A-ha

Magne Foruholmen, b. 1 November 1962, Norway; Morten Harket, b. 14 September 1959, Norway; Pal Waaktar, b. 6 September 1963, Oslo

A NORWEGIAN soft-rock band, A-Ha briefly were one of the most successful groups of the late ’80s. The popularity of the band, like that of their Scandinavian predecessors Abba, reflected both the international character of pop music and the centrality of the English language, in which A-Ha both wrote and sang.

Influenced by the Beatles and the Doors, Foruholmen (keyboards) and Waaktar (guitar) played in Oslo groups Spider Empire and Bridges in the mid-’70s, releasing one self-financed album. They unsuccessfully travelled to London to seek a record contract in 1982 before recruiting vocalist Harket from soul band Soldier Blue.

Returning to England as a trio, A-Ha were signed to Warners, releasing ‘Take on Me’ (1985). The record was a hit in Europe and reached No. 1 in America some months later with the aid of a Steve Barron-directed video that included widely-admired animation effects. The band’s status as teen-idols was established by the subsequent success of ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, ‘Train of Thought’ and ‘Hunting High and Low’, the title track from the band’s 1986 début album.

Cliff Richard’s producer Alan Tarney supervised Scoundrel Days (1986), which included the hit ‘Manhattan Skyline’ (1987). In the same year the group’s lyricist Waaktar co-wrote the theme for the James Bond film The Living Daylights with John Barry. It provided A-Ha with a further Top Twenty hit in Britain.

In 1988 the group released Stay on These Roads, whose title track was another hit. Meanwhile A-Ha’s former musical director, Dag Kolsrud, formed his own Scandinavian trio, One 2 Many, to release ‘Downtown’ (A&M, 1988).

In 1989 Harket starred in the film Kamilla and the ThiefEast of the Sun, West of the Moon (1990) included the British Top Twenty single, ‘Crying in the Rain’, a revival of the Everly Brothers’ 1961 hit. It was followed by the career retrospective Headlines & Deadlines (1991). They returned to the UK charts in 1993 with the single ‘Dark Is the Night’ and album Memorial Beach, after which the group members developed their solo careers. In the same year Harket changed direction to cut his first solo album, his own settings of twelve Norwegian poems about the life of Christ. Foruholmen turned to film scores with the soundtrack to Tikniver I Hjertet (1995), Harket continued his solo career with Wild Seed (1995) and the Norwegian-only release Vogts Villa (1996), while Waaktar started recording under the name of Paul Savoy (Mary Is Coming, 1996; Lacklustre Me, 1997). The general failure of these projects led to the band officially re-forming in 1999 and releasing Minor Earth, Major Sky (2000), which won them good reviews and sales for its enchanting mix of Nordic gloom and jaunty pop tunes.

© Phil Hardy, Dave LaingFaber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, 2001

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