Thursday, July 7, 2016

Throwing Back to 1985: A-ha

I was 15 when "Take On Me" hit the American airwaves, along with a killer video that made this Norwegian pop song into an instant classic. It was one of two singles off A-ha's first record, Hunting High and Low, but most people are hard pressed to name the other one.

"Take On Me" is a sonic transport 30 years back in time to the spectacular corn & cheese laden decade of roller skates, legwarmers and big hair. Anchored by a delicious, irresistible Juno synth keyboard riff, "Take On Me" is a strong pop song with cute lyrics, catchy phrasing and that crazy dynamic falsetto in the chorus. It's been covered dozens of times and, I admit, is one of my personal favorite shower singin' tunes. But only when Joe's not home.

In 1985 the video knocked my mismatched neon socks off. The action starts in a diner (a popular music video motif in those days) where a pretty girl is flipping through a giant comic book. She's gazing into the pencil-drawn eyes of lead singer Morten Harket when he comes to life and invites her into his cartoon world. He shows her a two-way glass that reflects the real world on one side. In a greaser jacket, snug white T-shirt and jeans, looking all dreamy-eyed and well-coifed as any 80s boy should, Morten is equally sexy in both worlds. The guy is just a dollface to the moon and back. Who wouldn't take his outstretched cartoon hand and follow him into the comic book pages?

"It's no better to be safe than sorry...take on me...take me on..." The love story resolves back at the girl's apartment, Morten breaking free of the crumpled pages by hurling himself against the walls, landing finally as a sweaty flesh-and-blood man on her floor. Yeah, that didn't suck. Nothing makes a sweet boy-meets-girl song better than sexing that stuff up with a glistening Adonis from Oslo.

In 1985 I wouldn't know this, not for many years yet, but the drawing used in "Take On Me" is an early animation technique called rotoscoping -- essentially tracing with a pencil over real frames to create a kind of digital flipbook. The by-hand method of rotoscoping would be replaced by animation tech, but never really went obsolete. I think that's what makes the video hold up.

Essentially a one-hit wonder in the states, A-ha has actually been making records on and off, but fairly consistently, throughout the 90s and 2000s. They never did hit as big in the USA as they did with "Take On Me," but in Europe they fared pretty well these last three decades. Their website says that there's even a new 2015 record, Cast in Steel, and an upcoming tour.

Say after me. That's, like, totally rad, like, right?

(This essay was part of a "Throwback Thursday" series requested by a friend. A bunch of us did it. You're supposed to post, and write about, one "top favorite" video from the 1980s every Thursday.)