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Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen, formerly of Bridges, formed Norwegian synth pop group a-ha in 1982. Nimble vocalist Morten Harket joined the duo, and they left for the now "legendary London flat" (so called because of its state of disrepair) to make their way in a then-burgeoning music industry filled with new wave pop and synth sounds. By late 1983, based on the strength of a demo version of "Take on Me," they signed to WEA. Their debut single of "Take on Me" went through three versions before becoming a hit in the U.K., eventually reaching number two in November 1985. It went one better in the U.S., mainly due to the wide exposure of its stunning video on MTV, which fused animation with real-life action. They returned to the charts with "The Sun Always Shines on T.V.," which became a U.K. number one in early 1986, helping take the album Hunting High and Low to the Top Ten. The song hit the Top 20 in the U.S., where the album reached number 15.
With a-ha's debut album mainly consisting of romantic synth pop, the press was quick to dismiss them as a teeny bop sensation; however, there was more than met the ear on first impression in the trio's writing, and a more mature effort, Scoundrel Days, was released in October 1986. More focused and rock-oriented, it had a stronger band feel thanks to its live drumming evident on "The Swing of Things" and lead single "I've Been Losing You," which surprised critics at the time. Further striking imagery accompanied "Cry Wolf." The album landed in the Top 30 in Norway and cracked the top half of the Billboard 200 in the U.S. After a world tour, a-ha provided the theme to the James Bond film The Living Daylights. A remix appeared on their third album, Stay on These Roads, in 1988.
In 1990, a-ha were commended by the Everly Brothers for their rendition of "Crying in the Rain" from their fourth album, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which was largely ignored in the U.K. due to a shift in interest toward dance music and the Manchester scene. The year 1993 heralded some much-needed new blood in the U2 terrain of "Dark Is the Night" from the Memorial Beach album. Following the unfortunate lack of success of Memorial Beach, Furuholmen retreated into the art world while Waaktaar released the album Mary Is Coming with his new band Savoy. Seven years after the release of Memorial Beach, a-ha issued Minor Earth Major Sky in summer 2000. Released in 2002, Lifelines sold well in Europe and was followed by a lengthy tour, documented on the live album How Can I Sleep with Your Voice in My Head, issued in 2003.
A year later, a-ha celebrated their 20th anniversary by releasing Singles 1984-2004, a collection that would put them back in the U.K. Top 20. In July of 2005, the band performed in Berlin as part of the massive worldwide event Live8, and in November they released the album Analogue. It was supported by a worldwide tour that included gigs in Russia and a festival in Chile. In 2009, upon issuing their ninth studio album, Foot of the Mountain, a-ha announced that they would be retiring. However, they returned in 2015 with Cast in Steel, which was followed by a world tour.
Coinciding with the 2017 summer solstice, the group headed to the remote island of Giske off of Norway's west coast to record their first-ever acoustic concert for MTV Unplugged. With arrangements by producer Lars Horntveth, the by-then-perennial arena band played a career-spanning set with guests Ian McCulloch (Echo & the Bunnymen), Alison Moyet, Lissie, and Ingrid Helene Håvik (Highasakite) for an audience of only 250. That October, the show was released in seven different versions under the title MTV Unplugged: Summer Solstice, along with an abbreviated, single-disc Acoustic Hits: MTV Unplugged. Summer Solstice debuted at number three on the album chart in Germany, number six in the U.K., and number 11 in their home country, and was followed by another world tour in 2018.
In 2022, a-ha returned with their 11th studio album, True North. Half of its 12 songs were composed and produced by Waaktaar-Savoy, with the remainder by Furuholmen. The trio worked in a Norwegian recording studio in Bodø, some 90 kilometers above the Arctic Circle. They were joined by a full cast of studio musicians as well as the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra. The video for single "I'm In" was excerpted from a long-form Stian Andersen-directed documentary of the same title. It documented the recording process from the remote location in their Norwegian homeland. ~ Kelvin Hayes & Thom Jurek