A-ha's Mags Furuholmen Reflects on 'Take on Me' And Recording a Bond Theme

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The music of A-ha never gets old. Need proof? The Norwegian trio’s breakthrough hit “Take On Me,” with its iconic rotoscoping music video helmed by British director Steve Barron, is flying towards one billion hits on YouTube. 

True story. Just one music video from the 1980s has reached the big mark, Guns N' Roses’ "Sweet Child O' Mine". “Take On Me” could well become the first pop video from the ‘80s – and first by a European act -- to reach the milestone. 

The evergreen song has been covered by the likes of Metallica, Madonna, Tori Amos, and Weezer (with classroom instruments on The Tonight Show) and recently got a spin on Dancing With The Stars.

Back in 1985, the song went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and lit a fuse on the electro-pop band’s career. Their debut album Hunting High And Low went to No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 15 in the U.S. and spawned the top-20 hit “The Sun Always Shines on TV.” Career album sales top 55 million.

Thirty-five years after their breakthrough LP hit the racks, the trio of Morten Harket (vocals), Magne Furuholmen (keyboards) and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (guitarist/chief songwriter) is performing all the tracks from it to loyal fans around the globe. And by all accounts, they’re energized by the experience.   

Booked until November 2020, the Hunting High And Low Live tour is currently winding its way across Europe, followed by dates in United Arab Emirates and South Africa early in the new year, and a rare tour Down Under. Indeed, when the group visit Australia and New Zealand early next year for a run of arena shows and open-airs shows for the A Day On the Green series, it’ll mark their concerts there since 1986, some 34 years ago, when they played 14 sold-out dates in Australia. They’ve never visited New Zealand.

“Right now doing this first album in its entirety is a bit of an exercise that revitalizes those first songs for us,” says Furuholmen.

Billboard caught up the veteran keyboardist and visual artist for a chat about the brotherhood that is A-ha, recording a James Bond theme, and the hit song that keeps on giving. 

On the perpetual motion machine that is “Take On Me.”
It’s a much-loved track. One of the things you never know is what is going to define your career. You certainly don’t expect it to happen on your first single. As a young band you’re always pushing the next album, the next single. You’re excited about the new things. Thirty-five years down the line, even we have to tip our caps and say, you’ve really been a tireless soldier on our behalf.

On cutting a song for a James Bond film, 1987's The Living Daylights
We were young, cocky and we felt we could do anything. We just submitted a song. We thought we’d been given the gig. Later, it transpired there were other people in the running. Phil Collins had a track in, apparently. But they liked our song. And that was it. It’s a rich musical history to be attached to. There’s Paul McCartneyShirley Bassey. It’s always been a really impressive array of artist involved in that particular franchise. Just proud to be a part of it, really. 

Finding inspiration
I have a fairly wide scope when it comes to (music). Inspiration is something that, for me, comes from working. Everything you hear goes into some sort of reservoir, which you can grow from. I go to see bands play and I’m floored by the sophistication and the skill. At the end of the day, the music that touches you is the stuff that inspires you. I’m constantly trying to make playlists and I can’t help but put in a lot of the stuff that was there all along for me, stuff from the ‘60s. I’m still excited to discover new artists and new people doing incredible things. Both my kids are heavily into music as well. I get a lot of exposure to new stuff from them, from their discoveries. And I’m doing my best to educate them about what was going on prior to them being born in the ‘90s. Know what I mean?

On releasing new music. 
I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. It feels like we’ve recorded enough, given enough new music to the world as we have.

On the family that is A-ha
I pretty much have the same relationship with Paul and Morten as I do to my brothers. You meet occasionally. You have a bond that’s there because of your shared history, you’ve tried to avoid scuffles and infighting and arguments. You try to learn to tolerate each other after many years of being in a…it’s pretty much like family, for good and bad.


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