A-ha is a band from Norway. They initially rose to fame during the 1980s, but have had continued success in the 1990s and 2000s.



The trio, composed of lead vocalist Morten Harket, guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (Pål Waaktaar until his marriage in 1994), and keyboardist Magne Furuholmen, formed in 1982 and left Norway for London in order to make a career in the music business. They chose the studio of musician, producer and soon-to-be-manager John Ratcliff because it had a Space Invaders machine. John Ratcliff introduced the boys to his manager, Terry Slater, and after a few meetings a-ha had two managers. Terry Slater and John Ratcliff together formed T.J. Management. To deal with all the technical and musical aspects they have Ratcliff, and Slater's position is the international business manager and liaison to Warner Brothers' head office in Los Angeles. The origin of the name a-ha comes from a title Paul contemplated giving to a song. The song used the words "a-ha" and "ahem". Morten was looking through Paul's notebook and came across the name "a-ha". He liked it, and said, "That's a great name. That's what we should call ourselves." After checking dictionaries in several languages, they found out that a-ha was an international way of expressing recognition, with positive connotations. It was short, easy to say and unusual.[1]

Hunting High and Low (1984–1985)Edit

An early version of "Take on Me" was the first song Morten Harket heard Magne Furuholmen and Pål Waaktaar play in Asker. At that time the song was called "The Juicy Fruit Song", and the two men were still known as Bridges. It was named "Lesson One" when it was first recorded by a-ha. After some rewriting, multiple re-recordings and three releases, "Take on Me" became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1985 and was the second-best selling single of 1985. The first version of the song, released in 1984, was promoted by a now-rare video of the band performing the song in front of a blue background. Both the original recording and video were failures. However, it was re-recorded early the following year by producer Alan Tarney and ultimately sold 1.5 million copies worldwide in one week. Eventually the single "Take on Me" was estimated to have sold 7–9 million copies worldwide; it peaked at number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and number two in the UK Singles Chart.[2][3] Sales were aided in the U.S. by heavy rotation on MTV of a music video that may have been dually inspired by the truck chase scene from Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil and the climactic scene from the Ken Russell film Altered States. a-ha was the first Norwegian band to have a number 1 song in the U.S.

The video used a pencil-sketch animation / live action combination called rotoscoping, in which individual frames of live video are drawn over or colored.[4] It became one of the most instantly recognizable and most enduringly popular music videos in the U.S., where it was nominated for eight awards at the third annual MTV Video Awards in 1986, winning six including "Best New Artist in a Video", "Best Concept Video", "Best Direction", "Best Special Effects" and "Viewer's Choice". "Take on Me" was also nominated for "Best Video Of The Year" at the 1986 American Music Awards. Their six MTV Award wins for that video alone gave them twice as many wins as Michael Jackson's "Thriller", and more than any artist in the three years of the awards combined.

But those were not a-ha's only MTV awards that year. The band's second single was "The Sun Always Shines on T.V.". In the U.S., the song peaked at number twenty on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached number seventeen on Radio & Records airplay chart, and a remix version was a club hit, rising to number five on the Hot Dance Singles Sales chart.[2] The music video for the song was another popular and critical success, nominated in three categories at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards and winning two awards, for Best Cinematography and Best Editing, bringing a-ha's total to eleven nominations and eight wins. The following year, Peter Gabriel would earn thirteen nominations and win nine awards, also for two videos. In successive years, even as the award categories have expanded, only a few artsts have approached—and none surpassed—the single-year award totals of a-ha and Gabriel.

a-ha's American success culminated in their 1986 Grammy nomination in a coveted Best New Artist category which was eventually won by Sade. "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." turned out to be a-ha's last Hot 100 Top 40 single, and to this day in the United States a-ha is remembered by the general public almost entirely because of the singularly huge success of "Take on Me".[2] As such, the band is frequently considered a one-hit wonder there, despite their two Top 40 hits. In the UK and much of the rest of the world, however, the story was very different: "The Sun Always Shines on TV" was an even bigger hit among British fans than "Take on Me", peaking at number one.[3] In the UK, a-ha had continued success with "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." and were consistently popular throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

Hunting High and Low became a worldwide bestseller. Released in May 1985, Hunting High and Low spent most of October and November in the top 20 of Billboard's Top 200 album chart. The album and its two hit singles granted a-ha international recognition. Hunting High and Low earned Platinum status in the United States, UK and Germany, and Gold status in Brazil and the Netherlands.[5][6][7][8][9] Hunting High and Low has sold 11 million copies worldwide.[10] The album peaked at 15 in the U.S. according to Billboard magazine music charts and has sold about 1.8 million copies in the U.S. It peaked at 2 on the UK charts and in Norway spent thirty-eight weeks in the top ten, including eight weeks at number 1.[11][3][2]

Golden Age (1985–1994)Edit

a-ha's second album, Scoundrel Days, was released in the midst of the 1986 world tour and represented a move towards alternative rock as synthpop began to fall out of style. Although the album received favorable reviews and sent three singles to become international radio hits, the album's sales did not match those of its predecessor (except for Switzerland, where it is a-ha's best-selling album)[12]. "Cry Wolf" would be the last a-ha single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. After the release of the album, a-ha went to tour in the U.S. where they were not to be seen again for twenty years. The album has sold five and half million copies worldwide, and has been certified platinum in the UK and Switzerland and Gold in Germany and Brazil.[13][8][6][9][7] Ned Raggett of AllMusic Guide would later write of the album, "The opening two songs alone make for one of the best one-two opening punches around: the tense edge of the title track, featuring one of Morten Harket's soaring vocals during the chorus and a crisp, pristine punch in the music, and "The Swing of Things," a moody, elegant number with a beautiful synth/guitar arrangement (plus some fine drumming courtesy of studio pro Michael Sturgis) and utterly lovelorn lyrical sentiments that balance on the edge of being overheated without quite going over...The '80s may be long gone, but Scoundrel Days makes clear that not everything was bad back then."

In May 1988 a-ha released their third studio album, titled Stay on These Roads, which matched the number two chart peak of its two predecessors on the British album charts, but it would be their last top ten there to date. Stay on These Roads became a big hit and is now the best-selling a-ha album in Brazil, where it is certified Platinum. The album has been certified Gold in Switzerland, Germany, UK, and the Netherlands.[8][7][6][12][9] The album includes the title track theme song to the James Bond film The Living Daylights. The version that appears on their album is a re-recording of the film version and single. The band has said that they are particularly proud of the title track, and all three members contributed to its writing. To this day, "Stay On These Roads" and "The Living Daylights" are a part of their live set. After the release of the album the band went on a 74-city world tour. The album has sold over 4 million copies worldwide.[13]

East of the Sun, West of the Moon featured a cover version of The Everly Brothers 1963 single, "Crying in the Rain". In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a-ha were very popular in South America, especially in Brazil, where the band sold out some of the largest stadiums in the world. At the Rock in Rio II festival in January 1991, a-ha shocked the international entertainment press by gathering a paying audience of 198,000 people at Maracanã Stadium for their top-billed evening — a Guinness World Record for paying audiences. George Michael, Prince and Guns N' Roses managed to gather only sixty thousand each. East of the Sun, West of the Moon was certified Gold in Switzerland, Brazil and Germany and silver in the UK.[8][12][6][9][7] Steven McDonald of AllMusic said of their fourth album "This is a nicely crafted collection of songs, performed and sung beautifully, with lots of echoes and suggestions tucked into the music. While not an album one can discuss at length, it's an album that's a pleasure to listen to..." The album sold two and a half million copies worldwide.[13]

The compilation album Headlines and Deadlines sold over two million copies worldwide.

Their last album before their hiatus was Memorial Beach in 1993. The album was a commercial failure and has not been certified in any country. The only single to officially chart outside Norway was "Dark Is the Night", which went top 20 in the United Kingdom. Ironically, given the lack of attention to their later work in the U.S., "Dark Is the Night" very nearly charted on the U.S. Hot 100, peaking at #11 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart, a position often construed with being #111 in reference to the Hot 100.[2] Memorial Beach is the last official American release by a-ha to date, though their material would continue to have (limited) availability there as imports. In February 1994, a-ha performed two concerts during the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, followed by tours of South Africa and Norway. a-ha were also chosen to compose the official song for the Winter Paralympics in Lillehammer, which they entitled "Shapes That Go Together". Because of apparent internal conflicts between the band members and conflicts with the record label at the time[citation needed], a-ha took a break in 1994 and the members started focusing on solo projects.

Reunion (1998–2007)Edit

After a performance of "The Sun Always Shines on TV" and "Summer Moved On" at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 1998, the band returned to the studio. Those recording sessions resulted in 2000's Minor Earth Major Sky, an international tour, and a webcast performance of the band opening the new Vallhall Arena in Oslo. The 1998 performance at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert was a-ha's comeback into the world of music, yet the band's set was controversially omitted from a programme of highlights from that concert televised in the UK. The webcast was the third most-viewed webcast concert ever with 3.6 million hits, along with the longest average viewing time, 28 minutes. Only webcasts by Madonna and Paul McCartney recorded more hits. a-ha's video for "I Wish I Cared" was the first fully web-based animated flash music video to be made available. The album reached Platinum sales and spawned four #1 hits: "Minor Earth Major Sky," "Velvet," "The Sun Never Shone That Day" and "Summer Moved On." "Summer Moved On" is notable not only for going to #1 in an astonishing 17 countries, but it earned Morten Harket a world record for the longest note held in a UK hit song, at twenty seconds. With the music video for the song "Velvet", a-ha received criticism for pandering with necrophilia. a-ha made a return appearance at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2001. The following album Lifelines, which was released in 2002, went platinum in Norway and produced two Top 5 hits, "Forever Not Yours" and "Lifelines".

A live album from their 2002 tour, titled How Can I Sleep with Your Voice in My Head, was released in March 2003, preceded by a live single of the 1986 hit "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." In 2004, a book entitled The Swing of Things was published, which also featured a CD of early demo material. That year a-ha celebrated their twentieth anniversary with the release of a new singles collection, The Definitive Singles Collection 1984–2004. This compilation brought them back into the UK Top 20 Album Charts, where they reached number thirteen and earned a Gold album.

Paul has said of the comeback album, "We made a demo very quickly and intuitively, and that gave us the contract. But then we were at the next stage: is it a record? There wasn't any panic, it was only about the final most difficult fractions, coming up with the finishing touch. In fact, some of the songs were untouched since New York. I think we did a good job."

On 2 July 2005, a-ha performed at the Berlin edition of Live 8, in front of an audience of nearly 200,000 people. They began with "Hunting High and Low", followed by "Take on Me", however Morten Harket had difficulties hearing himself and requested a two-minute break, which he used to comment on the cause of Live 8. The intended two minutes became almost seven, and the third song, "Summer Moved On", became the last of their set. Although four songs had been rehearsed, the band's time had run out and the organizers told them to leave the stage.

On 12 September 2005 a-ha played a quickly sold out show at Irving Plaza in New York City, the band's first concert in North America since 1986. The band has not returned to North America since, nor have they released anything there since 1993. On 27 August 2005, the band played a concert for 120,000 people in Frognerparken in Oslo, the largest concert ever in Norway.

On 4 November 2005, the band released its 8th studio album, Analogue. The UK release of the single "Analogue (All I Want)" gave a-ha their first top ten hit in the UK since 1988.[3] The album includes guest appearance by Graham Nash of the Crosby Stills & Nash performing backing vocals on the songs "Over the treetops" and "Cosy Prisons". The video for the song "Celice" sparked criticism for its sexual content. The following tour included performances at a gig at London's Shepherd's Bush on 2 February 2006, and a TV special in Africa. In 2006, a-ha recorded a cover of John Lennon's "#9 Dream" for Amnesty International. It was released in June 2007 on the album Make Some Noise. On 30 October 2006 in London, a-ha received the prestigious Q Magazine Inspiration Award for their long contribution to music and for inspiring many of their younger colleagues in the business. On 15 September 2007, a-ha played a free outdoor concert in Kiel, Germany. The band played on a floating stage in the harbour. This concert was streamed live on the internet via MSN.

On 24 January 2009, a-ha won the Norwegian Spelleman award for hit of all time of the 50th anniversary of the official hit list in Norway. They won with the song Take On Me.

Foot of the Mountain & Return to Synth Pop (2008-present)Edit

On 20 May, 21 May, and 22 May, 2008, Morten Harket, Magne Furuholmen and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy performed concerts in Oslo, Norway, to promote their respective solo material before coming together as a-ha to play "Train of Thought", "Take On Me", and two new songs, "Riding the Crest" and "Shadowside", which previewed a new a-ha album. These events led up to their performance at London's Royal Albert Hall on 24 May.

a-ha played three dates in South America in March 2009 to preview the album. a-ha will play three dates in the UK this November as part of their 2009 European Tour in support of the album, including the kickoff show at London's O2 Arena.

The upcoming a-ha album, Foot of the Mountain, will be released on June 19, 2009. The album's material marks a return to synth pop, similar to a-ha's earliest work. "What There Is", an earlier solo track by Mags, has been re-recorded for the album. The band are currently mixing tracks and some additional recording with successful producer Steve Osborne, who has produced albums for such artists as New Order, Starsailor, Doves, Elbow, and U2.

On April 24, 2009, a-ha surprised their fan base by releasing their new single and title track, "Foot of the Mountain", premiering that day on Norwegian radio. The single had been completed only the night before. The song is based upon the track "The Longest Night" by Magne Furuholmen, which was released on his album A Dot of Black In The Blue Of Your Bliss.


  • List band members here
    • Morten Harket
    • Magne Furuholmen
    • Paul Waaktaar-Savoy



Year Title Label
1985 Hunting High and Low Warner Bros. Records
1986 Scoundrel Days
1988 Stay on These Roads
1990 East of the Sun, West of the Moon
1993 Memorial Beach
2000 Minor Earth Major Sky
2002 Lifelines
2005 Analogue Universal Music Group
2009 Foot of the Mountain

Further ReadingEdit

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