It had to start in London. Building an international career from Norway seemed impossible for the freshly formed a-ha and, when they arrived, in April 1983, the UK’s capital was the heart of “New Pop”, a colourful, MTV-fuelled explosion of synths and costumes that was captivating the world. Magne Furuholmen, on keyboards and guitar, vocalist Morten Harket and guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy secured the dingiest digs they could and spent what cash they had on days recording their debut album, Hunting High And Low, in an obscure recording studio based in Sydenham, south-east London. They worked on demos begun when the band formed the previous autumn and, in time, the trio felt they had enough material to hold a showcase for record labels. It was Warner Bros that bit. “There was a glow about them,” recalled the label’s Andrew Wickham, who was instrumental in the group’s breakthrough. “Morten Harket had the musical equipment of Roy Orbison and no one is greater. Wonderful melodies. I loved them.”
Listen to ‘Hunting High And Low’ here.
A huge vote of confidence
Producer Tony Mansfield, who had been in the band New Musik, shaped seven of Hunting High And Low’s ten tracks, and there was an obvious contender for the set’s first single, but, despite the label’s confidence, the classic Take On Me failed to catch alight on its first UK release, in October 1984, though it made the Top 3 in the band’s homeland. A rethink was required, and veteran producer Alan Tarney, who had worked with singers such as Cliff Richard, was persuaded to rework the song with the group while also recording The Sun Always Shines On TV in the same week.
Signing off an enormous £100,000 budget for a new Take On Me video was a huge vote of confidence, but the Steve Baron-directed epic worked, and the rest, as they say, is history. Take On Me will forever rotate on radio playlists and undoubtedly remains one of the best a-ha songs of all time, but there are so many other great cuts on Hunting High And Low.