A-ha detail the evolution of their Eighties smash “Take On Me” in this clip from A-ha: The Movie, a documentary about the Norwegian New Wave band’s formation, success and disintegration set to premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
As the band reveal in the clip — and as keyboardist Magne Furuholmen told Rolling Stone in a 2011 interview about the track — “Take On Me” underwent numerous stylistic changes, title changes and false starts before becoming a chart-topping hit and instantly-iconic music video.
Before becoming a Number One hit, “Take On Me” — with a rift that Furuholmen first dreamt up as a 15-year-old — was first recorded and released in a radically different form: One early version, inspired by the Doors’ Ray Manzarek’s classical-pop style, was reworked. As seen in this exclusive clip, other versions, including a post-punk take with singer Morten Harket’s “rooster-crowing in the middle of it,” also failed to capture the song’s glory.
As Furuholmen told Rolling Stone in 2011, even the name changed often. “It started out being called ‘Lesson One,’ then we renamed the song ‘All’s Well That Ends Well and Moves With the Sun.’ A very catchy, short title”, he joked; a snippet of that early, syllable-heavy version is also heard in the documentary clip.
Ultimately, the trio — ardent believers of the song’s potential — brought the still-in-the-works single to London and worked off a producer’s suggestion that “having a falsetto is a guaranteed hit” to land on the single’s inescapable hook.
“Morten [Harket, singer] had a wonderful falsetto so I thought that maybe that would be a cool thing, just to show us his range a little bit,” founding member Paul Waaktaar-Savoy says in the clip. “I thought it would be cool to just start at the very lowest and build your way up from there.”
A more crystallized version of “Take On Me” was originally released as a single (with a boring music video) in 1984. However, when that version also bombed, the track was given an additional and final new wave sheen, along with its legendary music video. “Take On Me” then exploded, eventually becoming one of the most enduring hits of the decade.
Although unfairly categorized as a one-hit wonder in the U.S. — they actually had two hits stateside, with “The Sun Always Shines on T.V.” also reaching the Top 20 of the Hot 100 — A-ha have enjoyed sustained success for decades in both Europe and beyond; as the documentary shows, even though the original trio still performs together, they have no interaction with each other offstage due to long-mounting tensions and disagreements between band members.
In describing the documentary, director Thomas Robsahm said, “It’s about having big, impossible dreams together when you are young and when the dream actually comes true, all the problems start. So, you get the story of how the band got successful and how they handled it.”