I Want My MTV: Take On Me by A-Ha - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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I Want My MTV: Take On Me by A-Ha

You're all the things I've got to remember.
One of the most widely recognised music videos ever produced, and voted by MTV as the 14th greatest of all time, is Take On Me by A-Ha. Written by the three band members, Pål Waaktaar, Magne Furuholmen and Morten Harket, the track was originally recorded in 1984, just after the band had signed with the UK division of Warner Bros. Records. It was then rush released as a single in the United Kingdom, accompanied by their first music video...

Yeah, that's not the one you were expecting, is it? And despite being a perfectly acceptable performance video, it wasn't exactly groundbreaking and did nothing to get A-Ha noticed. In fact, on the original release of Take On Me, the band were rewarded with a chart placing of 137!

Fortunately, A-Ha had a champion at Warner Bros. Records in the form of top A&R man Andrew Wickham. He secured considerable investment in the band through Warner Brothers' main office in the United States, giving them the opportunity to re-record the song with a new range of technologically advanced synthesisers.

Renowned producer Alan Tarney was then commissioned to refine the song, with the new recording achieving a cleaner and more soaring sound and a coda section instead of the earlier quick fade-out. Take On Me was soon re-released in the UK, but the record label's office in London gave A-Ha little support, and the single flopped for the second time.
Not one to give up, at the start of 1985 Wickham placed the band on high priority and applied a lateral strategy with further investment. Part of that strategy was to find a way to get everyone in the world to both hear and see in A-Ha just what he could...
"When I first heard Morten Harket sing I thought, how can somebody who looks like a film star sound like Roy Orbison?"
Wickham had struggled getting radio play so everyone could hear A-Ha, so he knew that to get everyone to see A-Ha would mean securing valuable airtime on MTV. To do that, Take On Me would need a groundbreaking video. Warner Bros executive Jeff Ayeroff came up with the concept, and a romantic fantasy narrative was plotted. But who would be up for directing such a monumental make-or-break promo? In 1985, there were only a small selection of groundbreaking music video directors to call, one of which was Steve Barron.

One of the most prolific music video directors of the 1980s, and the man responsible for classic promos including Don't You Want Me by The Human League, and Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, Steve Barron's work had been heavily featured on MTV during its first formative years. Born in Dublin in 1956, Barron made his music video directorial debut in 1979 with Time for Action by Secret Affair, after previously working as a cameraman on films such as Superman: The Movie and A Bridge Too Far. His success in the promo medium saw him turn to feature film, directing 1984s Electric Dreams (and the latter 1990 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), before returning to music videos and helming the critically applauded CGI promo for Money For Nothing by Dire Straits. His next project was the brand new promo for Take On Me, and it would be hard to argue against the statement that without Barron's revolutionary rotoscoping animated music video the world may never have heard of A-Ha...

Filmed in part at Kim's Café (now called Savoy Café) (corner of Wandsworth Road and Pensbury Place, London SW8), and on a sound stage in London, the video used a pencil-sketch animation and live-action combination (rotoscoping), in which the live-action footage is traced using a frame-by-frame process to give the characters realistic movements. The video took six months to complete, with approximately 3,000 frames rotoscoped which took 16 weeks of work alone.
The young woman who stars in the video, initially reading a comic book in the cafe before entering the fantasy 'drawn-to-life' style world, was Bunty Bailey, Morten Harket's girlfriend at the time and previous Hot Gossip dance. The video also featured two actors, playing Harket's racing opponents/pursuers, Philip Jackson and Alfie Curtis, the former later better known as Chief Inspector Japp in the ITV television series Agatha Christie's Poirot, the latter having played Dr Evazan in Star Wars.

The final scene of the Take On Me video, where Harket is seen hurling himself repeatedly left-and-right against the walls as he attempts to shatter his two-dimensional barrier, was largely patterned after the climactic scene in the 1980 Ken Russell science-fiction horror film Altered States.
With work on the video completed in September 1995, and in a canny marketing move by Warner Bros. America (who had now signed A-Ha after moving from their British counterparts), Take On Me was distributed to MTV in the USA a full month before the single was released to the public, entering almost immediate heavy rotation and creating huge buzz for the band and their 'debut' track. The following month, Take On Me hit number 1 in the Billboard Hot 100, and eventually equaled that chart placing around the world in numerous countries (although stalling at number 2 in the UK Top 40).

At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, the video for Take On Me won six awards — Best New Artist in a Video, Best Concept Video, Most Experimental Video, Best Direction in a Video, Best Special Effects in a Video, and Viewer's Choice — and was nominated for two others, Best Group Video and Video of the Year. Losing out on the latter to Money For Nothing - it was certainly a good year for Steve Barron!

The music video for Take On Me introduced A-Ha to the global stage, and after their earlier false starts the band have gone on to sell more than 100 million units, albums and singles combined. A massive figure which pales in comparison to Steve Barron's rotoscoped music video which has currently received more than 1.3 billion views on YouTube.

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