A-HA - TAKE ON ME (1985)

By Mark Nobes

Fans of 80s electronica and synthpop will know that this classic song was most definitely one of the highlights of the decade, and it was accompanied by one of the best-remembered pop videos from the 1980s, which became iconic.

"Take On Me" was the Norwegian band's debut single and reached #1 in numerous countries, including Norway and the US. In the UK it just missed out on the top-spot, peaking at #2. The single entered the UK singles chart at No.55 on 22nd Sept 1985, making it the fourth highest new entry. The song reached No.2 on 20th October, being held off the top spot for three weeks by Jennifer Rush with "The Power of Love" - the band must have been cursing her!


The lads won six awards for the iconic video at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. It features pencil-sketch animation known as rotoscoping, in the style of a comic strip from a teen magazine.

Take On Me" took three releases to chart in the UK and was the first track from a-ha's debut album Hunting High And Low.

The follow-up single The Sun Always Shines On TV reached #1 in the UK, but peaked at #2 in the bands home country of Norway and #20 in the US. The album produced two more hit singles; Train Of Thought (#8 UK) and the title track Hunting High and Low (#5 UK).

"Take On Me" topped the charts in many European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and West Germany. It also reached No.1 in Australia and on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.
Frustrated with a lack of success, the trio left their publisher Lionheart and started creating new demo tapes. They chose John Ratcliff's studio to record them in, after spotting a Space Invaders arcade game, which they thought was pretty cool. Their new manager, Terry Slater, signed them to Warner Bros. records.

The 1984 Version

The early version (above) certainly lacks the polish of the final song that became successful. Nonetheless, I swear Morten's vocal sounds better on this one, and it feels like a more honest performance. 
However, in the 80s you needed a big production, and the initial version of "Take On Me" produced by Tony Mansfield only reached No.137 in the UK, and the band weren't particularly happy with his production. Warner Bros. U.S. decided to take a punt on the trio and gave them the opportunity to re-record the song.
Their manager also called the A&R man and vice-president of Warner Bros. Records America, Andrew Wickham, to listen to the band, and he was astounded by Morten Harket's vocals, comparing him to Roy Orbison. He decided to invest heavily in the trio and asked producer Alan Turney to work his magic on the song to give it a final makeover. 

The Second Video

After the second single release also flopped, Wickham decided that the song needed a stand-out video. He roped in the director Steve Barron, who spent six months with professional artists creating the video using rotoscoping techniques. This gave it some much needed heavy-rotation on MTV, and the single was released a month after the video, eventually leading to worldwide success.
In the 1980s, you certainly needed an eye-catching video to gain attention, and, therefore, to become a major success. Fortunes were spent by major record labels of the time, and whether it was a mini movie (such as Michael Jackson's "Thriller") or a video that got banned (like Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax"), it needed to be something memorable.
The filming of a-ha's "Take On Me" video took place at Kim's Cafe and on a sound stage, both in London.