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ALBUM

hUnTing high AnD Low


a - ha
IN LATE 1985, AS TAKE ON ME RULED THE AIRWAVES, A-HA SEEMED TO HAVE ARRIVED FULLY FORMED. BUT THE JOURNEY TO THEIR MULTI-MILLION-SELLING DEBUT ALBUM WAS ARDUOUS, SOMETIMES DESPERATE, AND DRIVEN BY AMBITION W Y N D H A M W A L L A C E

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understand music, Morten Harket says earnestly and succinctly in the prestigious surroundings of Londons Dorchester Hotel, where his band are about to pick up an award for four million US radio and TV plays of their enduring Take On Me. A-has frontman is pondering why he was always so condent hed be a star something hes stated on more than a few occasions, much like the surprising fact that he studied theology and considered joining the priesthood. Both, however, seem understandable the more time one spends with the Norwegian. Morten Harket, you see, sings like a charismatic choirboy, and sometimes speaks in tongues. In terms of art, he continues confusingly while waiters bustle around us in the hotels elegant tearoom, I understand three-dimensional space. I know what something looks like from behind if I see it from the front, because I understand the lines and what they need to do. If you see something that something could be a woman, it could be a horse or it could be a man you can understand a lot about what you dont see by what you see. Thats fascinating because its like a game. If such talk seems bafing and it does theres no denying there was always something otherworldly about A-ha. They rst reached most peoples attention as animated pencil sketches coming to life in the ingenious video for their debut single, Take On Me, and looked so perfect especially Harket, with his come-to-bed eyes and athletic physique that they seemed too good to be true. The fact that they came from Norway whose music had never troubled foreign charts, and which back then was known for little more than snow and reindeer helped make them more exotic still. It was a very dystopic time, Harkets colleague Magne Furuholmen muses over herbal tea served in

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A-has breakthrough had already existed in more incarnations than Doctor Who by the time it became a global hit. First performed in a New Wave style by Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmens band Bridges under the name The Juicy Fruit Song, it was then rewritten as Panorama for their second, unreleased album. That was actually just the riff with a different song attached, Furuholmen says. But that was the rst thing Morten said: Thats a hit riff. Slowly, it morphed into Lesson One, a perky number demoed in August 1982 (that, at one point, featured what sounded like Harket doing a cockerel impersonation), and by 1984 it had nally become Take On Me. Tony Manselds original (over)produced recording was released rst, but only after Alan Tarney was brought in to re-record the track did it full its potential, edging up charts worldwide until it hit number one in 36 countries, including the US. Its memorable video which Furuholmen says cost about $150,000, all in played a vital role, earning six MTV Music Video Awards and helping Take On Me to become one of the biggest-selling singles of all time.
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TaKe On Me

It was transformed, however, into a gloriously melodramatic showcase for Harkets impassioned, soaring vocal delivery. If you ask me what my favourite song on the album is, Furuholmen condes, its probably Hunting High And Low. Ive been harassing Paul to write a song as declarative again, and not to be afraid of the passion. The song is regularly covered live by Coldplay.
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Also released as a B-side to Train Of Thought in its rather more baroque demo form, And You Tell Me nds Harket at his most restrained, his delivery matching the songs stripped-back arrangement and the charming simplicity of its brief, 90-second existence.
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And YoU Tell Me

One of the albums more conventional songs, the comparably lightweight pop of The Blue Sky masks a simple, touching lyric Since you left, Ive been watching blue skies come and go no doubt connected to the woman about whom Waaktaar-Savoy wrote much of the album and who later became his wife. It also offers an endearing, self-deprecating reference to his Norwegian accent.
5 LIVInG A BoyS AdVentURe Tale

The BlUe SKy

A co-write between Furuholmen and Waaktaar-Savoy, Love Is Reason offers standard Eighties synth-pop at its most traditional, full of brassy stabs of keyboard, chiming synths and a melody that unlike most of Hunting High And Low grates a little after repeated listening for its relative lack of sophistication. Nonetheless, many bands would give their right arm for a hook as memorable as this.
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LoVe IS ReaSon

Though Furuholmen admits now that Train Of Thought was deemed way too plinkyplonky by the band, he enjoys sharing the fact that Noel Gallagher once told him this was his favourite A-ha song. The third single to be lifted from the album, its lyrics were apparently inspired by WaaktaarSavoys fascination with existentialist writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky and Knut Hamsun, and the song was yet another that enjoyed a lengthy gestation period, something the release of a ute-y demo version on the 2010 Deluxe Edition conrmed.
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TRaIn oF ThoUGht

Though the title might seem prophetic, given the manner in which the trio succeeded in fullling their dreams, the lyrics to this relatively morose, oboe-embellished tune in truth bear little relation to their ambitions. Another track that had been around since the early days of the band, it was initially demoed in late 1982, and was once slated as the groups debut single.
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Though it started out as a heavier, slightly slower track, Dream Myself Alive was reworked with the help of producer Tony Manseld into something lighter, distinguished by staccato keyboards and delicate percussive details. Some, however, may question the wisdom of the rewrite, preferring the more austere original, available on the 2010 reissue.
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Enhanced by a string arrangement and a new piano part recorded with Alan Tarney for its release as a single a year after the album rst appeared, this title track started life in a somewhat more forgettable, upbeat form.

Showcasing a considerably more muscular side to A-ha that conrmed the band were no one-hit wonders, The Sun Always Shines On TV was the bands second single, scoring the UK number-one hit that Jennifer Rushs The Power Of Love had denied Take On Me. Production-wise, states Furuholmen, its the one Im most proud of. Thats when I felt like we hit the mother lode. The Sun Always Shines was the proudest moment of that album in terms of who we were and who we wanted to be. Extraordinarily, WaaktaarSavoy confesses that, I rst thought that this was a big ballad. Imagine it with a half-time feel. Coming up with that beat took it to a whole other place. It proved, however, to be their last signicant US hit.

Opening, inexplicably, with the sound of monastic chanting, the albums closing track is one that conrms the trios credibility as writers rather than teenyboppers, its carefully crafted structure boasting tempo changes and a complex arrangement, while Harkets harmonies are also particularly striking. Furuholmen suggests that he remembers being not completely satised with a song that we thought might be a single, albeit a dark one. But it was a smart way to end the record, quietly downbeat yet still infectious. Its nal line is notable, too, for its prescience: Here I stand and face the rain / Knowing nothings gonna be the same. For Harket, Furuholmen and Waaktaar-Savoy, that certainly proved true.

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l O W Magne Furuholmen (left) and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy hunting high and low for that missing chord, 1985

a silver pot. There was this sense of impending disaster somewhere in the future: the worlds gonna go to shit. There was a yearning for a more romantic time, and music reected that. We were always confronted with this fairytale aspect of the band, and Morten was a bit of a fantasy gure. Hes always lived more in his head than in the real world. That exotica combined with the zeitgeist and the fairytale aspects of the video. The truth is, it wasnt just the video that was a fairytale. So was the whole story leading up to A-has debut, Hunting High And Low. It all began when 10-year-old Furuholmen noticed Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, one year his senior at their school near Oslo, playing a makeshift concert with just a living-room organ and cardboard drums. They were performing inside but there was a group of people on a third-oor balcony, and theyd come outside and hed put the drumsticks in the air. I remember being incredibly impressed by that. Furuholmens father, who died when Furuholmen was ve years old, had been a musician as was his grandfather, who provided instruments and space for the new friends to rehearse and the youngster soon recognised that he, too, wanted to make music for a living. This was initially a rather more radical thought for Waaktaar-Savoy but once hed shared his dream, Furuholmen says, From that

Enigmatic and athletic, Morten Harket was a superstar in the making and he knew it

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moment, Paul realised, Shit, thats what I want to be. Harket, meanwhile, was pursuing an altogether different journey. I was always interested in music, he says in his peculiarly classy British accent, but it completely died in me the moment my mother delightfully announced that theyd got me a tutor for piano lessons. This just extinguished all joy associated with music for about eight years. Bands like Camel, Uriah Heep and Deep Purple nally

reawoke his passion but, even then, his relationship with music was a strangely delicate one. I was very condent about what was the right music and what was just shit, he remembers, and all of a sudden, when I was maybe 18 or 19 years old, one thing changed everything: Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix. I just stopped listening to music. I heard it once. I nicked the record. I took possession of it for the higher good. And I never played it again.

ThE PlaYERs
As enigmatic as he is condent, A-has frontman said to have a ve-octave vocal range enjoys a complex relationship with stardom. We became very reluctant pop stars after the rst album came out, he maintains, because it was really just a catwalk of fame that had nothing to do with being in a band. Far from being just the pretty face of the group, Harket has released ve solo albums and, like bandmate Furuholmen, is a fan of Stoke City FC.

MORTEN HARKET

A-has most approachable member, the bands keyboard player has recorded with Coldplays Guy Berryman and Mews Jonas Bjerre under the name Apparatjik. Hes also worked with Swedish singer/actor Freddie Wadling and composed soundtracks with fellow Norwegian Kjetil Bjerkestrand. Though he was a judge on Norways version of The Voice in 2012, he now spends much of his time working as an artist across many disciplines, from woodcut prints to glass.

MAGNE FURUHOLMEN

Hunting High And Low was largely inspired by A-has main songwriters future wife, Lauren, an American he met in London. She returned to the States because her step-dad got sick, he condes. Over the next seven or eight months, I sent her enough letters, songs and drawings to ll a suitcase. They now play together in Savoy, while as Weathervane Waaktaar-Savoy also provided the theme tune to 2011s Norwegian lm Headhunters.

PAUL WAAKTAARSAVOY

It killed everything that Id done. Everything that I held high and was talking about so loudly fell apart. I accepted that I knew nothing. If this was an odd reaction, so was his next step, which was to join a band, that I really had no interest in, and I didnt see any future in at all. The band in question was Souldier Blue, and they specialised in unsurprisingly soul and blues. (Its just a spelling mistake between cheeky and cheesy! Furuholmen chuckles. Slowly, the future members of A-ha found themselves drawn towards one another: just as Furuholmen and Waaktaar-Savoy began to admire Harkets vocal talents, so Harket became a convert to the band they were now playing with, Bridges, a quartet heavily indebted to prog rock, English psychedelia and especially The Doors. An album, Fakkeltog, was recorded and self-released though Furuholmen laughingly admits they still have copies left from the original pressing of 1,000 LPs but a second collection

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TAKE ON ME
Director STEVE BARRON

There are two videos for Take On Me: the rst, a live performance for the original single recording, is best forgotten and couldve been worse if the band had allowed plans for shots of them and some ladies in a limousine to go ahead. For their second attempt, they upped their game. We knew it was important to make a good video, Furuholmen says, but I dont think we had any idea of making it iconic. Iconic was what it became, however. Director Steve Barron brought animator Michael Patterson on board after enjoying his short lm, Commuter. Employing 3,000 animated frames that took 16 weeks to draw, the video combines live action and animation in a vivid, wholly original fashion. www.youtube.com/ watch?v=djV11Xbc914

THE SUN ALWAYS SHINES ON TV


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remained unreleased when Furuholmen and WaaktaarSavoy announced they were going to London to seek their fortune and their bandmates declined to accompany them. Harket, too, rejected their invitation, preferring to continue his studies, leaving

a barman by night while the shyer Waaktaar-Savoy often stayed at home to write Furuholmen and his friend hitchhiked back to Norway. This time, Harket joined their cause and, after months of demoing in their homeland, the trio returned condently

Picking up where Take On Me left off with Harket bidding farewell to that videos star, Hot Gossip dancer Bunty Bailey, to return to his animated world The Sun Always Shines On TV then shifts into a performance video that nds the band playing to mannequins in a church. Sadly, Steve Barrons choice of location meant the video was banned in the US. We thought it would be like if you get banned in the UK then you go bananas! Furuholmen laughs. But in America, we were dead. www.youtube. com/watch?v= a3ir9HC9vYg

TRAIN OF THOUGHT
Directors MICHAEL PATTERSON & CANDICE RECKINGER

We could tell from a mile off when a professional musician came into the room. He would take one look at us and say, Here are a couple of losers who are going nowhere fast
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the two musicians to face the forthcoming frustrations alone. Wed become hugely ambitious, Furuholmen reminisces. We left with an acoustic guitar and a Korg synth, and answered ads in Melody Maker and New Musical Express. We could tell from a mile off when a professional musician came into the room. He would take one look at us and say, Here are a couple of losers who are going nowhere fast. After months of working as a labourer by day and

to London, taking refuge in increasingly grotty places as money became scarcer. There were stories of cabbage bread and a single lightbulb being transferred from room to room. Harket says, It came to the point where we were literally starving, and I was starting to drop a little out of consciousness on the street. The experience wasnt all Dickensian, however. Morten was the kind of person whod get noticed, Furuholmen recalls. He went out of his way to be visible,

A-has European-only third single saw them again hook up with Michael Patterson and his partner, Candice Reckinger, who worked this time as directors. Intercutting footage directly lifted from Commuter the short lm that had inspired Take On Me and shots of the band miming the song, it was lmed in LA a few weeks before Take On Me had even been released in the UK. www.youtube. com/watch?v= 7vdOgObQvz8

HUNTING HIGH AND LOW


Director STEVE BARRON

By now so recognised in Britain that Blue Peter devoted 10 minutes to the making of the nal video of their album campaign, A-ha handed Morten the starring role in this extravagant video, again directed by Steve Barron. It nds our strapping Viking hero trudging across snowy mountains, before transforming into an eagle, a shark and then a lion. The band, for the most part, perform as silhouettes. www.youtube. com/watch?v= s6VaeFCxta8

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so he got us into clubs for free and we went to see a lot of bands. That was an extremely formative period musically. Eventually, they ended up sleeping on polystyrene in the windowless basement of Rendezvous Studios in Sydenham, where theyd gone to make demos with their last pennies. In true fairytale style, their talent had been nally recognised by its owner, John Ratcliff, who let them record in downtime for free, and soon introduced them to Terry Slater, a former Director of A&R at EMI Publishing. The two teamed up as managers and shopped A-ha around, kicking off a bidding war that was nally won by Warners US branch. Success was still a way away, however: recording sessions at Pete Townshends Eel Pie Studios with producer Tony Manseld a technology champion took the band away from their comfort zone. You start with a hundred per cent trust, Furuholmen points out, and then the trust starts to wear off. And by the time the record was nished, we werent completely happy with it. We came from playing we didnt have a sequencer at that point. There was a resistance in us to all this programmed stuff; a feeling of something being taken away. Like, Really? You want to programme my riff? One of the songs we felt was suffering was Take On Me Manselds version was released as a single to no avail anywhere outside Norway and we asked the record company to rerecord it, which was a tall order for a newly signed band. But we just felt, Shit, this could sound so much better. Luckily for us, we had an A&R person who felt the same way as we did. This time, they were paired with Alan Tarney, a producer best known for his work with Cliff Richard And The Shadows. Though his credentials admittedly concerned the band, Alan turned out to be a real godsend, Furuholmen smiles. He realised the potential.
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We ended up recording Take On Me and The Sun Always Shines On TV, and reproducing Hunting High And Low. And that was when the album felt complete. It didnt take long until [Warners US Senior Vice

forcing their British label to give it one last try. This time, they hit the jackpot. A-ha had at last located those promised streets paved with gold. The Sun Always Shines On TV further boosted their momentum,

I always knew I was going to become a star. There was never any doubt in my mind as to where we were going, or the outcome of it
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President] Jeff Ayeroff heard Take On Me, saw the band and felt, Shit, this act could really y! All the same, Take On Me stiffed a second time in the UK. It was only the US ofces persistence that saved the day: Ayeroff hired the services of video director Steve Barron whod made Michael Jacksons Billie Jean promo and his subsequent collaboration with rotoscope animator Michael Patterson began to pick up increasing MTV coverage. Slowly but surely, the track crept up the US charts to the very top,

topping the UK charts, and Hunting High And Low went on to sell over 11 million copies, driven by a relentless publicity campaign. It was a remarkable end to a remarkable chapter in what became a 25-year-long story one that, once upon a time, looked like it would never make it past the rst page. To Harket, of course, success came as no surprise. I always knew I was going to become a star, he asserts from behind his scholarly glasses. There was never any doubt as to where we were going, or the outcome of it.

Its quite a statement for the singer of a band who, by the time they nally split in 2010, had sold over 60 million albums worldwide. But here he is, about to collect yet another trophy conrming that he was right. It was a really big bonding period, that time together, Furuholmen concludes before heading off to his room to change into a suit for the nights ceremony. It was probably the closest weve been, ever. Success fragments everything and everyone gets their own entourage, their own bodyguard, their own people. But that was the core of it, those two years. Sometimes, fantasy becomes reality. Ask Morten, Magne and Paul. They lived a boys adventure tale.

Now youve read about the struggles A-ha faced in becoming the rst Norwegian band to enjoy international success, stream the album here: http://spoti. /186V7KW

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