Everybody knows the mega-hit “Take On Me” by Norwegian synthpop band a-ha – if not for the huge hook embedded smack-dab in central focus, but likely from cover versions or the hugely popular rotoscoped music video as well. Heck, even Freddy Kruger himself adopted the music video’s style at one point.
But before the song landed on the pop-music charts and solidifying itself inside the hearts of flock-of-seagull-haired teenagers everywhere, the song was sketched as “Lesson One” – one in a number of demos the band recorded after recruiting singer Morten Harket who was growing dissatisfied with his band Souldier Blue. The demo – based on including Pål Waaktaar and Magne Furuholmen’s previous band Bridges’ “The Juicy Fruit Song” – features a rougher recording quality and some fuzzy drum machine programming (though the signature keyboard-line remains intact.)
Most interestingly, the huge chorus is completely missing from this version of the song – instead, a much smaller, subtler pre-chorus and extended pre-chorus seems to be holding place for something much larger that would come later (potentially at the hands of a record company looking for a bigger hook? Who knows.) That said, the more I listen to the early version, the more I love it; that awkward guitar chime seemed off at first, but now I love the way the guitar skitters in time with the drum machine after its initial strums.
Plus, Harket is clearly fooling around vocally and lyrically, dropping in “hip hip hooray” and “anchors away” seemingly as filler before bellowing out a rooster-esque vocal crow, randomly.
It’s a charming (and oddly addictive) look behind the curtain at what became a pop-music juggernaut that would soundtrack wedding dance floors for years to come. Heck, I might actually reach for this version instead of the final mix.