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Take On Me

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"Take On Me"
A-ha take on me-1stcover.jpg
First release (1984)
Single by A-ha
from the album Hunting High and Low
B-side
Released19 October 1984 (1984-10-19)
Recorded1984
StudioRecord Plant (New York City)
Genre
Length3:49
LabelWarner Bros.
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
A-ha singles chronology
"Take On Me"
(1984)
"Love Is Reason"
(1985)
Music videos
"Take On Me" (original version) on YouTube
"Take On Me" (second version) on YouTube
"Take On Me" (alternate version) on YouTube

"Take On Me" is a song by Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha. The original version was produced by Tony Mansfield and remixed by John Ratcliff. The 1985 version was produced by Alan Tarney for the group's debut studio album, Hunting High and Low (1985). The song combines synth-pop with a varied instrumentation, including acoustic guitars, keyboards, and drums.

The original "Take On Me" was recorded in 1984 and took two versions and three releases to chart in the United Kingdom, reaching number two on the UK Singles Chart in October 1985. In the United States in October 1985, it became the only A-ha song to top the Billboard Hot 100, assisted by wide exposure on MTV of its innovative music video, directed by Steve Barron. The video features the band in a live-action pencil-sketch sequence. The video won six awards and was nominated for two others at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards.

Background[edit]

"Take On Me" originated from Pål Waaktaar's and Magne Furuholmen's previous band Bridges.[2]

One of the tracks rehearsed around this time was called "Miss Eerie", which had an original title of "Panorama". It included elements of what would later become "Take On Me", including the central synth riff, which Magne Furuholmen created when he was 15 years old.[3][4][5] Initially the band felt the riff was too pop oriented for their band, thus the first version of the song was more "punky" in an attempt to offset the riff.[6] The first take of the song was inspired in part by Doors member Ray Manzarek and his "almost mathematical but very melodic, structured way of playing".[7] Waaktaar initially thought the song would be too pop to work with although Furuholmen recalled thinking it was "quite catchy".[6]

Soon after, Bridges disbanded. Waaktaar and Furuholmen relocated to London to try their hand in the music industry there, but returned to Norway after six months of disappointment.[2] They were joined by singer Morten Harket and began working on demos, including a new version of "Miss Eerie", which was renamed "Lesson One" before it evolved into "Take On Me". In January 1983, the band returned to London in search of a recording contract.[2] They intended the song to show off Harket's vocal range, which led to his vocals "doing this spiraling thing".[7]

Recording and production[edit]

The band moved into an apartment in London and began contacting record companies and publishing houses. After a few meetings with various A&R personnel, they signed with the publishing house Lionheart. A-ha returned to Norway to earn some money; when they returned to London, they left Lionheart out of frustration.[8] They decided to record new demos, and chose the studio of musician and producer John Ratcliff, intending to re-record five songs. The band signed with Ratcliff, who introduced them to manager Terry Slater. With this encouragement, the band managed to complete some songs, including "Take On Me". After a few meetings, Slater signed them with Warner Bros. Records UK.[8]

The band met with producer Tony Mansfield, an expert in the use of the Fairlight CMI, who mixed the demos with electronic instrumentation. The sound was not what A-ha had hoped to achieve, and the album was remixed again. The band rushed to release "Take On Me" as a single in the United Kingdom but the single only charted at 137, the lowest-charted of all A-ha songs. After this, Warner Brothers' main office in the United States decided to invest in the band, and gave them the opportunity to re-record the song.[8] The song was produced using the Roland Juno-60 synthesizer for the main riff, along with the Yamaha DX7 and PPG Wave synthesizers.[9]

Magne played the main melody on a Roland Juno-60 analog synthesizer. Paul also played the main riff on a second keyboard at the same time as mags .The Yamaha DX7 and PPG Wave synthesizers were also used for the song. The drum machine used on the second and third releases (rotoscoped video version) was a LinnDrum – Paul overdubbed real cymbals and hi-hat using this drum machine. Morten sang "Take On Me" using a Neumann U47 microphone as well as a Neve microphone pre-amp and Neve equaliser.[10]

In 2020, former Warner Brothers UK and Reprise executive Andrew Wickham appeared in A-ha's official anniversary documentary A-ha: The Making of Take On Me, to explain how the song's success was due to several parties realising the band's true value. He detailed how the song finally became the worldwide smash hit still widely recognised today. In 1984, he was the international vice-president for Warner Bros Records America, and their A&R man in London. He said, "I got a call from Terry Slater... I couldn't believe my ears (at the band's audition) when I heard Morten Harket sing. I thought, how can somebody who looks like a film star sound like Roy Orbison? I thought, this is unbelievable."

Wickham immediately signed A-ha to Warner Brothers America, after learning several previous attempts had failed to make "Take On Me" a commercial success. The next release was not successful either and featured a very ordinary performance video. He authorised considerable investment in the band: on Slater's recommendation, renowned producer Alan Tarney was commissioned to refine the song. The new recording achieved a cleaner and more soaring sound and a coda section instead of the earlier quick fade-out; the song was soon completed and re-released in the UK, but the record label's office in London gave them little support, and the single flopped for the second time.[8]

Wickham placed the band on high priority and applied a lateral strategy with further investment. Steve Barron directed a revolutionary rotoscoping animation music video which took six months to create, using professional artists. The single was released in the USA one month after the music video, and immediately appeared in the Billboard Hot 100[8] and a worldwide smash, reaching No. 1 in numerous countries.

AllMusic journalist Tim DiGravina described "Take On Me" as "a new wave classic laced with rushing keyboards, made emotionally resonant thanks to Morten Harket's touching vocal delicacy."[1]

Composition[edit]

"Take On Me" is a synth-pop song that includes acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards,[11][12] written at a very fast tempo of 169 beats per minute.[13] The lyrics are a plea for love[14] and constructed in a verse–chorus form with a bridge before the final chorus. The song is written in the key of A major with a chord progression of Bm7–E7–A–Dmaj7–C♯m7 in the verse, A–C♯m7/G♯–F♯m–D in the chorus, and C♯m–G–C♯m–G–Bm–E in the bridge. Harket demonstrates a vocal range of over two and a half octaves.[13] He sings the lowest pitch in the song, A2 (the tonic), at the beginning of the chorus, on the first syllable of the phrase "Take On Me".[13] As the chorus progresses, Harket's voice hits ever higher notes, reaching a falsetto[11][15][16] and hitting the song's highest note, E5, (the dominant) at the end.[13] Rolling Stone has thus noted the song as "having one of the hardest-to-sing choruses in pop history".[7] A mix of a drum machine, the LinnDrum,[17][18] acoustic guitars, and electronic instrumentation serves as the song's backing track.[11]

Music videos[edit]

First video[edit]

The first release of "Take On Me" in 1984 includes a completely different recording, and was featured in the first video, which shows the band singing with a blue background.

Second video[edit]

Lead singer Morten Harket and actress Bunty Bailey in a scene from the music video, which features them in a pencil-sketch animation / live-action combination called rotoscoping.

The second video, directed by Irish-born British film director Steve Barron, is the far more widely recognised video for the song. It was filmed in 1985 at Kim's Café (now called Savoy Café) (corner of Wandsworth Road and Pensbury Place, London SW8), and on a sound stage in London.[19] The video used a pencil-sketch animation / live-action combination called rotoscoping, in which the live-action footage is traced over frame by frame to give the characters realistic movements.[20][21] Approximately 3,000 frames were rotoscoped, which took 16 weeks to complete.[22][23] The idea of the video was suggested by Warner Bros executive Jeff Ayeroff, who was pivotal in making "Take on Me" a globally recognised music hit.[24]

Plot[edit]

The video's main theme is a romantic fantasy narrative.[25] It begins with a montage of pencil drawings in a comic-book style representing motorcycle sidecar racing, in which the hero (played by Morten Harket) is pursued by two opponents, played by Philip Jackson and Alfie Curtis. It then cuts to a scene in a cafe, in which a young woman, played by Bunty Bailey (Harket's girlfriend at the time),[19] is reading the comic book. As the woman reads, the waitress brings her coffee and the bill. The comic's hero, after winning the race, seemingly winks at the woman from the page. His pencil-drawn hand suddenly reaches out of the comic book, inviting the woman into it. Once inside, she too appears in the pencil-drawn form, as he sings to her and introduces her to his black-and-white world which features a sort of looking-glass portal where people and objects look real on one side and pencil-drawn on the other.

Back in the cafe, the waitress returns to find the woman missing. Believing the customer left without paying the bill, she angrily crumples and throws the woman's comic book into a bin. This causes the hero's two opposing racers to reappear as villains, one of them armed with a large pipe wrench. The racers smash the looking glass with the pipe wrench, trapping the woman in the comic book. The hero punches one of the thugs aside and retreats with the woman into a maze of paper. Arriving at a dead end, he tears a hole in the paper wall so that the woman can escape as the menacing opposing racers close in on him and they raise their pipe wrench to his face. The woman, now back in the real world and found lying beside the bin to the surprise of cafe guests and staff, retrieves the comic from the bin and runs home where she attempts to smooth out the creases to learn what happens next.

The next panel shows the hero, lying seemingly lifeless, and the woman begins to cry. However, he then wakes up and tries to break out of his comic-book frames. At the same time, his image appears in the woman's hallway, seemingly torn between real and comic form, hurling himself repeatedly left-and-right against the walls as he attempts to shatter his two-dimensional barrier. (This scene is largely patterned after a climactic scene in the 1980 film Altered States.[19]) He escapes from the comic book by becoming human and stands up. Smiling, the woman walks towards him.

The story is concluded in the opening of "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." music video.[26]

Awards[edit]

At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, the video for "Take On Me" won six awards—Best New Artist in a Video, Best Concept Video, Most Experimental Video, Best Direction in a Video, Best Special Effects in a Video, and Viewer's Choice—and was nominated for two others, Best Group Video and Video of the Year.[27] It was also nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Video at the 13th American Music Awards in 1986.[28]

The second music video was produced by Limelight Productions.[22] The crew of the video were director Steve Barron,[22] producer Simon Fields,[22] cinematographer Oliver Stapleton,[29] editor Richard Simpson from Rushes Film Editing,[30] and animators Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger.[30]

Influence[edit]

The music video and song have often been referred to in cover versions, films, TV programmes and video games. The Family Guy episode "Breaking Out Is Hard to Do" includes a licensed, re-edited version of the video.[31] Volkswagen created a television advertisement inspired by the video.[32] The video was also one of the first to be made into a literal music video.[33] The visuals of the video were used as an homage for Paramore's music video for "Caught in the Middle".[34]

Chart performance[edit]

"Take On Me" was originally released in 1984, and was mixed by Tony Mansfield, but failed to make an impact in the United Kingdom.[8] This release peaked at number three in Norway[35] but failed to reach audiences abroad.[8][36][37] The group re-recorded the song with the help of producer Alan Tarney,[8][19] releasing the new version in 1985.

In the United States, Warner Bros. invested in the revolutionary second video for "Take On Me", which used Tarney's version of the song. The new video was released to dance clubs and television a month before the record was available in stores or played on the radio.[38] Wide exposure on MTV[36] made the song quickly soar to the top position of the Billboard Hot 100 on 19 October 1985 (its fifteenth week on the chart).[39] It remained on the chart for twenty-seven weeks,[40] and ended up at the tenth position of the 1985 year-end chart.[41] As of June 2014, the song has sold 1,463,000 digital copies in the US after it became available for download in the digital era.[42]

"Take On Me" was released for the third time in the United Kingdom in September 1985.[36] The song debuted on the UK Singles Chart at number fifty-five and peaked at number two for three consecutive weeks, held off the top spot by Jennifer Rush's "The Power of Love". On 14 August 2020, it was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).[43]

In Norway, A-ha's native country, "Take On Me" re-entered the VG-lista singles chart, reaching a new peak of number one, a year after it was first released.[44] The single was largely successful elsewhere, reaching the top of the Eurochart Hot 100 for nine weeks, topping the singles charts in 26 countries,[citation needed] including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland,[45][46][47][48][49] and reaching the top three in France and number two in Ireland.[50][51] The success of "Take On Me" lies also in its sales, as the single would go on to sell over seven million copies worldwide,[citation needed] making it one of the best-selling singles of all time.

In popular culture[edit]

The song has appeared in the 1997 film Grosse Pointe Blank.[52] In a part of the episode 9 from season 5 titled "Breaking Out is Hard to Do", belonging to the American series Family Guy. When Lois asks Chris to have a carton of milk. "An animated hand invites Chris in and pulls him in as the song's intro starts to play." Once inside the animated pencil world, the group leader a-ha, Morten Harket, sings the chorus. "Like in Music video, two men are chasing them both. When Chris and Harket start running away from them, Chris pushes against the wall, crashing behind a tray of eggs."[53]

In a 2005 episode of The Simpsons titled Future Drama. When Homer realizes that he has romantic feelings for Lily, "the two look into each other's eyes in a psychedelic mix of animated styles." That includes a rotoscope-style segment that references the Music video of the song.[54] In the 2018 video game Just Cause 4, there is Easter egg that pays tribute to the song's Music video,[55][56] that can be found on a half-built building, [57] from a town located on the Solis Island, west of Paso Ventoso. [58] Going down to the second floor of the building, parts of the world will change to resemble pencil sketches on white paper, [59] (And the song will play in the background) similar to the music video of the song,[60] in the place you can see a woman who after a while will start dancing.[56]

In one of the scenes of the 2018 movie, Deadpool 2,[61] in which Wade Wilson (alias Deadpool) and his fiancee Vanessa meet again, an acoustic version of the song begins to play. In the 2020 video game, The Last of Us Part II, the song is performed on a guitar by one of the protagonists, Ellie,[62] (voiced by Ashley Johnson).[63] The song has also appeared in Saints Row 2.

Track listings[edit]

7": MCA / MCA-9146 United Kingdom (1984)

  1. "Take On Me" (Original version) – 3:18
  2. "And You Tell Me" – 1:48
  • Track 1 is produced by Tony Mansfield and remixed by John Ratcliff with A-ha.

12": MCA / MCA-9146T United Kingdom (1984)

  1. "Take On Me" (Long version) –  3:46
  2. "And You Tell Me" – 1:48
  3. "Stop! And Make Your Mind Up" – 2:57
  • Track 1 is produced by Tony Mansfield and remixed by John Ratcliff.

7": MCA / MCA-9006 United Kingdom (1985)

  1. "Take On Me" (Single version) – 3:49
  2. "Love Is Reason" – 3:04
  • Track 1 is produced by Alan Tarney.
  • Track 1 is the same version as the album version.

12": MCA / MCA-9006T United Kingdom (1985)

  1. "Take On Me" (Extended version) – 4:50
  2. "Love Is Reason" (LP version) – 3:04
  3. "Take On Me" (Single version) – 3:49
  • Track 1 & 3 are produced by Alan Tarney.
  • Track 3 is the same version as the album version.

7": MCA. / MCA-29011 United States (1985)

  1. "Take On Me" – 3:46
  2. "Love Is Reason" – 3:04
  • Track 1 is produced by Alan Tarney.
  • Track 2 is produced by John Ratcliff with A-ha.

12": Warner Bros. / PRO-A-2291 (Promo) United States (1985)

  1. "Take On Me" (Long version) –  4:47 (a.k.a. "Extended Version")
  2. "Take On Me" (Single version) – 3:46
  • Track 1 & 2 are produced by Alan Tarney.

Credits and personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Belgium (BEA)[93] Gold 100,000*
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[94] Platinum 90,000double-dagger
France (SNEP)[93] Gold 500,000*
Germany (BVMI)[95] Gold 250,000^
Italy (FIMI)[93]
1985–1986 sales
Gold 300,000*
Italy (FIMI)[96]
since 2009 sales
Platinum 30,000*
Japan (RIAJ)[97] Gold 100,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[43] 2× Platinum 2,000,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

MTV Unplugged appearance[edit]

In 2017, A-ha appeared on the television series MTV Unplugged and played and recorded acoustic versions of many of their popular songs for the album MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice. This version of the song is a slower tempo and features a piano and a single acoustic guitar accompanying the voice, without the synths and drums of the original. The song was featured in Deadpool 2 in a scene towards the end. The song can also be found on the film's soundtrack. The original 1984 version of the song is also featured nearer to the beginning of the film.

Cover versions[edit]

Reel Big Fish version[edit]

"Take On Me"
Take On Me Reel Big Fish.jpg
Single by Reel Big Fish
from the album BASEketball and Why Do They Rock So Hard?
Released1998 (1998)
Recorded1998
GenreSka punk
Length3:14
LabelMojo
Songwriter(s)
  • Magne Furuholmen
  • Morten Harket
  • Pål Waaktaar
Reel Big Fish singles chronology
"Sell Out"
(1997)
"Take On Me"
(1998)
"Where Have You Been?"
(2002)
Music video
"Take On Me" on YouTube

In 1998, ska punk band Reel Big Fish covered "Take On Me" for the film BASEketball. The song was later released on the BASEketball soundtrack and the international version of their album Why Do They Rock So Hard?[98][99] The band also performs the song at concerts.[100] Reel Big Fish released a video clip for "Take On Me", directed by Jeff Moore,[101] and features the band playing the song while walking down an aisle in the stadium, and playing a game of BASEketball interlaced with clips from the film. An alternative video for the song's international release that contained only the stadium aisle footage was also released. Reel Big Fish also included a live version of the song in their live album Our Live Album Is Better than Your Live Album and live DVD's You're All in This Together and Reel Big Fish Live! In Concert![102]

Track listing[edit]

  • CD single
  1. "Take On Me" – 3:02
  2. "Alternative Baby" – 2:56
  3. "Why Do All the Girls Think They're Fat?" – 2:22

Personnel[edit]

A1 version[edit]

"Take On Me"
Take on Me a1.jpg
Single by A1
from the album The A List
B-side"I Got Sunshine"
Released14 August 2000 (2000-08-14)
Recorded1998–1999
GenreDance-pop
Length3:46
LabelEpic
Songwriter(s)
  • Magne Furuholmen
  • Morten Harket
  • Pål Waaktaar
A1 singles chronology
"Like a Rose"
(2000)
"Take On Me"
(2000)
"Same Old Brand New You"
(2000)
Music video
"Take On Me" on YouTube

In August 2000, British-Norwegian boy band A1 released a cover of "Take On Me" for their second studio album, The A List.[103] Despite being panned by music critics, who called it a "lame cover version",[104] and a "note for note copy" that seems like "a re-release of the original";[105] it was commercially successful, topping the charts in the United Kingdom and Norway.[106][107]

Music video[edit]

The music video was directed by Stuart Gosling. It features A1 entering the computer world by putting on virtual reality glasses after finding out about a deadly computer virus. After flying for a distance, they find the virus and destroy it, saving the world.[108] The video was inspired by the 1982 live-action science fiction film Tron.[109]

Track listings[edit]

  • CD, maxi-single, enhanced, CD1
  1. "Take On Me" – 3:31
  2. "Beatles Medley (I Feel Fine / She Loves You)" – 3:20
  3. "I Got Sunshine" – 3:41
  • CD, maxi-single, enhanced, limited edition, CD2
  1. "Take On Me" (UK 2K Mix) – 3:25
  2. "Take On Me" (Metro Extended Club Mix) – 6:02
  3. "Take On Me" (D-Bop Saturday Night Mix) – 7:52

Charts[edit]

Chart (2000–2001) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[110] 46
Denmark (Tracklisten)[111] 2
Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)[112] 11
Germany (Official German Charts)[113] 61
Ireland (IRMA)[51] 12
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[114] 47
Netherlands (Tipparade)[115] 10
Norway (VG-lista)[106] 1
Romania (Romanian Top 100)[116] 10
Scotland (OCC)[117] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[118] 9
UK Singles (OCC)[107] 1

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2000) Position
Norway Høst Period Singles (VG-lista)[119] 4
Romania (Romanian Top 100)[116] 83
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[120] 77

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Norway (IFPI Norway)[121] Gold  
United Kingdom (BPI)[122] Silver 200,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Kygo remix[edit]

On 27 August 2015, Norwegian DJ Kygo released a remixed version via iTunes. His version drops the iconic keyboard riffs and features a new one.[123] The style of his version has been described as "tropical house".[124]

D. A. Wallach version[edit]

A cover by D. A. Wallach was featured in the film La La Land. Wallach makes an appearance as the lead singer of a 1980s pop cover band that features Sebastian Wilder, one of the film's two protagonists.[125] The cover was released as part of the album La La Land: The Complete Musical Experience.[126]

Weezer version[edit]

American rock band Weezer included a cover version of the song in their 2019 covers compilation The Teal Album. An accompanying music video was released on 12 February 2019, in which rock band Calpurnia—led by frontman Finn Wolfhard ("Mike" in the Netflix original series Stranger Things), here, playing a younger version of Weezer's own frontman, Rivers Cuomo star. The video, set in 1985 in the "Cuomo Residence", shows Wolfhard (as Cuomo) and the rest of Calpurnia, lip-syncing to the song while "rehearsing" it in the residence's living room. Near the end of the video, Wolfhard is shown sitting at a desk in his bedroom, scribbling possible names for his new band on a page of a notebook (the name Weezer is shown as option No.3). He then turns the page to draw what would become Weezer's band logo. The video also features some scenes of Calpurnia playing, filmed with the rotoscoping technique that made the original A-ha video famous.[127]

Lucas & Steve adaptation[edit]

On 11 Oct0ober 2019, the Dutch DJs Lucas & Steve released "Perfect", a single that greatly adopts on the music of "Take On Me". The single features on the vocals of the Dutch X Factor fifth season winner Haris Alagic known by the mononym Haris. Released on Spinnin' Records in the EDM and deephouse style, it was accompanied by an official music video.[128] The song was greatly successful on the Dutch Singles Chart and also appeared on the Tipparade of the Belgian charts. There was a successful "Perfect (LUM!X Remix)" released.

Tracklist

  1. "Perfect" (2:56) [Spinnin' Records]
  2. "Perfect" (LUM!X Remix) (3:07) [Spinnin' Records]
  3. "Perfect" (Club Mix) (4:51) [Spinnin' Records]
  4. "Perfect" (Gabry Ponte Remix) (3:46) [Spinnin' Records]

Charts

Chart (2019) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[129] 12
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia)[130] 28
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[131] 10
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[132] 28

References[edit]

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Bibliography

External links[edit]