a-ha have released a 6LP box set of one of the most successful debut albums of all time, “Hunting High And Low”, containing hit singles «The Sun Always Shines On TV», «Hunting High and Low», and the iconic «Take On Me». But as with any great album, it’s not just the singles that stand out. It also contains some of the band’s finest album tracks, such as “The Blue Sky”, “Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale” and “Here I Stand and Face the Rain”. The rigid slipcase box includes 60 tracks on black 140g vinyl, and a 64-page 12″x12″ booklet with extensive liner notes and beautiful photographs.
The new vinyl edition contains the same audio content as the four CDs in the 2015/2019 editions, but record collectors will appreciate having this collection of demos, alternates and remixes on vinyl for the first time. As a record collector myself, I can confirm that it simply feels great to hold, and the covers of each disc are tastefully illustrated. The album itself, on LP1, is so well known that it needs no extra review here after over 30 years since its release, although it is worth mentioning that the remaster is much clearer than the original vinyl, especially on the richer sound of “Train of Thought”. But what about the extra discs?
LP2 & LP3 – The Demos 1982-1984. There are some insightful and hilarious moments from the Nærsnes demos, such as “Lesson One (Autumn 1982 ‘Take On Me’ Demo)” and “The Sphinx (Nærsnes Demo)”, the latter of which contains a wicked cackle from Morten Harket. They were recorded with an acoustic guitar, a Jupiter synthesiser and a Dr Rhythm drum machine, on a four-track TEAC reel-to-reel tape recorder, to present to potential record labels. There is an innocent but brilliant simplicity to their sound. “Presenting Lily Mars (Nærsnes Demo)” sounds Beatlesque. You can hear the band shaping their sound on the Rendezvous Studio demo recordings. Here they had access to a Brenell eight-track tape machine and more instruments, but could only use the studio when it wasn’t booked, often between 4am and 10am in the morning. The first version of “Hunting High and Low” is almost a completely different song from the single that was released, retaining only a similar chorus. “Never Never”, containing fragments of “The Sun Always Shines on TV”, sounds like early Simple Minds.
LP4 & LP5 – Singles, Extended Versions & B-Sides. This contains some hits, and some misses. The second extended version of “The Sun Always Shines of TV” (over 8 minutes in length) is a highlight from this disk, containing an extended drum machine and keyboard section in the middle, and a drum machine outro. Fan-favourite B-side «Driftwood» is well worth listening to, as is “Hunting High And Low (Extended Remix)”, which doesn’t begin with the first verse of the album version, but with the powerful chorus. “Train Of Thought (Dub Mix)” bears little resemblance to the album version, and is an entirely forgettable series of beats.
LP6 – The Alternate Mixes. There are several “Early Mix” versions of songs here, but the sound is high quality, and not demo, just less refined than the album versions. The stand-out moments which contrast to the album are on “The Blue Sky (Alternative Long Mix)”, which contains distorted talking and laughing layered over the music, and it works well. There is also a brief, ominous sustained keyboard chord at the beginning of “And You Tell Me (Early Mix)” which is reminiscent of Scott Walker.
This 6 LP collection tells the story of the making of an iconic album, from the early demos in Norway, through the tough days in London where they scraped money together and shaped their sound in the studio, to the classic record that we all know and which gave the band deserved global fame. A must for a-ha fans, and also for record collectors.
Reissue date: 24 February 2023