A-Ha! 30 Things You May Not Know About The Band Behind "Take On Me"
In America, when you hear the name "a-ha," either you think someone's experienced a revelation or you find yourself humming "Take on Me," but the career of the trio behind that classic track is far more substantial than just the one single. On the 30th anniversary of the release of the band's debut album, Hunting High and Low, here's your chance to learn about the history of a-ha from the very beginning all the way up to where things stand with the band in 2015.
1. It's not exactly breaking news that a-ha consists of three gentlemen from Norway named Morten Harket (vocals), Magne Furuholmen (keyboards) and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (guitars), but what you may not know is that the line-up was officially cemented on Morten's 23rd birthday. Magne and Paul, who'd already been playing together, had headed England earlier in the year with plans of breaking into the music business and had asked Morten if he'd be interested in tagging along, but at the time he'd been happy as a member of a soul/blues band called Souldier Blue. Things didn't pan out quite like Magne and Paul had planned, however, so they returned home to Norway, and having done so, they decided to reach out to Morten again. This time he accepted, and on September 14, 1982, Magne and Paul paid Morten a visit to formally welcome him as their lead singer.
2. The band was named after a song written by guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, the title of which caught the eye of lead singer Morten Harket while flipping through Waaktaar's songbook. "It was a terrible song," Harket told Rolling Stone in 1986, "but a great name."
3. You'd have to have been living under a rock during the mid-'80s to have missed out on seeing the video for "Take on Me," but you may not have realized that the gentleman who directed the clip – Steve Barron – was also responsible for the videos for Adam and the Ants' "Antmusic," Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing," Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue," Fleetwood Mac's "Hold Me," The Human League's "Don't You Want Me," Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" and "Breaking Us in Two,' Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," and Toto's "Africa," not to mention seven additional a-ha videos ("The Sun Always Shines on T.V.," "Hunting High and Low," "Cry Wolf," "Manhattan Skyline," "The Living Daylights," "Crying in the Rain," and "Butterfly, Butterfly").
4. It seems odd to look back on it now, but when a-ha performed "Take on Me" on the syndicated music series Solid Gold, they were a four-piece, with the regular trio supplemented by a drummer. This drummer wasn't actually part of the band, but, hey, when a band plays live, they're supposed to have a drummer, right? Even if a-ha had wanted to increase their membership permanently, the musician in question already had a day job, and...well, call us crazy, but we're pretty sure The Go-Go's didn't want Gina Schock to depart their ranks.
5. Pop culture pundits have often tried to plug a-ha into the "One Hit Wonders" column, but it's simply not true: while "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." wasn't as substantial a hit in the States, the single still managed to make it to #20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
6. "Train of Thought" was a-ha's third consecutive top-10 single in the UK - Noel Gallagher of Oasis is an avowed fan of the song - but its only US success came via a remix which saw a bit of action on the Hot Dance Club Play chart. It's a bit surprising that MTV didn't push the video a bit more, given that it featured animation not unlike that of the "Take On Me" video. (The similarity, by the way, was not coincidental: not only were the same people - Candice Reckinger and Michael Patterson - responsible for both, the animation in the "Train of Thought" video actually pre-dated the "Take On Me" animation.)
7. Although it never charted in the U.S., the title track to a-ha's debut album, Hunting High and Low, was a top-10 hit in Norway (#10), the Netherlands (#9), France (#4), Ireland (#4), and the UK (#5), and it's been played live by Coldplay - indeed, Chris Martin has said outright, "The first band I ever loved was a-ha" - and Robbie Williams, who once declared a-ha to be "fucking great."
8. "I've Been Losing You," the first single from a-ha's sophomore effort, Scoundrel Days, was - along with "Maybe Maybe" - written in Sydney, Australia, when the band learned that they needed additional tracks to fill out the album. This last-second effort ends up hitting the top of the charts in Norway and proves to be yet another top-10 hit for the group in the UK.
9. The video for "Cry Wolf," the song which proved to be a-ha's final appearance to date on the Billboard Hot 100 (it hit #50), supposedly contains some scenes which aren't visible by the human eye (they only last for 1/25 of a second each), but if you slow the video down, you'll spot children who - per the website a-ha diary - are saying, "I want to be in an a-ha video." We are not going to even pretend that we can confirm that this is true, but here's the video if you want to try and find the scenes for yourself.
10. "Manhattan Skyline" may have broken a-ha's streak of top-10 singles in the UK - it only made it to #13 - but however it did in the charts, it's still a song that Magne Furuholmen recalls fondly: in the band's official biography, The Swing of Things, he referred to the track as "perhaps one of the most inspired cut and paste-projects that Paul and I did: I wrote the quiet part, Paul wrote the rock part."
11. Getting the opportunity to do a theme for a James Bond film upped a-ha's street cred pretty much everywhere in the world except for America, where even the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 had become elusive for the group, but "The Living Daylights" wasn't without some strife. The problem child, however, was longtime Bond composer John Barry, who was said to have been grouchy about the fact that his name wasn't on the songwriting credits and, even though the song was actually written by Paul and Magne, reportedly had Magne's name removed in favor of his own. Later, when a-ha is in mid-tour and unable to attend the Royal Premiere of the film, Barry grouses to the press about how difficult the band had been to work with, referring to the band as the "Hitler Youth." Good times.
12. While doing promotion for the title track of Stay on These Roads, which proved to be a-ha's seventh - and, to date, final - top-five placing in the UK charts, the group appeared on the TV show Going Live! and announced a competition for fans to spend a day on the "a-ha Express" to Birmingham, England, and attend the group's concert there. In a perfect example of a publicity stunt, the two winners of the contest were joined on the train by two hundred members of the press and media.
13. "The Blood That Moves the Body" may have been a top-30 hit in several European countries, including the UK, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland, but in Japan it may be best known for its use in a series of commercials for a makeup product called Gatsby. In addition to special a-ha / Gatsby merchandise, including special phone cards featuring photos of the band, there was even a making-of special for the TV ads.
14. Believe it or not, Morrissey has admitted to being an a-ha fan. In a July 1987 interview with Creem, when asked about artists who sold more records than The Smiths but didn't sell out concerts, he cited a-ha, "whom I happen to like a great deal: on the last tour, we were doing two shows as they were cancelling their one show because they couldn't fill the auditorium, and yet a look at the charts showed them with a single at #2 and an album at #9." His appreciation of the band may or may not continue to this day, but as recently as July 2004, when he played a show in Norway, Morrissey started the proceedings by offering a line from "The Sun Always Shines on T.V."
16. a-ha's first single from their fourth album, 1990's East of the Sun, West of the Moon, was a cover of the Everly Brothers' classic, "Crying in the Rain." The video for the song was filmed in Montana and, as noted above, it was - like "Take On Me" and several other a-ha videos - directed by Steve Barron, but by that year, he was better known to many as the director of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Now that's street cred.
17. In 1991, while in Brazil to play the annual Rock in Rio festival, the members of a-ha were among the faces filmed by a camera crew compiling footage for the video for the Run-DMC song "Faces." (Get it?) Although folks ranging from Deee-Lite and Debbie Gibson to Bootsy Collins and Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block are spotted within the final cut, a-ha got the axe. Sigh.
18. Thankfully, a-ha walked away from Rock in Rio with far better memories than being excised from a Run-DMC video: they end up making it into the Guinness Book of World Records by breaking the world record for the attendance of the biggest paying crowd with 198,000 people.
20. Only a month after Memorial Beach was released, America got its first taste of Morten Harket as a solo artist via his cover of Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," which appeared on the soundtrack to Coneheads. Yes, the 1993 movie based on the 1970s Saturday Night Live sketch. How did Morten find his way into the mix? We'd guess it probably had more than a little to do with the film being directed by Steve Barron.
22. Were it not for The Singles: 1984-2004, it's likely that precious few American a-ha fans would be familiar with the band's 1994 single, "Shapes That Go Together." Originally recorded with an eye toward being an official song of the Olympics, the track ultimately became the official song for the Paralympics, but it never saw release as a single in the U.S., nor did it make its way onto any of the band's studio albums. It did, however, make it into the top 30 in the UK, and it would prove to be the band's last new single for more than half a decade.
24. Pal's band, Savoy, did at least score an American release of their debut album, 1995's Mary is Coming, and even had the opportunity to perform a gig at CBGB to support its release...not that that helped it make the charts. Mind you, it probably didn't help that the single from the album, "Velvet," was only sent to radio stations and never released commercially. Still, the song ended up securing a second life, commercially speaking: if the song sounds familiar, that's because a-ha re-recorded the track and included it on their next album, 2000's Minor Earth | Major Sky, where it became a top-30 hit in Norway.
29. In an effort to say farewell to their fans properly, a-ha released a new best-of to celebrate their 25th anniversary - one appropriately entitled 25 - and recorded one last new track to go with it: "Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)."
At a press conference to announce the news, Morten vowed, "We are not getting back to stay together. We've agreed to come back for a set period: one album, one tour. It's a great opportunity and allows us to write another chapter." But with that said (and given the way things have worked out in the past), it clearly never hurts to keep your fingers crossed.