A “signature” hit can be a boon and a bane for an artist/band. Its advantage is that the artist or band can instantly be linked to a song that everyone knows. The flipside is that it can eclipse almost any other musical output that follows. No band has experienced this any worse (only in the US) than Norwegian pop/rock trio a-ha. a-ha’s “Take On Me” and its iconic music video remain one of the significant milestones in the history of pop culture. That song and video ensured that the band was never forgotten but it did not lend itself to anything else being heard by the band in the US on a large scale. One can only imagine what a sore point this must be for the a-ha band-members. They churned out 9 high-quality and commercially viable albums (well, in all honesty, the fourth, fifth and sixth albums were not particularly viable) over a span of 25 years.
Sadly, the average American listener continues to ask “What else did a-ha ever do after Take On Me”. This is incredibly sad and some of this sadness resurfaced as I watched Morten Harket (the charismatic frontman of a-ha) make his first live television appearance in the US in over 25 years. He was featured as the special guest on “Feel this moment” – a track performed by Christina Aguilera and the absurdly overexposed Pitbull at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas on May 19, 2013. The song (which has proved to be a hit for Christina Aguilera) heavily samples a-ha’s 80s classic “Take On Me”. Morten Harket made his appearance towards the end of the performance and breaks into the chorus for “Take On Me”. Looking like a fountain of youth, Morten Harket took to the stage with extreme ease and hit those high notes that formed the foundation for his vocal trademark.
Watching Morten Harket on stage is a delight. Hence, one would wonder why there is room for sadness. The sadness stems from a few reasons. First, the fact that he was a featured guest for two artists that have thrived more on over-exposure than merit (although we do admit that Christina Aguilera is indeed a competent vocalist) is somewhat unfortunate. Second, he might have reinforced the notion that it was right for America to think of his band’s legacy as not extending beyond “Take On Me”. Third, he performed on a show that caters to the absolute lowest common denominator of music listeners in the US. The Billboard Music Awards isn’t exactly known for being a glorious showcase of musical diversity. In essence, the show celebrates the narrow segment of music that is played to death on conglomerate-owned terrestrial radio in the US.
The performance could be a blessing for Morten Harket if it encourages viewers to re-visit the a-ha catalog and discover all the brilliance that followed after “Take On Me”. For those reading this article that do not want to go through the motions of several google searches to find out more about a-ha, here are some of the band’s most pivotal moments POST “Take On Me”.
– The “Hunting High and Low” album (for which “Take On Me”) is hands down one of the most brilliant and perfect albums of the 80s. Its title track epitomizes that brilliance and the music sounds as fresh today as it did back in 1984.
– “The Sun Always Shines on TV” was a #1 hit for a-ha in the UK – the world’s second biggest consumer market for recorded music.
– In the early 90s, a-ha played to the largest paying audience (198,000 people) ever at the Maracana Stadium in Rio De Janeiro for the Rock In Rio festival. They outsold the festival’s hot favorite Guns N Roses and George Michael. Sadly, MTV chose to ignore this monumental feat and it became one of those stories that got lost.
– In 2000, a-ha returned as a rock band with their album “Minor Earth Major Sky“. The synths that dominated their sound in the 80s were no longer a part of their sonic template. “Summer Moved On” was the album’s highlight and is arguably also a career highlight for the band. For this song, Morten Harket holds a world record for the longest held note (around 20 seconds). This was America’s chance to revisit a-ha. The rest of the world was floored and opened their arms to a-ha all over again. It was one the most celebrated comebacks for a band in Europe. Sadly, between the geocentric and ageist focus of mainstream music media entities in the US, a-ha got overlooked yet again – just like they did in the decade that made them international superstars.
– In 2006, the band returned to the UK top 10 singles charts with the title track of their album “Analogue”.
– In 2009, a-ha went “back to basics” and released a synth-heavy album called “Foot Of The Mountain”. It was their last album and undoubtedly one of their finest.
– In 2010, they took their last bow as a band. Their “Ending on a high note” tour took them across the world (including a few shows in the US). It was undoubtedly a bittersweet moment for the band’s legions of fans across the world.
While it is true that the band has officially retired as a musical entity, hopefully Morten Harket’s performance at the Billboard Music Awards triggers the curiosity of viewers and leads them down a path of discovery of a beautiful and rich music catalog that was overlooked in the US. If this doesn’t happen, the event will be yet another reflection of the injustice that the band faced from the American media in their early years. For those that missed the performance, here is a full-length clip:
We are an American internet radio station that broadcasts worldwide. The station features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. The music of a-ha (both old and new) is a regular staple on our radio station. The music (both old and new) of a-ha is a regular staple on our station – including songs from the “Cast In Steel” album. We also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s. Noteworthy examples include Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, George Michael, INXS, Depeche Mode, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.
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