Some tracks are as instantly recognisable for their videos as for the songs themselves. a-ha’s Take On Me is an undeniably catchy piece of 80s pop but its distinctive video is even more memorable.
Although it was the band’s most successful single commercially, making a-ha the first Norwegian act to top the US singles chart and reaching number two in the UK (The Sun Always Shines On TV attained the top spot but sold fewer copies) the song was not an instant success.
Take On Me started life in 1982 as a song entitled Lesson One with the same basic melody but completely different lyrics. It was eventually released in its initial form in 1984 and flopped dismally, peaking at number 137 in the UK. Here’s the original song and video. (It isn’t very good, on either front.)
However, the band’s label Warner Bros kept faith with the song. A more energetic version was produced and a new video commissioned directed by Steve Barron, the man behind such iconic clips as The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing.
Utilising an animation technique called rotoscoping, which involves animators tracing over live action footage, the video took two months to produce but became an instant classic, winning six awards at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards.
Amidst all the accolades for the video, it’s easy to overlook the way Take On Me showcases singer Morten Harket’s distinctive vocals – his range is estimated to be as much as five octaves – and powerful falsetto.
The woman in the video, Bunty Bailey, was a former Hot Gossip dancer who became Harket’s girlfriend in real life for a time. She briefly reprised her role as ‘The Girl’ at the start of The Sun Always Shines On TV but also appeared in a number of other music videos, most prominently as one of the three backing singers in Billy Idol’s To Be A Lover.
Take On Me was the first of nine UK top ten singles for a-ha, the last of which (Analogue (All I Want)) occurred as recently as 2006. The band released their tenth studio album, Cast In Steel, last year, their fifth to chart inside the UK top ten.
They also hold the distinction of being one of a select group of artists to have recorded a James Bond theme – 1987’s The Living Daylights – while Morten Harket also hosted the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest.
Not too shabby, really.
A song for Saturday