I was in the car yesterday when the 1984 hit “Take On Me” by A-ha came on the radio. It’s one of the few 80’s songs I listen to but don’t sing along with in the car. Partly because I can’t understand many of the words, but mostly because I can’t sing high enough to crack the windshield. (Disclaimer: Kids, do not sing high enough to crack the windshield and drive!)
However, the words that I do understand bring up some issues that should be addressed. (Disclaimer: I’m going to bring them up whether they should be or not.)
1) I’ve never really gotten the point of the refrain. Perhaps this is really clear in the singer’s native Norwegian, but I can’t tell whether he’s asking her to “take on me” as one would take on passengers or cargo, or “take me on” in an adversarial manner, like the Rebel Alliance took on the Empire. Moreover, I’m not sure which is a better sign in a relationship.
2) I also wonder what was going on in the recording studio that day. In the first two verses, the singer indicates that he’ll be gone “in a day or two”. But suddenly, after a 30-second bridge, he then states that he’ll be gone “in a day”. The discrepancy is probably OK, since he sings this part using notes only dogs can hear, and dogs handle ambiguity pretty well. But it makes me wonder, how did his plans get finalized in the middle of the song?
Here’s what I think happened: Lead singer Morten Harket had a flight the day after tomorrow, but was on standby for an earlier flight. When the airline called in the middle of the song, he turned to the band and made that taffy-pulling gesture that signaled the band to stretch out the bridge while he took the call. There had been a cancellation, and he could now be booked on tomorrow’s flight back to Norway, resolving the earlier ambiguity regarding his travel plans. When he came back for the final verse, he changed the refrain to signal to his dog that he was definitely coming home the next day.
3) At the end of the second verse, just before the phone rings, the singer indicates that “It’s no better to be safe than sorry.” This is not true. In fact, we have a saying that might be relevant: “Better safe than sorry”.
4) The video for “Take On Me” illustrates one of the most important lessons for young people today: do not take the hand of strangers reaching out of comic books, particularly if you haven’t finished reading them. You never can tell when the person reaching out to you is about to go up against Sinestro or the Green Goblin, or even just a gang of wrench-wielding evil race car mechanics. Be particularly careful if your guide is taunting them to take him on.
5) I never noticed this before, but the video has basically the same plot as the 1985 movie Ladyhawke, where the couple can never be together because one of them is always an animal when the other is human. I don’t remember how the movie ends, but I think Rutger Hauer escapes the evil trebuchet mechanics by slamming himself against a castle wall until he turns back to human form. (Disclaimer: Based on my experience as a movie-goer, my ending is probably better than the one they used.)