One Hit Wonder: A-ha (1985)

Take On Me
Single by: A-ha
From the album: Hunting High and Low
First release: October 19, 1984
Genre: Synth-pop, new wave
Songwriters: Magne Furuholmen,
Morten Harket, Pål Waaktaar

Rolling Stone magazine published the results of their reader's poll for the Top 10 One-Hit Wonders of All Time in May 2011. "Take On Me" by a-ha took the top spot. It ranks 8 on VH1's list of  100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders.

"Tell anybody in Europe that A-ha are one-hit wonders, and they'll look at you like you're crazy. Over there — especially in their native Norway — A-ha scored hit after hit and were massively popular. They even played at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994. In America, however, they are the band with the cool animated video and the singer with the insanely high range."

"It was a terrible song but a great name."
Morten Harket about the band's name
The Norwegian pop trio a-ha is Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (guitars), Magne Furuholmen (keyboards and guitars), and Morten Harket (vocals). Waaktaar and Furuholmen met while kids in Norway. They later formed a prog rock group called Bridges. 

The pair moved to London and immersed themselves in pop music culture. Morten Harket, then a blues/soul band Souldier member, joined the group as lead singer. He stumbled upon the title "a-ha" in Waaktaar's songbook and suggested it for the band name.

"Hunting High and Low" album art

Their debut album, Hunting High and Low, peaked at number one in their native country, Norway, two in the UK, and fifteen on the US Billboard album chart. It yielded the mega-hit "Take On Me" and earned the band a 1986 Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist. They are the first Norwegian band to have the number-one song in the USA. 

Lesson One (1982)
"Ray Manzarek was hugely influential; 
he brought classical music into pop,"
Magne Furuholmen to Rolling Stone
In the beginning, the song that became "Take on Me" was called "Lesson One.A-ha recorded the demo in 1982 with different lyrics and a keyboard riff inspired by the Doors"Ray Manzarek was hugely influential; he brought classical music into pop,Magne Furuholmen told Rolling Stone magazine in 2010. 

L-R: Furuholmen, Harket, Waaktaar-Savoy

"Manzarek's almost mathematical but melodic, structured way of playing the keyboard greatly influenced how I approached my instrument. And I think a lot of the strength of a-ha comes from absorbing things like that and adding our own Scandinavian flavor to it." 

The other primary ingredient was singer Morten Harket's distinct vocals. 

"We started thinking, 'How can we showcase this incredible voice?' So we were doing this spiraling thing up, and Morten came up with an inflection of the melody that made it much more interesting"Rolling Stone May 14, 2010

Take On Me: (1984) 

In 1983, music industry veteran Terry Slater became their manager and got them a contract with Warner Brothers in London. In early 1984, they re-wrote the song "Take On Me" and recorded it with producer Tony Mansfield. 

The video included a different recording mix and showed the band singing against a blue background. It was released on October 19, 1984, and sold 300 copies. At Slater's suggestion, they re-recorded the song with producer Alan Tarney, who beefed it up with more instrumentation and energy. 

Take On Me (1985)
"I have no doubt that the video made the song a hit."
Magne Furuholmen to Rolling Stone
Around this time, a record company executive named Jeff Ayeroff moved from A&M to Warner Bros. In the book I Want My MTV, he said: 

"I fell in love with the song. Then I saw a picture of the band, and it was like, Do people actually look like this? Morten Harket was one of the best-looking men in the world." 

L-R: Harket, Furuholmen, Waaktaar-Savoy

Ayeroff commissioned a new video directed by  Steve Barron, whose work includes "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League, "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson, "She Blinded Me With Science" by Thomas Dolby, "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club and "Summer Of '69" by Bryan Adams. 

The clip utilized the new version of the song produced by Alan Tarney. Every scene was shot live and then projected onto paper. The footage was pencil traced frame by frame; it took 16 weeks to complete and was released in May 1985.  

Warner Brothers encouraged movie theaters to show it before films. When MTV picked it up, radio stations played the tune. By August, it was in the US Top 40 and continued to climb the charts until it hit number one on October 19, 1985. Furuholmen says:

L-R: Waaktaar-Savoy, Harket, Furuholmen

"I have no doubt that the video made the song a hit. It has a super catchy riff, but it's a song you must hear a few times. And it wouldn't have been given the time of day without the enormous impact of the video.

At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, "Take On Me" took home six trophies. The music video was remastered to 2160p (4K) in 2019 from the original 35mm film and released on YouTube while retaining its original URL and upload date of January 6, 2010. It's reached over 1.28 billion views as of June 2021.

Take On Me: Literally (2008) 

In 2008, a "Take On Me: Literal Video Version" parody posted on YouTube went viral. It has over 15.7 million views as of June 2021. The video remains the same, but the song describes the action humorously. Furuholmen saw the clip and said, 

"I thought it was f*cking fantastic. It was amazing. I wish we'd had that video back when we made it. The lyrics make so much more sense than the one we have."


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