Over the course of the 20 years I’ve been on the air with my little 80s radio show, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG-FM community radio in Portland, Maine), I’ve advocated for those many recording acts who had the one big hit in America and continue to be labeled as “one-hit wonders,” though they had more than one chart hit on the BILLBOARD Hot 100.
There were nearly 500 artists during the Fall of 1979 through the end of 1989 who really did hit the Hot 100 only the one time. I call them “(real) one-hit wonders of the 80s,” and I like to try and feature one every week on the blog.
There are several recording artists remembered for the “one BIG hit” here in the U.S. who actually had more than one Top 40 hit on the Hot 100 and are STILL considered one-hit wonders (thanks to folks like VH1), including Eddy Grant, The Outfield, John Waite, Information Society (who had 2 Top 10 hits), General Public, Quarterflash, ’til Tuesday, Neneh Cherry (another artist with 2 Top 10 hits) and the Oslo, Norway band, a-ha.
Vocalist Morten Harket, keyboardist Magne Furuholmen and guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy formed a-ha in 1982, and on their first album, 1985’s HUNTING HIGH AND LOW, and their second attempt at making the song “Take On Me” into a hit, their lives as they knew it would never be the same again. “Take On Me” was a massive hit in Norway and beyond, reaching No. 1 in 10 countries worldwide (including the U.S.), and the Top 10 in another 8 countries, and parent album, HUNTING HIGH AND LOW, was a global hit as well.
I adore “Take On Me” and its sensational and creative video, and have for many years, but it was the follow-up single, “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.,” that made a-ha a part of my life for all-time.
“The Sun Always Shines On T.V.” was the third single overall released from HUNTING HIGH AND LOW, but the second single from the album released worldwide. It made its way onto the BILLBOARD Hot 100 the end of November 1985 and debuted in the Top 40 in January 1986. It climbed steadily until pausing at No. 20 for a week in late February 1986, and spent 17 weeks on the chart. The trio would make one more appearance on the Hot 100, with 1986’s “Cry Wolf,” which reached No. 50.
Though I was disappointed in the Stateside chart performance of “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.,” I took comfort in the fact it was well-received around the world, reaching the Top 10 in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Holland, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the BILLBOARD Dance chart. In Ireland and the U.K., where “Take On Me” had stopped at No. 2, “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.” reached No. 1 in both of those countries, which was indeed validating, not only for the band, but also for my love of the song.
The video for “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.” starts as a epilogue to the “Take On Me” video, where an animated Morten Harket realizes he can’t stay in the world of his young love interest, and heads back to the comic book world where he came from. The video then turns into an impressive performance piece, set in a former English Gothic church (still owned by the Church of England), loaded with very interesting European mannequins (which are WAY different than your run-of-the-mill American mannequins).
The editing of this video is magnificent. Just setting up the hundreds of mannequins in the church as an orchestra, chorus, and patrons must have taken many hours if not days. Also validating in my love for this song and its video is that, in a year where “Take On Me” won 6 MTV Video Music Awards, the video for “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.” deservedly won the band 2 more: Best Editing and Best Cinematography. It remains as one of my all-time favorite videos.
a-ha is still around today, and in their native Norway, every studio album they released between 1985 and 2005 reached No. 1 on the Norway album chart. And, their most recent albums, 2009’s FOOT OF THE MOUNTAIN, and 2015’s CAST IN STEEL, reached No. 2.
I know everyone has their own opinions on what or what not constitutes an artist being a one-hit wonder. American radio stations, DJs and venues like VH1 have a stranglehold on which songs they think people should remember over others. Luckily, WMPG is not one of those stations, and I sure as hell am not one of those DJs. Yes, I realize there is a whole other world going on that has much more important issues than whether or not someone was a one-hit wonder. But, in the world in which I live and breathe every day of my life – the 80s music world – a-ha is NOT a one-hit wonder. And “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.” is my proof…