These days, Ihsahn can do whatever he wants. The former frontman of Norwegian black metal legends Emperor has forged a solo career of beautiful, bizarre, and sometimes baffling experimental music that would make your average right-hand-path black metaller scratch his head. One such confusing track is the closer of his upcoming EP Pharos, a cover of “Manhattan Skyline” by ’80s pop act A-ha, who you probably know best as the guys behind “Take On Me” (but who you probably didn’t know were also Norwegian). Though not exactly “Inno A Satana,” Ihsahn’s cover has a compelling mixture of pop sensibility and epic darkness that makes one realize this dude is smarter than your average icy Norwegian bear.
Hearing Ihsahn’s take on a sparkly ’80s synth band made us wonder — does the guitarist have an ’80s pop playlist, a collection of songs from the most plastic of decades that make him feel alive inside? Not only is the answer ‘yes,’ but the man himself was gracious enough to pop the cassette out of his Walkman and give us a listen.
Here are the 10 pop hits of the ’80s that make Ihsahn feel like he’s doing the bucket move from Flashdance…
A-ha, “Hunting High and Low” (Hunting High and Low, 1985)
“Apart from the obvious ‘Manhattan Skyline,’ this is another one out of many amazing A-ha songs. They were pioneers as international artists from Norway and showed incredible songwriting talent.”
Eurythmics, “Missionary Man” (Revenge, 1986)
“I guess ‘Sweet Dreams’ was just as impactful for me, but this one has a similar edge to it, and Annie Lenox just sounds dangerous.”
Prince, “Kiss” (Parade – Music from the Motion Picture Under The Cherry Moon, 1986)
“I’m a huge Prince fan and I just picked this, as the other hits would be too obvious. Love the minimalism and groove.”
Sam Brown, “Stop” (Stop!, 1988)
“Exquisite vocal performance, beautiful string arrangements, and a sick Hammond solo.”
Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight” (Face Value, 1981)
“The whole production has such a futuristic and eerie vibe, and rather experimental for this type of song. Very emotional vocal performance and love the slap-back sound.”
Duran Duran, “View to a Kill” (Decade, 1989)
“I love old James Bond big-band soundtracks, although this has definitely more of a 80s synth vibe to it. Still, there are some great sampled brass stabs that I felt were extremely powerful at the time.”
Michael Jackson, “Thriller” (Thriller, 1982)
“I remember renting the VHS for the ‘Thriller’ video and ‘making of.’ The song and the whole album is of course the beginning of a whole new era of pop music. Quincey Jones!”
Michael Jackson, “Beat It” (Thriller, 1982)
“I loved this song — and probably extra due to the Van Halen solo!”
Freddie Mercury, “The Great Pretender” (1987)
“My parents had this compilation album that featured Freddie´s version of this song, and I remember being very captivated by the vocal performance and the strange sadness of the lyrics in juxtaposition to the rather uplifting arrangement. Had no clue who Freddie Mercury was at the time, heh!”
Whitesnake, “Still of the Night” (Whitesnake, 1987)
“Not entirely a ‘pop” song, I guess, but it’s such an embodiment of the ’80s. That riff, the breakdown, the strings….what an amazing song!”
Ihsahn’s Pharos EP comes out via Candlelight Records on Friday, September 11th, and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin and Ihsahn.