Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Take on Me" by a-ha

#1 Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
One-Hit Wonder Alert!
Song#:  2383
Date:  07/13/1985
Debut:  91
Peak:  1 (1 week)
Weeks:  27
Genre:  Synthpop, New Wave

Pop Bits:  This Norwegian trio formed in 1982 and soon after made a move to London in order to try and jump start their career. A demo of a song they had titled "Lesson One" got the attention of some industry folks and soon the band was signed to Warner Bros. The band then revamped their demo song and it turned into a new one titled "Take on Me." Produced by Tony Mansfield, who recently had success with Naked Eyes, the song was issued as a single in several European countries. It failed miserably in all of them except one - Norway, where it got to #3. It was promoted by a video that had the band simply performing the song in front of a blue background. That might have been it for the song, but the US arm of Warner Bros. thought the trio had something and decided to give them a shot. They ended up re-recording the song with producer Alan Tarney and a new, innovative video was shot to accompany the single. The video brought attention to the band and soon the single was picking up airplay. It was a slow starter, but the tune finally caught on and began topping charts around the world, including the US. It would make a-ha the first act from Norway to hit #1 on the US chart. It also got to #4 at AC. The hit would push their debut album, Hunting High and Low, to #15 and eventually it would go platinum. It would also earn the band a Grammy nod for Best New Artist. Unfortunately, it would end up being their only major hit and despite a follow-up that reached #20, this indelible track ended up getting the band tagged as a one-hit wonder in the US (#3 on VH1's Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80s and #8 on their All-Time list). The band would remain hugely popular in Europe scoring eight Top 10's in the UK alone.

ReduxReview:  This song was destined to be a hit, but it took a new recording and a cool video to make it happen. If you listen to the original version first released, the song is there and is still good, but the production by Fairlight expert Mansfield does not make the song soar. It's very tinny and one-dimensional. It took the skills of Tarney to transform the song into something bigger and better. Now, whether the song would have caught on without the video is another question. I think it might have, but perhaps it wouldn't have been as big of a hit. It goes without question that the video certainly sold this record. In this case, I don't think it was a bad thing. This is a great tune with excellent production and the wonderful, soaring vocals of Morten Harket. In addition, the band was more than this one song. Their debut album Hunting High and Low was excellent and remains a favorite of mine. It's too bad that this is really the only song that is remember from them in the US. They had a lot more to offer.


Trivia:  If anyone at the time needed proof that a video could make a song a hit, this would be it. The animated pencil sketch video directed by Steve Barron fascinated viewers and it quickly became an MTV favorite. It would eventually go on to win six MTV Video Music awards, but it missed out on Video of the Year, which was won by Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing." The video remains a classic from the time and has even been parodied by TV shows like Family Guy, which had the character Chris getting caught up in a similar black-and-white pencil animation.



  1. I was borderline irate when I didn't see the "Rated 10 Alert", until I realized you had just forgotten to include it. Like you, I believe the song would still have been a hit, but I do not believe it would have been number one without that quintessential video. Regardless, this was the perfect melding of song and video, and is the reason the song is still ubiquitous on oldies stations today. Oh wait, I see what happened. You mistyped "Rated 10 Alert!" as "One-Hit Wonder Alert!" C'mon - A lot of us still remember "The Sun Always Shines On T.V."

    1. Ha! Yes, I certainly remember "Sun," but sadly a lot of folks don't - especially the ones at VH1! Thanks for the reminder - I did forget to do the Rated 10 Alert - fixed.

  2. The man who directed the music video for this song also directed the music video for Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", oh, and get this: He directed the first ever Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in 1990. His name is Steve Barron.

    1. Yup - there will be a little more on Barron in an upcoming post and another famous video he did.

  3. How typical.... another one classifying A-ha as a "One-Hit Wonder", when it couldn't be less true...
    The world of music charts isn't just the US you know...?
    A-ha where massive in Europe, with many hits in relatively high places on the Top 20.

    Take On Me, The Sun Always Shines On TV, The Blood That Moves The Body, Hunting High And Low, I've Been Losing You, Cry Wolf, Manhattan Skyline, The Living Daylights, Stay On These Roads, Touchy!

    How's that for "one hit wonder"?

    1. This blog considers the US Pop chart only and how an artist fared in the US. As such, there can be one-hit wonders in the US that performed quite well in their home countries, which is great. But when it comes to the US charts and audiences, the act may only be remembered for their one hit. This is also noted in the song information in the last two sentences. So their continued success in other countries is recognized. It is just that wasn't the case in the US.

    2. Ok, i can understand and respect that, however then the detail on the title of the blog IMHO should read: "Revisiting, reviving, re-listening, reviewing every U.S. pop chart hit from the 80s."
      There are so many great songs and artists, especially European, that didn't hit highly in the US but where massive in Europe and many other countries. It would be a great testament to 80's music that they could also be included.
      But nevertheless, it's only a personal opinion ;)