When I was about five or six (in the mid-80’s) there were a few songs that made me extremely emotional. Whenever I heard one, I would declare that it was “The Most Beautiful Song in the World” and would always be torn between continuing to listen and getting as far away from the song as possible to avoid any heartache. The list of songs that had the power to give me a lump in my throat included “Come Sail Away” by Styx, “Africa” by Toto, and a song that had particularly strong pull (it always made me cry) — “Take On Me,” by A-Ha.
Perhaps it was the now familiar synth intro or the chorus climbing towards that stratospheric falsetto that struck so deep a chord. I doubt it was the lyrics because I still don’t know most of them. I certainly hadn’t seen the video so I didn’t have the image of people in love crashing into the sides of comic frames. I barely even heard “Take on Me” because we mostly listened to the oldies station in the car and hardly ever listened to the radio at home. When I did hear it, nobody ever announced who sang it. The radio DJs assumed the audience already knew. It remained an enigma.
In 1988 my mother, my seven-year old sister, and I went with my mother’s Portuguese boyfriend to Snowbird, Utah for a ski vacation. One evening after a long day of powder skiing (and soreness, having used totally different muscles than we were used to using for New England “packed granular,” a.k.a. “ice”) we went to the hotel restaurant, which was decorated in a sort of Western style with a lot of bare wood and the name of the restaurant branded into things. For some reason I was eating potato pancakes. Suddenly, playing very softly over the restaurant stereo system, was “the song,” from the very beginning “doo doo duh doo doo doo doo du doodah doodah.” I had a conniption. I may have exclaimed something, and I most certainly gasped and froze, a chunk of potato clinging to my fork. Then, I stood up, shouted, “I need to know!” and awkwardly stumbled my way to the waiter’s station, where a young guy in his twenties was folding napkins. “What is this song?”
“What?” He looked perplexed and kept folding.
“The song! On the radio! Who sings it?”
I shot him a disgruntled glare. I may have been trapped in the most awkward stage of my life but I thought I at least deserved some respect. It was a worthwhile question. “Who sings the song?”
“A-ha. The name of the band is A-ha.”
“Oh.” I thanked him effusively because I felt sort of bad for assuming he was being an ass, but also because I felt as if an internal conflict had come to resolution. I don’t know if the revelation of any information has felt as sweet and satisfying as at that moment.
Today, “Take on Me” no longer makes me cry. In fact, it seems to be a barometer of happiness. The other day I had a record of four references: I heard it on a mix tape, my best friend sang it while we made lunch, we heard the Reel Big Fish version later at a party, and then someone at the same party was dared to sing it during a game of Truth or Dare Jenga. It was a wonderful day.