A-HA'S "TAKE ON ME": THE EVOLUTION OF A SONG
The new 4CD/1DVD(!!) 30th anniversary edition of a-ha's debut album "Hunting High and Low" has EIGHT versions of their most enduring song. Here's a breakdown of each one! Read along to this playlist (http://spoti.fi/1kRdpsS)
- •"Lesson One," 1982The evolution of "Take on Me" is not unlike watching Lew Alcindor try to perfect a skyhook. On the band's first demo, we hear that distinctive keyboard riff (yeah!) followed by the gorgeous verses (woo!) with different lyrics ("say after me/I'm happy happy as can be/hip hip hooray"...uhh...okay!) then a try-hard chorus that grounds the song. Lead singer Morten Harket knows he's through after that, literally yelping part of the next verse. Back to the drawing board.
- •"Take on Me (Demo)," 1983A year later, a-ha have the basic skeleton of a song in place on the demo. Gone is the "Lesson One" chorus, replaced by a drop-what-you're doing refrain from Harket. (Even here does "in a day or twooooooo" inspire chills.) But the song, still new enough in this form, lacks confidence, and sounds strained and dated even by 1983 demo standards.
- •"Take on Me (Single Version)," 1984By this point, a-ha had a record deal, with Warner Bros.' American arm, and cut a real studio version with Naked Eyes producer Tony Mansfield. But they can't escape the stiffness of the demo, with a wooden rhythm and an obnoxious double tracked vocal. That said, another structural piece of the puzzle drops in here: the subtle counter background vocals on the chorus.
- •"Take on Me (Long Version)," 1984A 12" remix won't improve an uninspiring take, and the O.G. "Take on Me" single would flop around the world.
- •"Take on Me," 1985By now, a-ha had tinkered with "Take on Me" in three iterations in as many years. Would a fourth, with new producer Alan Tarney, do better? Yes, it turns out. The definitive version is the least labored: programmed elements sound live (and new flourishes abound, from the "Flight of the Bumblebee" keyboard riff to the crucial decision not to end on the dominant minor chords that start the song) and Harket sounds clear as a bell. It took time to make this song a No. 1 hit, but it was worth it.
- •"Take on Me (Extended Version)," 1985Tarney's version of "Take on Me" inevitably got remixed for club play, and while there's not much beyond length differentiating this from he album version, the extra reverb in the drums and the attention paid to the shining chords in the refrain (plus the victorious choice to fade the song out while those chords ring) make it a worthy listen.
- •"Take on Me (Video Mix)" (1985)How do you perfect upon "Take on Me" by this point? You may not—or you give it a fun little extra spin in the iconic music video. Here, you hear the song ending not on those "victory lap" chords but the uplifting ones you hear deep in the chorus or at the start of the 1985 12" mix. A perfect cue to the video's fairytale ending, finally on CD through this new deluxe edition.
- •"Take on Me (Instrumental Mix)," 2010Unearthed for the first reissue of this album in 2010, this T.V. mix allows greater appreciation of not only the synth elements but the airy background vocals throughout the chorus. It's a fine finale to our odyssey through a song that took lots of time to sound timeless.