It’s hard to imagine that anyone who was born between 1965 and, say, 1995, has never heard “Take on Me”. Not only is an ear worm but it has that incredible video, which meant that it got played so much more than it otherwise wood during the heyday of music videos (which corresponds with the first decades of my life).
But the thing about a-ha is, like many British bands at the same time, they were just massive around the entire world but barely more than a one hit wonder in North America, where I live. And so the idea that they were this massive group and that this album sold 11 million copies – and didn’t even reach the Top 10 in Canada – is just really hard to believe.
But this record helps to explain it at least a little bit. One-hit wonders are of few types, but one is the group that has one song that just connects with other people and that’s it. It’s usually because the song is the best thing they wrote. Well, I can tell you that’s only half true here as, sure, “Take on Me” is the catchiest thing here. But this album is hardly bereft of catchy material.
Now, as with many bands singing in non-native languages, the lyrics are not great. But that’s likely not why people were coming to this record. The catchiness was probably enough.
And a-ha are definitely on the more diverse side of the synthpop spectrum. Most of the other songs here don’t really sound like a clone of the hit, though they are very much in the same wheelhouse. It’s definitely relatively diverse compared to some synthpop bands, that’s something.
And Harket is a pretty dynamic singer. He’s not my type of singer, but he’s very, very good. And that helps.
This is not my thing but, listening to it, it’s easy to see why the world fell in love with this band at a time when this type of music was really popular. It’s also pretty easy to see why it didn’t really hit in North America to the same degree.