Taking on the iconic “Take On Me” video with a-ha’s Magne Furuholmen

a-ha. From left: Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, Morten Harket, Magne Furuholmen

The song comes on and you picture the story immediately, a hand reaching out of a comic book to a lonely girl in a diner, beckoning her to join him in an animated fantasy land complete with a real-world mirror.

Or, the video comes on and you nod in time with the beat, getting ready to play air keyboards and, when the chorus reaches its crescendo, belt out the highest note, whatever your actual vocal range.

Either way, you smile.

Such has been the legacy of a-ha’s 1985 global hit “Take On Me” and the iconic film clip created for it, directed by Steve Barron and animated by Candace Reckinger and Mike Patterson.

“Steve was the man during that early period of music videos,” a-ha keyboardist Magne Furuholmen, 57, says. “We were lucky to meet him at the peak of his powers, and I think he enjoyed working with the band as we were new, excited, and perhaps gave him a lot more creative freedom than established artists who were already concerned with their image.”

On the eve of their first Australian tour since 1986, the Norwegian synth-pop trio are nearing 1 billion YouTube views for their now 4K-restored “Take On Me” video, currently sitting on more than 986,000,000 views as of Jan. 21. Once they reach that mark, they will be in the same territory as classics such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

“We knew the hand-drawn rotoscope technique in the video would make it look completely unique,” Furuholmen says, “but no one is prepared for something to have such an impact.”

Reflecting further, he adds, “We were never ones to sit back and watch our videos, or indeed listen back to our own music, but whenever it comes on randomly, it feels good to see that it still feels really unique and special even 35 years after it was made.”

In November, the band released a three-part documentary on their YouTube channel about the making of “Take On Me” and how the song and video have endured in pop culture. Vocalist Morten Harket, 60, who reunites with actress Bunty Bailey, 55, in the second episode, says that “the spirit of the song was also there in that video. That’s the key element, really.”

The video, which accompanied a revised version of “Take On Me” by producer Alan Tarney, set the stage for the clips that followed it from their debut album, Hunting High and Low.

Using the same characters in “Take On Me” for “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.” video “was Steve’s idea, and we liked it,” Furuholmen says.

However, although the filming techniques in “Hunting High and Low” differed from “Take On Me”, Furuholmen admits, “We did, at this point, start to worry a little whether the whole animation thing would possibly affect the songs and pigeonhole the band as something ‘made’ or ‘fake.’”

That’s why he, Harket and guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, 58, relish the opportunity to perform Hunting High and Low in its entirety on their 2020 tour, and especially in the Southern Hemisphere. “Coming back to Australia has been a recurring dream within the band for years and years,” Furuholmen says.

In regard to modifying or restructuring any of their album tracks for the show, Furuholmen explains, “There is a balance to be struck. Within the band, we might think some of the early demos for the album contain motifs, rhythms or arrangements that were changed or a little lost during recording and have a wish to champion these, whereas for people who bought and loved the album, [they] are, of course, excited to hear the particular album versions live.”

a-ha will share the bill with English crooner Rick Astley. “We may have met randomly once or twice years ago,” Furuholmen says, “but no, we have never been within each others’ orbit before.

“As I understand it, Mr. Astley is a much loved artist in Australia,” he adds, “and with the 80’s as the common denominator, I would expect many fans to be able to relate to both our musical oeuvres for a wider concert experience.”

Thinking back on Hunting High and Low, Furuholmen says, “Each song carries a set of memories and circumstances. For us, they are markers of the time and our shared experiences on this crazy ride of 35 years we have had together.”

a-ha with special guest Rick Astley will tour Australia and New Zealand starting February 19.

Originally published in the On Right Now blog at CynthiaWangMedia.com.

Pop culture writing, entertainment reporting, panda gazing, Sydney living. Veteran editor at TV Week, Who, and People. Cherub instructor always.

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