A-ha wrote and recorded the first version of this song
in 1982 with the title "Lesson One" - it had different lyrics but contained the basic keyboard riff. In 1983, the song got the attention of industry veteran Terry Slater, who became their manager and helped them secure a contract with Warner Bros. Records later that year.
In early 1984, they re-wrote the song as "Take On Me" and recorded it with producer Tony Mansfield. Released as a single only in Europe, it went to #3 in their native Norway, but didn't chart anywhere else, flopping particularly hard in the UK. A video was made for this version
that was remarkably undistinguished compared with the one that came after.
At Slater's suggestion, they re-recorded the song with producer Alan Tarney, who beefed it up with more instrumentation and energy. Around this time, a record company executive named Jeff Ayeroff moved from A&M to Warner Bros., and championed the song. In the book I Want My MTV
, he said: "I fell in love with the song. Then I saw a picture of the band, and it was like, Do people actually look like this? Morten Harket was one of the best-looking men in the world."
Ayeroff commissioned a new video, hiring Steve Barron, whose work included "Don't You Want Me
" by The Human League and "Billie Jean
" by Michael Jackson, to direct.
The video was released in May 1985, and used the new version of the song produced by Alan Tarney. A promotional single was released at the same time with stills from the video in the sleeve art. Warner Bros. promoted the song through the video, getting movie theaters to show it before films and eventually getting it on MTV. When MTV picked it up, radio stations also played the song, and by August it was in the US Top 40. The song continued to climb the charts until it hit #1 on October 19, where it stayed for one week. A week later, the song also reached it's UK chart peak, coming in at #2 behind "The Power Of Love" by Jennifer Rush.