A-ha: how we made Take on Me and the famous video
‘We were inspired by a Juicy Fruit advert and Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra’
The video for A-ha’s Take on Me has almost one billion views on YouTube. Photographs: YouTube
Morten Harket, singer
I had always wanted to make music on a big scale, but never knew how it was going happen – until I saw a band in Oslo called Bridges. I was stunned. They had everything. The only thing they didn’t have was me. I knew I needed to join, not for my own sake, but for the band’s. I knew I was a necessary ingredient.
We had to leave Norway and go where it was all happening, which was London. We loved it there, but it was hard. We had no money – we were literally starving. It started to get ugly. Paying for food wasn’t an option. I remember nearly fainting in the street. It was affecting my mental state. We sent a guy called Terry Slater a couple of demos, using the last of our money. And then things turned. He landed us a deal with Warners and said just keep coming up with songs, because when success hits you, you won’t even know your name.
We’d already written Take on Me but hadn’t recorded it. Paul [Waaktaar-Savoy, guitarist] had first played it to me in his parents’ house, down in the basement. He had a crappy old nylon-stringed guitar with hippy paintings on it and he strummed the chords with Magne [Furuholmen] playing the riff on piano. The moment I heard it, I knew it was the one that would break the whole thing open.
It was only a riff, though. We wrote the rest together. It reminded me of an advert for chewing gum that went: “Juicy Fruit is a packet full of sunshine.” That influenced the verse melody. Paul had the idea of really using my vocal range in the chorus, having notes rising in octaves like Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra . As for hitting that last high note, you either have wings or you don’t – the voice is not in the throat, it’s in the blood. It’s what you envisage, what you believe. People think the chorus is the hard part in Take on Me, but they’re wrong. The hard part was making the verses bounce.
Take on Me video
It was released three times and kept flopping. Things weren’t well managed in the early days. But Jeff Ayeroff at Warners liked it and put up the team for the video, which was what got things really moving. It was a steady climb, getting to No 2 in the UK and No 1 in America in 1985. It was what we’d been waiting for and expecting to happen. It was meant to be. Since then, the song and video have been played to death around the world. It has its own career. It lives its own life.
Michael Patterson, animator of the music video
I’d made a short film called Commuter that pioneered the pencil-sketch animation style I later used in the Take on Me video. I was experimenting with how to create a fleeting impression. If you look at a Turner painting, you can see into it: the style might be impressionist but you can still see the reality. I wanted to do animation that had that quality.
Me and my partner Candace got a call from our distributor. “This man in Hollywood wants a free copy of Commuter,” he said. “I told him to go to hell, but if you want to call him, here’s his number.” I wrote it down on a scrap of paper and put it in my wallet. Ten months later, we were in LA and running out of money, so I called the number and the guy said: “Hey, are you interested in doing a music video?”
Next we met Jeff Ayeroff at Warners, the Diaghilev of music videos. He had a doormat outside his office saying: “Master of the Universe.” He said: “I have this idea – a comic-book character comes to life and falls in love with a girl.” For 16 weeks, all we did was sleep and work on the video, me in the living room, Candace in the kitchen. We made around 2,000 drawings.
Nobody had ever seen anything like it. We watched many people rip it off, year after year. We once stopped to fill up the car – and the attendant was sitting there drawing animation frames. I said: “What are you doing?” He said: “Oh, we’re copying this guy’s work – you know, the A-ha video?” – Guardian
A-ha play the 3Arena, Dublin, on Tuesday, October 29th