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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
  • "And You Tell Me"
  • "Stop! And Make Your Mind Up"
  • "Love Is Reason"
Released19 October 1984 (1984-10-19)
  • (re-release) 1985
Format
Recorded
  • 1984
StudioRecord Plant, New York
Genre
Length
  • 3:10
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 on YouTube

"Take On Me" is a song by Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha, first released in 1984. The original version was produced by Tony Mansfield and remixed by John Ratcliff. A new version was released in 1985 and produced by Alan Tarney for the group's debut studio album Hunting High and Low (1985). The song combines synthpop with a varied instrumentation that includes acoustic guitars, keyboards, and drums. It is considered to be the band's signature song.

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 the future "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 after six months of disappointment they returned to Norway.[2] They were joined by singer Morten Harket and began working on demos including a new version of Miss Eerie which was re-named "Lesson One", which evolved into "Take On Me". In January 1983, the band returned to London in search of a recording contract.[2] The band intended the song to show off Harket's vocal range and which led to the vocal "doing this spiraling thing".[7]

Recording and production[edit]

The band moved into an apartment in London and began calling on record companies and publishing houses. After a few meetings with various A&R personnel, they signed with a 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 his 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]

In 2020, former (British) Warner Brothers/ 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 of A&R Records for Warner Bros Records America, in London. Wickham says: "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 song was soon completed and re-released in the United Kingdom, 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 United States a month after the music video, and immediately appeared in the Billboard Hot 100[8] and a worldwide smash, reaching No.1 in numerous countries.

Magne played the main melody on a Roland Juno-60 . 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.[9]

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 synthpop song that includes acoustic guitars and keyboards.[10][11] It moves at a very quick tempo of 168.61 beats per minute.[12] The lyrics are a plea for love,[13] and are constructed in a verse-chorus form with a bridge before the third and final chorus. With the chord progression of Bm / E /A /D /E (with C# bass note ) , the chorus is A--E(with G# on the bass)--F#min—D and the bridge is C#m--G--C#m-G-Bm-E, the song is written in the key of A major. Harket demonstrates a vocal range of over two and a half octaves.[12] 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".[12]

As the chorus progresses, Harket's voice hits ever higher notes, reaching a falsetto[10][14][15] and hitting the song's highest note (E5, the dominant note) at the end.[12] Rolling Stone has thus noted the song as "having one of the hardest-to-sing choruses in pop history" [7] There is a temporary change of markings in the drum pattern in the chorus, where for two bars the drums play in half time, returning to the same rhythm as before for the climax of the vocal line. A mix of a drum machine, the LinnDrum,[16][17] acoustic guitars and electronic instrumentation serves as the song's backing track.[10]

The song was sampled in the 2013 dance pop song "Feel This Moment" by Pitbull featuring Christina Aguilera.

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.

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.

Second video[edit]

The second video, directed by Irish-born British film director Steve Barron, is the 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.[18] 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.[19][20] Approximately 3,000 frames were rotoscoped, which took 16 weeks to complete.[21][22] 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.[23]

Plot[edit]

The video's main theme is a romantic fantasy narrative.[24] 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, one of whom is played by English actor Philip Jackson. It then cuts to a scene in a cafe, in which a young woman, played by Bunty Bailey (Harket's girlfriend at the time),[18] is seen drinking coffee and reading the comic book. As the woman reads, the waitress brings her the bill. The comic's hero, after winning the race, seemingly winks at the woman from the page. His pencil-drawn hand 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 that the woman has left without paying the bill, she angrily crumples and throws the woman's comic book into a bin. This makes the hero's two opposing racers reappear, 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 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.[18]) He escapes from the comic book by becoming human and stands up. Smiling, the woman walks towards him.

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.[25] It was also nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Video at the 13th American Music Awards in 1986.[26]

The second music video was produced by Limelight Productions.[21] The crew of the video were director Steve Barron,[21] producer Simon Fields,[21] cinematographer Oliver Stapleton,[27] editor Richard Simpson from Rushes Film Editing,[28] and animators Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger.[28]

Legacy[edit]

The music video remains enormously popular: in 2018, Quartzy declared it Hollywood's song of the year.[29] The video has been subject to various parodies. The Family Guy episode, "Breaking Out Is Hard to Do", includes a licensed, re-edited version of the "Take On Me" video.[30] Volkswagen created a television advertisement inspired by the video.[31] The "Take On Me" video was one of the first to be made into a literal music video.[32] The visuals of this video is used as homage for Paramore's "Caught in the Middle".[33] A hidden section in the video game Just Cause 4 renders the game similar to the video, including the song running in the background while the player is within it.[34]

The music video was remastered in 2019 from the original 35mm film and released on YouTube.[35] On February 17, 2020, the music video reached one billion views on YouTube. Prior to that date, only four songs from the entire 20th century had reached that elusive mark — "November Rain" and "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns N' Roses, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" — making "Take On Me" the fifth video from that time period ever to do so. A-ha also became the first Scandinavian act to achieve this status.[36][37][38]

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[39] but failed to reach audiences abroad.[8][40][41] The group re-recorded the song with the help of producer Alan Tarney,[8][18] 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.[42] Wide exposure on MTV[40] made the song quickly soar to the top position of the Billboard Hot 100 on 19 October 1985 (its fifteenth week on the chart).[43] It remained on the chart for twenty-seven weeks,[44] and ended up at the tenth position of the 1985 year-end chart.[45] 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.[46]

"Take On Me" was released for the third time in the United Kingdom in September 1985.[40] The song debuted on the UK Singles Chart at number fifty-five, peaked at number two for three consecutive weeks, held off the top spot by Jennifer Rush's "The Power of Love", and received a gold certification by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).[47]

In Norway, A-ha's native country, "Take On Me" reentered the VG-lista singles chart, reaching a new peak of number one, a year after it was first released.[48] The single was largely successful elsewhere, reaching the top of the Eurochart Hot 100 for nine weeks, topping the singles charts in 36 countries,[49] including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland,[50][51][52][53][54] and reaching the top three in France and number two in Ireland.[55][56] The success of "Take On Me" lies also in its sales, as the single would go on to sell over 7 million copies worldwide,[citation needed] making it one of the best-selling singles of all time.

Formats and 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
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[85] Platinum 90,000^
France (SNEP)[86] Gold 500,000*
Germany (BVMI)[87] Gold 250,000^
Italy (FIMI)[88] Platinum 50,000*
Japan (RIAJ)[89] Gold 100,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[90] Gold 500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

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)
FormatCD single
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?[91][92] The band also performs the song at concerts.[93] Reel Big Fish released a video clip for "Take On Me", directed by Jeff Moore,[94] 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![95]

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)
Format
Recorded1998-1999
GenreDance-pop
Length3:46
Label
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.[96] Despite being panned by music critics, who called it a "lame cover version",[97] and a "note for note copy" that seems like "a re-release of the original";[98] it was commercially successful, topping the charts in the United Kingdom and Norway.[99][100]

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.[101] The video was inspired by the 1982 Disney live-action science fiction film Tron.[102]

Formats and 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 (2000–01) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[103] 46
Denmark (Tracklisten)[104] 2
Germany (Official German Charts)[105] 61
Ireland (IRMA)[56] 12
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[106] 47
Norway (VG-lista)[107] 1
Romania (Romanian Top 100)[108] 10
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[109] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[110] 9
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[111] 1

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2000) Position
Norwegian Singles Chart (Høst Period)[112] 4
Romania (Romanian Top 100)[108] 83
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[113] 77

Certifications[edit]

Country Certifications Sales/shipments
Norway (IFPI) Gold[114] 5,000
United Kingdom (BPI) Silver[47] 200,000

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.[115] The style of his version has been described as "tropical house".[116]

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.[117] The cover was released as part of the album La La Land: The Complete Musical Experience.[118]

MTV Unplugged version[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.

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.[119]

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Bibliography

External links[edit]