Released today in 1985: Take On Me

Warner Bros W9006

Warner Bros W9006

In 1982, Pål Waaktaar-Gamst and Magne Furuholmen were members of a band in their native Norway; the former was writing much of their material at the time. One track was rehearsed under the working title ‘The Juicy Fruit Song’ but was not recorded; when the band broke up, Waaktaar-Gamst and Furuholmen continued to work together and towards the end of the year met singer Morten Harket who was impressed with a re-worked version of The Juicy Fruit Song’, now titled ‘Lesson One’. In January 1983, all three moved to London in search of a record deal. Progress was slow, but eventually they arrived at the studios of producer John Ratcliff and demos were recorded, including ‘Lesson One’ which was the song that would become Take On Me. On the strength of these recordings, Ratcliff’s manager secured a record deal for A-Ha with Warner Bros.

The first issue of the single from 1984.

The first issue of the single from 1984.

Tony Mansfield was brought in to produce the first commercial recording of Take On Me, using electronic instrumentation. This version was released as their debut single in 1984; it was a Top 10 hit in Norway but did little business anywhere else. However, the band’s management persuaded prolific and successful British producer Alan Tarney to make a new recording of the song and his version of Take On Me was released in the UK on Good Friday in 1985. With little promotion from the record company, it flopped for the second time in the UK. However, Warner Bros in America decided to make the single a priority and paid for a state-of-the-art promotional video clip to be made to replace the one made in 1984.

The original video, featuring the band miming to the backing track on a bare sound stage, used a blue background that made it appear that some chroma key compositing had been planned but the money had run out before the intended background images could be added. Instead, a female gymnast performed some cartwheels to liven things up. The new video, directed by Steve Barron for Limelight Productions and created over nearly five months in the spring/summer of 1985, was cutting edge. Combining live-action and pencil-sketch animation, it was quite unlike anything else on MTV at the time. A technique called ‘rotoscoping’ was used to add the hand-drawn art to around 3000 frames of the video, which took 16 weeks to complete. These unusual visuals, together with the clip’s strong storyline, made it an instant classic. Within weeks of its first airing, Take On Me was on its way to #1 on the American chart.

Third issue sleeve.

Third issue sleeve.

Warner Bros in the UK decided to give the single another go here too. From 16 September 1985, the existing single was repackaged in a colour sleeve featuring on the reverse stills from the video clip. A limited edition booklet sleeve included information about the band members and more images from the storyboard for the video. But it wasn’t all about the imagery though: Take On Me is, quite simply, a great song. Radio airplay was quick to pick up this time, and Harket’s startling vocal (with a range of over two octaves) was just as memorable as the video.
Stills from the video in the limited edition packaging of the third issue.

Stills from the video in the limited edition packaging of the third issue.

Picture disc released on 18 April 2015.

Picture disc released on 18 April 2015.

Take On Me remains perennially popular. Last year it became available as a single-track digital download and has sold more than a million and a half copies in that format in the US alone. Later this month, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of the hit version of the song, a special picture disc is being made available as part of Record Store Day. These special editions are pressed in small quantities so sales will make only a small contribution to increasing the worldwide total of over seven million to date.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Apr. 5
Kim WILDE View From A Bridge (RAK RAK342)
A-HA Take On Me [Reissue] (Warner Bros W9006)
MARILYN Baby U Left Me (In The Cold) (Love MAZ4)
S-EXPRESS (Mark Moore) Theme From S-Express (Rhythm King LEFT21)


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