Watch A‑ha’s “Take On Me” Video Newly Remastered in 4K .… and Learn About the Band’s Struggle to Make the Classic Song

Though the ‘80s didn’t invent music videos, they did become an essen­tial form of cul­tur­al cur­ren­cy, as high pro­file direc­tors, big bud­gets, and a chan­nel that played them non-stop pushed them into our col­lec­tive con­scious­ness. But it’s only recent­ly that those orig­i­nal videos–most shot on film, not video by the way–have been get­ting the remas­ter treat­ment that Hol­ly­wood block­busters and art house clas­sics receive. Last month, we saw the film grain and roman­tic light­ing in Wham’s “Last Christ­mas” video remas­tered in 4K. And now anoth­er inescapably ‘80s ear­worm gets the treat­ment: “Take on Me” by Norway’s finest, A‑ha.

For those who haven’t seen the video, it’s a fairy­tale of a down-on-her luck girl who falls in love with the hero (A‑ha’s lead singer Morten Har­ket) in a com­ic book, then falls into the com­ic book where both become pen­cil draw­ings. Under attack from wrench-wield­ing bad guys, she escapes back into the real world and in a love-con­quers-all mir­a­cle, Morten makes it into the real world and into the arms of his love. All in three min­utes and change.

A‑ha might have been seen as a one-hit won­der band by some, but the lov­ing doc on the mak­ing of the song and video demon­strates there’s no such thing as an overnight suc­cess. The band strug­gled for years to make it, and “Take On Me” wasn’t even their first choice for a song–the band called it “Juicy Fruit” because its relent­less cheer­ful pop sound­ed to the band like an Amer­i­can chew­ing gum ad.

And they strug­gled to get the song right–an ear­ly ver­sion was released three times but failed to catch on. They even record­ed a ver­sion and filmed a bland music video for it. For some groups, this fail­ure might have been it, but you have to admire A‑ha. They were hun­gry and they knew, just knew, that the song should be a hit.

As the doc shows, sev­er­al music indus­try execs thought so too. The band plead­ed and got them­selves a new pro­duc­er: Alan Tar­ney. He went back to the group’s orig­i­nal demo and brought back what their first pro­duc­er had tak­en out, but lay­ered on synth after synth as well. From orig­i­nal demo to the hit sin­gle, it had tak­en four years.

For the video, Warn­er Bros. exec Jeff Ayeroff want­ed some­thing com­ic book based, and co-work­er John Beug knew what might work. He had seen a stu­dent ani­ma­tion called “Com­muter” by Can­dace Reckinger and Mike Pat­ter­son, and the two were hired to recre­ate their roto­scoped tech­nique for the video, tak­ing months and months of hand-drawn hard work to com­plete.

The result­ing video, direct­ed by Steve Bar­ron is a clas­sic. It’s been par­o­died on Fam­i­ly Guy and as a Chil­dren In Need char­i­ty spe­cial. And it still works as a mini nar­ra­tive: each verse adds an ele­ment to the sto­ry, the fre­net­ic piano instru­men­tal bridge brings in the ele­ment of dan­ger, and the final cho­rus brings it all togeth­er with a tear and an embrace. (The influ­ence of Ken Russell’s Altered States is not men­tioned in the doc, but it’s an obvi­ous touch­stone.)

The young woman co-star­ring in the video is Bun­ty Bai­ley, who appeared in sev­er­al oth­er ‘80s videos (like this one for Bil­ly Idol). For a lump in the throat moment reunion, keep watch­ing through to the end, where old friends get reunit­ed.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A‑ha Per­forms a Beau­ti­ful Acoustic Ver­sion of Their 1980s Hit, “Take on Me”: Record­ed Live in Nor­way

A‑ha’s “Take On Me” Per­formed by North Kore­an Kids with Accor­dions

19-Year-Old Russ­ian Gui­tarist Plays an Inge­nious Cov­er of Michael Jackson’s “Bil­lie Jean”

The Trick That Made Ani­ma­tion Real­is­tic: Watch a Short His­to­ry of Roto­scop­ing

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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