Music education always & always looking forward.

Yes, Those Are High Notes: Major Seventh Interval in A-ha's "Take on Me"

Possibly one of the most pervasive pop music examples about reaching high with big intervals.

Welcome to 80s week here on our blog!!  While many believe that popular music in the 1980s was more about style than substance, with the advent and eventual dominance of MTV in the decade, I tend to disagree.  I personally think that in the 80s popular music was at its apex.  In response to those who love popular music from the 60s and 70s, I feel that the music of the 80s was informed by the music of the 60s and 70s, drawing inspiration from and building upon many of ideas of those eras.  Popular culture obviously loved the 80s -- I saw testaments to that all over the place in the mid-2000s, as a 80s nostalgia reached an critical mass (we can in part thank The Killers and Adam Sandler for that).  At that point, technology had advanced just enough to really make cool things happen but not so much that it took away any authenticity from the music.

Case in point: Morten Harket.  He sings the seemingly impossibly high note that this song is famous for, and as multiple VH1 guests have noted, they didn't have Pro Tools back in 1985.  Any kid in his bedroom can auto-tune himself up to that E5 today, but Harket did it on his own merits back then.  And yet, the song is littered with synthesizers.  Electronics everywhere, and yet the song is known for showcasing one magical human voice.  I can think of no better symbol of popular music in the 80s.

“Take on Me” - A-ha

Intro: Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha released their debut album, Hunting High and Low, in 1985. Aside from their native Norway, the song hit #2 on the UK Singles chart and became the group's only #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. On the strength of the single and its accompanying music video, which received heavy rotation and recognition from a young MTV network, A-ha were nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1986. The profits from their reunion tours have helped to make them one of the highest-earning musical acts in Norwegian history.  

Analysis: The song, written in B Dorian mode, is known mostly for the vocal prowess demonstrated by lead singer Morten Harket. Considered a pop singing feat in the 1980s and beyond, the vocal melody line found in the chorus continually reaches higher and higher by smaller intervals. The first "Take - on" heard at 0:53 in this recording at the start of the chorus is an interval of a major seventh. Possibly the most memorable moment of the song arrives when Harket completes the chorus on the line “in a day or two”, and between the words “or two” the vocal line shifts up another major seventh (from an already high note) all the way up to an E5.

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no inappropriate subject matter or language and is considered an important popular cultural landmark of the 1980s, thus making it a responsible selection for a classroom listening example.


A Change in the Story: Picardy Third in Lionel Richie's "Hello"

Punk Meets Prog: Changing Meter in Television's "Marquee Moon"