a-ha’s third studio album is the sound of a band at a crossroads. Three years on from the release of their debut album, everything was changing around them – their relationship with worldwide fame; the growing pressure of a relentless touring schedule; and the technological tools of their trade, with studio sessions increasingly being transformed by more on-the-go recording techniques. If, then, Stay On These Roads – released on 3 May 1988 – was a collection shaped by the circumstances of the moment, it also owed much to what had gone before: two of the tracks on the album had started life before a-ha were even formed, while a further three were reshaped from demos recorded by the band in 1983 and 1984, before they broke big the following year with the global sensation Take On Me.
Listen to Stay On These Roads here.
“The first time we had to scramble”
“It was really the first time we had to scramble to get things together,” is how guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy remembers 1987, a period dominated by the conclusion of the tour for a-ha’s second album, Scoundrel Days. The news that the trio had secured the prestigious commission to record the theme for that year’s James Bond movie, The Living Daylights, also gave shape to their schedule, with the melody being composed by Waaktaar-Savoy and first played to his bandmates while backstage at Top Of The Pops. Veteran producer John Barry added layers of his trademark brass and strings to the single edit of the song, but the original demo (included on the deluxe 2015 reissue of Stay On These Roads) showcases all the winning ingredients of what easily ranks among the best James Bond songs. The recording sessions were notoriously fractious, however, with the increasingly confident band at odds with Barry’s iron grip on proceedings. The single performed strongly across Europe on its summer release but couldn’t quite reignite the band’s career stateside.