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In their small snowy country of Norway, members of the 1980s super group A-ha are considered close to royalty. The pretty boys of Oslo were the first Norwegian band to make it big in pop-music. By the end of 1980s, they had amassed numerous awards and platinum albums.
Two of the band members, Magne Furuholmen and Pal Waaktaar, grew up in Oslo. Their first band together, Spider Empire—formed in 1977—was heavily influenced by the music of the Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Spider Empire evolved into another band called Bridges in 1979 and took on a bassist and drummer. Soon they released their first album, Fakkeltog —Torchlight Procession—on their own label, Vakenatt. The Bridges were working on their second album when Morten Harket entered the scene. Influenced by the falsetto of Freddy Mercury of Queen, Harket had been singing in other Oslo bands.
After deciding to work together, the band, with Harket on lead vocals and Furuholmen writing many of the lyrics, the band began tossing around ideas for a new name. They decided upon A-ha because, as Furuholmen explained, it was easily memorized and familiar exclamation in any language. "Originally, we were trying to find a Norwegian word that people would be able to say in English. Eventually Harket spotted a song called "a-ha" in Waaktaar's song notebook. It was a terrible song, but a great name. I mean, you say it, a-ha, all the time," Furuholmen said online.
In 1982, the band began changing its tune and started working on becoming a more commercial, synth-pop sounding band, like pop kings Duran Duran. The trio began looking toward England for a record label to offer them a contract. Even with their chiseled good looks and snappy sound, success would take a while.
983 was to be the dawning for the Norwegian music marvels. After ringing in the new year by relocating to London in January, the trio managed to purchase some recording time at Rendezvous Studios. One demo, "Lesson One," caught the ear of John Ratcliff, manager of the recording studio. Ratcliff in turn played it for Terry Slater, a former record company executive who once worked with the Everly Brothers. Slater was so impressed with the band that he agreed to manage the trio immediately and arrange a series of influential auditions.
As a Christmas present for their families and compatriots, A-ha brought home a worldwide contract with Warner Bros. Records. The first album Hunting High and Low, included the single "Take On Me." Released in early 1984, it was re-worked version of "Lesson One." The band experienced a successful Norwegian debut, but failed to reach audiences over in England and abroad. Only 300 copies of the album were sold outside its native Norway. In 1985, the band, at the urging of Slater, remixed and re-released the single.
During the summer of 1986, Warner Bros. Records decided to invest some money on a revolutionary video for the struggling band. "Take On Me," directed by Steve Barron, was a charcoal animation of the band members was a fore-runner in semi-animated video-market. At the third MTV Music Awards in 1986, the video won for Best New Concept Video, Best New Artist Video, Best Special Effects, Best Direction, Most Experimental and the Viewers Choice awards, among others awards. According to the Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, it was a record number of wins by one act for both the fledgling ceremony and band.
In 1986, A-ha released it's sophomore album, Scoundrel Days. Although less successful than Hunting High And Low, the album did include the hit single "Cry Wolf." A year later, the band was commissioned to create the theme song for the new James Bond movie, The Living Daylights. Their third album, Stay on These Roads, almost entirely written by guitarist Pal Waaktaar continued A-ha's popularity in England while marking its journey into obscurity in the United States. The album entered the English charts early in 1988 at number two.
After a two year holiday, A-ha released their fourth album, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, in November 1990. This new album shows a departure from the heavy synth-ladled albums of the past. In 1991, after a string of little noticed singles,, A-ha released a six year retrospective album entitled Headlines and Deadlines, The Hits Of A-ha.
During the fifth annual World Music Awards, the darlings of Norwegian pop music were named Best Selling Norwegian Artist of the Year two years in a row 1992-93. In 1993, the band releases Memorial Beach, which featured the single "Dark Is the Night." More than previous A-ha albums, this album highlighted the talents of the other band members including new members bassist J.B. Bogeberg and Per Hillestad on drums. Much of the album reflects time spent in America.
After feeling "spent out" artistically, the band took a two year sabbatical according to an online interview at http://www.wwiv.com/a-ha/a-ha-faq.html. The trio decided to pursued individual artistic challenges. Furuholmen co-wrote the soundtrack for the Norwegian movie Ten Knifes in the Heart, which world premiered in 1994. He also created a wood carving for the cover design for the album Songs from the Pocket, a solo project of his fellow tour mate J.B Bogeberg. During this time apart, the band did regroup to record "Shapes That Go Together, " theme song for the 1994 Special Olymics that were held in Lillehammer, Norway.
Harket recorded the Frankie Valli hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" for the Coneheads soundtrack in 1983. The movie was directed by Steve Baron, the gentleman behind the record shattering "Take On Me video." In 1995, Harket released Wild Seed, his first solo album with Warner Brothers Records International. In 1996, Pal Waaktaar also released an album with Warner Brothers Records International. With his band Savoy, he released Mary is Coming in early 1996 in Europe and the United States writing all the songs on the album.
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