumental on this.

      I too was at that Royal Albert Hall gig – a very special evening.

  10. william says:

    Cheers Paul, Awsome Band, even Better music

  11. Chris Hopkins says:

    Angel In The Snow (Instrumental) on Dark Of The Night single is NOT (!) the same as Angel (Acoustic Instrumental) on the Angel single! The latter has no drums, only guitars and strings.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      What’s weird is that “CD 1″ of Angel In The Snow in the UK, ONLY had this acoustic instrumental on it. No other version of the track. So in the unlikely event you’d heard the track on the radio and popped into Woolies to buy it, you wouldn’t get the actual SONG that you wanted!! Only CD 2 had a radio edit.

  12. william m says:

    aha were and still remain a vastly underrated band, they wrote some of thee most heartfelt love songs ever, songs like ‘lifelines’ could bring a tear to a glass eye, waaaay back in 1985 i bought my first cd player, it felt space age and futuristic, the 1st cds i ever bought were U2 the unforgettable fire, Dire straits – Brothers in arms and Hunting high and low by Aha, i still have it, i still love it and i still enjoy listening to all their albums, especially when the night is indeed dark :)

  13. andrew says:

    A superb band – shamefully underrated. Morten could make a gravestone sound melodic.
    Great piece – thanks!

  14. James says:

    I’m always proud of the fact I followed a-ha right from the start to the very end. I can’t say that for any other band so they are quite special to me. One of my favourite songs, period! Always found the album quite hard to listen to and it’s not one I come back to often but the high regard in which it is held by fellow fans makes me eager to revisit it. Thanks for a wonderful review, Paul. You’re enthusiasm for music is inspiring.

  15. Mike F says:

    I’m not surprised Move to Memphis didn’t chart. It’s not particularly catchy. For other less established bands I could reasonably have expected it to be a total no show.

  16. Mike F says:

    *didn’t chart very well*

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