Take on Me
Writer(s): Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket, Pål Waaktaar (see lyrics here)
Released: October 19, 1984
First Charted: July 13, 1985
Peak: 11 US, 12 BA, 12 CB, 13 RR, 4 AC, 2 UK, 2 CN, 12 AU, 2 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.46 US, 0.5 UK, 7.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 4.0 radio, 1066.3 video, 1469.22 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Magne “Mags” Furuholmen and Pål Waaktaar became friends at 12 years old in the Oslo, Norway suburb where they grew up. They met singer Morten Harket while playing school dances and club dates in a band called Britches. The trio eventually went to London where, in 1983, they started shopping demo tapes to record companies. They eventually caught the attention of John Ratcliff, the studio manager where a-ha worked. Ratcliff and Terry Slater, formerly of EMI, offered to manage the band and arranged a showcase which included executies from RCA, CBS, EMI, and Warner Brothers – the latter of whom signed the band. FB Originally the trio wanted a Norwegian name which people could say in English. However, when Mags saw a song in Pål’s notebook called “A-ha” it seemed like a great name. FB
The band first recorded “Take on Me” in 1984. It reached #3 in Norway, but didn’t gain an international audience. The group went back to the studio to re-record the song at Slater’s suggestion. Producer Alan Tarney “beefed it up with more instrumentation and energy.” SF The resulting synthpop tune combined keyboards, a drum machine, and acoustic guitars with Harket’s voices reaching higher notes throughout the song. WK
In the United States, Jeff Ayeroff championed the song at Warner Bros. and commissioned a new video for it. He hired Steve Barron, who did the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” to direct. SF He crafted a revolutionary video which combined live action and pencil-sketch animation. The roughly 3000 rotoscaped frames took 16 weeks to complete. WK It caught fire, garnering heavy rotation on MTV and eventually winning six awards at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. As of September 2019, the video still gets about a half million views a day. WK It ranks as one of the top three videos of all-time according to Dave’s Music Database, behind only Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.”
The video helped the song achieve international success. It finally charted in the UK, hitting #2. It went to #1 on the Eurochart for 9 weeks and topped the singles charts in 36 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Swden, and Switzerland. WK The song has been described by All Music Guide’s Tim DiGravina as “a new wave classic.” WK
First posted 11/2/2019; last updated 7/23/2023.