One Hit Wonders: 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 makes number 8 on VH1s 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 — and 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."

a-ha
"It was a terrible song but a great name."
Morten Harket about the band's name
The Norwegian pop trio a-ha are 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 the pop music culture. Morten Harket, then a member of the blues/soul band Souldier, 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, number two in the UK, and number fifteen on the US Billboard album chart. It yielded the mega hit "Take On Me" and earned the band a Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist. They are the first Norwegian band to have 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 very melodic, structured way of playing the keyboard was a huge influence in 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 major ingredient was singer Morten Harket’s distinct vocals. “We started thinking, ‘How can we showcase this incredible voice?’ So we were kind of doing this spiraling thing up, and Morten came up with an inflection of the melody that turned 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 as "Take On Me" and recorded it with producer Tony Mansfield.  The video included a different mix of the recording and shows 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." 

a-ha
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, 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 saiys:

a-ha
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 that you have to hear a few times. And I don’t think it would’ve 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 parody titled "Take On Me: Literal Video Version" 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 in a humorous way.  Furuholmen saw the clip and said;  “I thought it was f*cking fantastic. It was amazing. I wish we’d have that video back when we made it. The lyrics make so much more sense than the one we have.”

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