Year
1985

“Take on Me” music video helps Norway’s a-Ha reach the top the U.S. pop charts

From its beginnings in the early 1980s, it was clear that MTV, the Music Television Network, would have a dramatic effect on the way pop stars marketed their music and themselves. While radio remained a necessary engine to drive the sales and chart rankings of singles and albums, the rise of new artists like Duran Duran and the further ascent of established stars like Michael Jackson showed that creativity and esthetic appeal on MTV could make a direct and undeniable contribution to a musical performer’s commercial success. But if ever a case existed in which MTV did more than just contribute to an act’s success, it was the case of the Norwegian band a-Ha, who went from total unknowns to chart-topping pop stars almost solely on the strength of the groundbreaking video for the song “Take On Me,” which hit #1 on the Billboard pop chart on this day in 1985.

By 1985 the medium was established enough that it took a unique angle to achieve music video stardom. Enter a-Ha, a synth-pop group that caught a late ride on the dying New Wave thanks to the video for “Take On Me,” in which lead singer Morten Harket was transformed using a decades-old technology called Rotoscoping. The creators of the “Take On Me” video painted portions or sometimes the entirety of individual frames to create the effect of a dashingly handsome comic-book motorcycle racer (Harket) romancing a pretty girl from the real world, fighting off a gang of angry pursuers in a pipe-wrench fight before bursting out of the comic-book world as a dashingly handsome real boy.

The wildly popular video was an esthetic marvel at the moment of its unveiling, and it propelled a-Ha not only to the top spot on the pop charts, but to a still-unbeaten record of eight wins at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. Predictably enough, the F/X gimmick that seemed so fresh in “Take On Me” soon became something of a cliché, showing up in ads for everything from minivans to maxi-pads. As for a-Ha, they may be thought of by many Americans as one-hit wonders—or two-hit wonders for those who remember “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.”—but internationally they have enjoyed a tremendously successful recording career without any further help from MTV.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Ethiopia stands alone

The League of Nations votes to impose deliberately ineffectual economic sanctions against Fascist Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia. Steps that would impede the progress of the invasion, such as banning the sale of oil to Italy and closing the Suez Canal, were not taken, out of ...read more

Napoleon retreats from Moscow

One month after Napoleon Bonaparte’s massive invading force entered a burning and deserted Moscow, the starving French army is forced to begin a hasty retreat out of Russia. Following the rejection of his Continental System by Czar Alexander I, French Emperor Napoleon I invaded ...read more

Guildford Four are cleared

The Guildford Four, convicted of the 1975 IRA bombings of public houses in Guildford and Woolwich, England, are cleared of all charges after nearly 15 years in prison. On October 5, 1974, an IRA bomb killed four people in a Guildford pub frequented by British military personnel, ...read more

Victory at Yorktown

Hopelessly trapped at Yorktown, Virginia, British General Lord Cornwallis surrenders 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a larger Franco-American force, effectively bringing an end to the American Revolution. Lord Cornwallis was one of the most capable British generals of the ...read more

Rocket Richard scores 500 goals

On October 19, 1957, Maurice “Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens becomes the first N.H.L. player to score 500 goals in his career when he slaps a 20-foot shot past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Glenn Hall. Richard was one of the most consistent and intimidating goal-scorers in ...read more

John le Carre is born

David Cornwell, later known as spy novelist John le Carre, is born on this day in Poole, England. Le Carre’s father was a charming, dishonest con man who ran up millions of dollars in debt, snookered friends and family on phantom deals, and spent time in jail for embezzlement. ...read more

First Blockbuster store opens

On this day in 1985, the first Blockbuster video-rental store opens, in Dallas, Texas. At a time when most video stores were small-scale operations featuring a limited selection of titles, Blockbuster opened with some 8,000 tapes displayed on shelves around the store and a ...read more

Fire sweeps through Oakland hills

On this day in 1991, a fire begins in the hills of Oakland, California. It went on to burnthousands of homes and kill 25 people. Despite the fact that fires had ravaged the same area three times earlier in the century, people continued to build homes there. Fires had previously ...read more

John DeLorean is arrested for drug dealing

Maverick automobile executive John DeLorean is arrested in a Los Angeles, California, airport motel with a briefcase containing $24 million dollars worth of cocaine. According to authorities, DeLorean was attempting to make a mammoth drug deal in order to rescue his financially ...read more

The first Cold War world’s fair closes

In Brussels, Belgium, the first world’s fair held since before World War II closes its doors, after nearly 42 million people have visited the various exhibits. Officially called the Brussels Universal and International Exhibition, the fair’s overall theme was “A World View, A ...read more

Battle of Cedar Creek

Union General Philip Sheridan averts a near disaster in the Shenandoah Valley when he rallies his troops after a surprise attack by Confederate General Jubal Early and scores a major victory that almost destroys Early’s army at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia. Through the ...read more

Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown

On this day in 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis formally surrenders 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a French and American force at Yorktown, Virginia, bringing the American Revolution to a close. Previously, Cornwallis had driven General George Washington’s Patriot ...read more

First Battle of Ypres

On October 19, 1914, near the Belgian city of Ypres, Allied and German forces begin the first of what would be three battles to control the city and its advantageous positions on the north coast of Belgium during the First World War. After the German advance through Belgium and ...read more