This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #306: Take On Me by a-ha.
Many writers have a notebook that they carry with them at all times. Cover softened. Page edges curled. Notes, on paper scapes, sticking out, all willy-nilly. Ideas; some fully-formed, others, mere fragments, lay within the pages of those notebooks. I have a notebook that I keep on a bedside table. My daughter, Leah, has notebooks galore in her bedroom, too. Most writers I know have some form of notebook in which they record their thoughts in the hopes that, like seeds, one day a story or a poem or a song will sprout from the ideas planted within its pages. The story of “Take On Me” by Norwegian synth-Pop group, “a-ha” is a case in point of the good that can come from keeping a writer’s notebook.
In the early 1980s, two Norwegian High School boys started a band called “Bridges”. Like so many other bands at the time, “Bridges” was heavily influenced by the burgeoning Punk Rock movement that in the UK. The boys were Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (guitars) and Magne Furuholmen (keyboards) and, not only were they musicians but, they fancied themselves as songwriters and, as such, they kept a large notebook that they filled with song lyrics and other ideas that they hoped, one day would help them become famous. In order to get closer to the Punk scene they so admired, the boys moved to London in the hope of landing a record contract. While in London, they met a fellow Nowegian, singer Morten Harket. They heard him sing and were impressed. They asked him to join their band and, as an enticement, they showed him their notebook. He liked what he read and, in particular, he liked the lyrics to a song that they had entitled, “Miss Eerie”. “Miss Eerie”, as it turned out, was the rough, early version of the song that would, indeed, end up making them famous….”Take On Me”.
Originally, the boys from “Bridges” thought the song was too “Pop-like” for their Punk sensibilities but, as the trio auditioned for various record executives, they all kept coming back to “Miss Eerie” and telling the boys that this song was the one they should polish and record as a demo and then, to come back and talk about a contract. For the boys, such advice, received over time, again and again, served as an “a-ha” moment…..sorry……and caused several things to happen; one of the first of which was that they changed their name to “a-ha”. Under their new band name, they sought to record their song. They did so but, their efforts resulted in failure as the song was too short and choppy and failed to chart. They went to a second record company and recorded the song with guitars instead of synthesizers and, again, the record flopped. The boys were starting to feel a sense of dejection when, one day, they came to the attention of an executive from Warner Brothers Records in the UK. He believed the band had a hit formula on their hands (handsome lead singer + catchy, hook laden pop tune) and took a gamble. Warner Brothers Uk set aside a large percentage of their production budget for the entire year and invested it in the production of a song that was now being called, “Take On Me”. Experienced session players were brought in to help. The best equipment was used to play and record the song. Finally, a promotional strategy was adopted that centred around the creation of a landmark music video. The gamble paid off. “Take On Me”…..in its third or fourth release…..went to #1 on the charts around the world. The song sold millions of copies and the video won just about every award it was eligible for the following year.
The video, itself, is an interesting story. It revolved around the concept of bringing a graphic novel to life and having the animated characters interact seamlessly with real-life actors. The way they managed to do this is through a technique called Rotoscoping. Rotoscoping involves hand-tracing stills from a video clip and them, just like a flip-book, assembling those hand-traced frames and inserting them into the video as needed. It is said that over 30,000 hand-drawn frames were used, over the course of six months, to create the effect of animating singer, Morten Harket and then, bringing him to 3-dimensional life. In any event, “Take On Me” has become “a-ha’s” signature song. They have had other hits such as “The Sun Always Shines On TV” and “Hunting High and Low” but, “Take On Me” was such a huge hit that “A-ha” almost ended up in the “One-hit wonder” category. The band is still performing and still writing original material. Maybe one day, they will discover another hit song laying there, waiting to be found, within the pages of their songbook. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, here is “Take On Me” (and the revolutionary video) by “a-ha”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Take On Me” by a-ha, can be found here.
The link to the official website for a-ha, can be found here.