A-ha and the original sin of “Take on me”

As it happened to the tennis ball in match point of Woody Allen, there was a moment when A-ha’s career was about to fall on the bad side. Their “Take on me” it could have remained a hit song in Norway and ignored in the rest of the world if they had thrown in the towel after the first version they released. Thankfully, they’re back in the recording studio to deliver an ’80s classic and, surely, the most iconic video clip of the decade together with “Thriller” of Michael Jackson.

This is one of the many curiosities A-ha. The moviedocumentary directed by Thomas Robsahm that tells the story of some kids who wanted to take over the world from a Norway that did not export anything musically and that they ended up tolerating each other in the best of cases. Those three guysMorten Harket with his lyrical voice gifted for falsetto, a Pål Waaktaar to the guitar with an eye on the music of the 60s and 70s and Magne Furuholmen with their catchy “riffs” on the keyboards) would define a decade. Because there are few things more “eighty” than A-ha and few things more unfair than ignoring the rest of his career.

Trailer for ‘A-ha. The movie’

The success of the documentary is, on the one hand, to offer fans a quantity of graphic and sound material from all the stages of the band and, on the other hand, to show what the recording process, tours and promotion are like in a group in which there was creative tensions almost since its founding.

A-ha. The movie he plays at contradiction from the beginning of his footage. “Take on me” doesn’t take more than a few seconds to be heard and the director resorts to the comic style of the Steve Barron music video for the credit titles, but this recourse to nostalgia immediately confronts him with statements by the three musicians today, in which they admit that it would be torture for them to get together again to record.

A success that was forged in London

The comic style is maintained in the first minutes, in which it is narrated how they met. This first part of the documentary is curious to know its influences and the pop scene (rather lack) in Norway in those years, but it may be a bit long. Of course, it already shows us the germ of some of the quarrels between its members, such as the “imposition” by Pål on Magne to go to the keyboard and leave the guitar.

When the film begins to take flight is when the three they leave for London in 1983 looking for success and are very close to failing. But the potential that his managers and producers saw meant that, after releasing “Take on me” in a single that went quite unnoticed, they tried again and created the electronic pop classic that we all know. Being able to listen to the different versions of the song, some guitar players, and knowing how it was conceived is one of the best moments of the documentary.

Cachitos de Hierro y Chrome – A-HA: Take on Me (A Tope, 1987)

And with success comes fame, exposure to the media and constant presence on television and magazines for a band that could have remained a ‘one hit wonder’ but has influenced groups like Coldplay and U2 and is still today undisguisedly copied by artists such as The Weeknd either Harry Styles.

Full stadiums, number 1s and a fight of egos

We see how each member of the group assumed their role in the promotion and in the creation: Morten was the image, with a spectacular physique and willing to pose as many times as necessary, while Pål and Magne dedicated themselves to the composition… and to fight for the authorship of the songs.

Vocalist Morten Harket, turned pop idol in the mid-1980s JOHN RATCLIFF

After the success of their first album, “Hunting high and low” in 1985 and his record at the MTV Video Awards with eight awards for “Take on me” and “The sun always shines on TV” would come with commercial disappointment with the ambitious “Scoundrel Days” and electropop redemption with “Stay on these roads”. From there, ups and downs, separations, solo projects and reunions for a band that continues to have an army of fans around the world.

A-ha was never based on friendship, it’s not what brought us together

The success of A-ha. The movie it’s jumping into the late 2010s to break the chronological narrative and see how those years of success wore the band down. In this “present” (the documentary was shot between 2016 and 2020) we see your discussions when they rehearse for an MTV Unplugged, or how each one goes his own way when a concert ends. Even his relatives admit that they do not understand why they get along so badly, and that they would need to treat him with a psychologist. But, as Morten Harket acknowledges, “A-ha was never based on friendship, it’s not what brought us together. What brought us together was music.” The director of the film agrees with this assessment: “They may not be friends, but they are a family because 40 years ago they had a child together: “Take on me”:

While some of his milestones are reviewed, such as the Guinness record for the more than 200,000 people who attended his Rock in Rio concert in 1991 and his “The Living Daylights” for James Bond (including his disagreement with the myth John Barry), We also see how they currently live in an artistic bubble that none of the three wants to break and have half-hearted encounters with fans. Despite everything we see on screen, in 2022 the group continues to tour (they have just performed at the Jardins de Pedralbes festival) and have announced their new album ‘True North’ by the end of this year.

The director of the film: “Only by working separately can they continue together”

We asked Tomas Robsahm, director and screenwriter of the documentary, if you have been surprised by the announcement of the new album. “Our intention was to record them during the creation of a new album, but at that time they were not preparing new material but Unplugged for MTV. The new album was announced after we finished shooting, but their way of working is going to be similar to what they did for Unplugged: they each prepare material on their own and then they get together to record. I think that’s the only formula that works for them, the only way to stay together.”

Robsahm, who in addition to being a director is a producer of hits like The Worst Person in the World, is clear that A-ha is an underrated band. “Absolutely. That’s something I wanted to reflect in the film, they are much more than their first success or a boy bandas you might think at the beginning”. For him, one of the best reactions from the public is when they say “wow, I hadn’t realized how good they are, I want to hear more songs”. “That was one of the ambitions of the film, that people wanted to discover more about the group”.

A goal that Robsahm and his team have achieved with a documentary that vindicates the musical legacy of the band without hiding the wear and tear it has meant for three kids who wanted to reach the top and who, now around or over 60 years old, watch above all the shades. Because where the sun usually shines is on television.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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