John Recommends: The 5 Best Versions of a-ha’s “Take on Me” (Besides the 1985 Classic)

Image via Your EDM.

Not many songs have acquired the continued cultural prestige and popularity that “Take on Me” has. The a-ha song became a hit when it was re-recorded and released with a unique music video in 1985. The video included some beautifully illustrated frames achieved via the technique of rotoscoping. It is ridiculously catchy.

However, an earlier version of “Take on Me” exists. The ’84 version, though it does not have as high of a tempo as the revamped ’85 one, is still aesthetically pleasing.

Another great take on “Take on Me” that a-ha has recorded is the Kygo Remix, which is highly evocative of playing under the sun, the outdoors, or taking in the beach. This rendition of the song feels nostalgic and classy, yet refreshing and easy-going at the same time.

There have been a number of remixes of the song done in recent years to make it even more upbeat and quicker-paced than the classic 1985 rendition. One such remix has been hailed as “Take on Me — Symphonic Version.” Here it gets an orchestra-style treatment. It really brings the classic song to life, giving it a unique electrified grandeur.

Another superb remix of “Take on Me” is inspired by the version used in the trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018). It is the extended Tribute Remix published by YouTuber GtaRemixJose.

Though more heavily instrument-focused, this particular remix does employ the inequitable a-ha vocals. Once again, this version of the song strikes a sense of grandeur into the listener.

Lastly, it is certainly worth mentioning a-ha’s MTV unplugged version of the song. Undoubtedly it is the rendition that has the slowest tempo. It is above all a peaceful listen. “Take on Me” usually has people out on the dance floor pulling out their craziest, shakiest moves.

However, the unplugged version is definitely a piece of music one dances slowly and smoothly to. It’s quite a drastic difference, but it is beautiful all the same.

For a song that has remained as popular as it has over the decades, it is inspiring to see the many variant forms “Take on Me” has taken. And it continues to appeal to music-lovers more than 30 years down the road.

(Song recommendation by John Tuttle)

Seigar recommends “Run, girl, run” by Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys

One of the best EP of 2019.

Seigar, the photographer, is back.

The track I’m presenting you today is included in a 6 track EP of songs from the cabaret show “Musik”” by Jonathan Harvey and Pet Shop Boys. All songs were written and produced by Pet Shop Boys, and sung by Frances Barber playing the character Billie Trix. “The Billie Trix Story” (2019) is a spin-off cabaret show of “Closer to Heaven” (2001). Though, critics do not find Pet Shop Boys at their common inspired and high level in this EP, I find them quite on point. Probably because I have always been a musical lover. And these are typical musical songs.

The original “Run, girl, run” song by Billie Trix (1971) is inspired by the famous Nick Ut photograph of a naked young girl running from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War. So the history of the song is quite tragic and sad. This little girl expression of pain was her passport to immortality and she became an icon of her age, unwillingly.

Musically the track moves from tropicalism to jazz, the warm and beautiful voice with sad tone adds some spice, but what I really love about this song is the lyrics. I’d say it’s a masterpiece because of that.

Enjoy the ironic tune.

(Song recommendation by Seigar)

Nishat Recommends: “Stumble” by Ocean Glass

(Photo by Josh Johnson, Courtesy of Ocean Glass)

Perhaps it might be haughty to recommend a song I wrote and recorded with my band. (Just kidding, I know it is.) But, it might also be fair to say that this song extends and exists beyond the scope of myself.

I’ve been writing mediocre songs and poems about love and heartbreak and other great clichés ever since the beginning of middle school, but writing the chorus to “Stumble” in the tiny living room of my sophomore year apartment to the acoustic finger-picking of my bandmates on the couch felt like the first moment of something real: and it was.

“I wanna run away from you,
I wanna run away from you, now.
I wanna run away from you,
But you tied me down.”

When I first wrote those lines in 2012, they were about a high-school crush I just couldn’t shake. And then a few years later that chorus felt tied to escaping an emotionally abusive relationship I had just left. As of late, I always ask the crowd have you ever stayed together with someone that wasn’t right for you because of a silly reason like they have your favorite pair of socks, or your favorite mix cd is still in their car? while the guys on stage tune their strings. And right before we kick into the intro, I tell them if you needed a sign to leave someone that wasn’t good for you, this song is that sign.

The beauty of “Stumble”, though, is that it doesn’t have to be a song about misery. In ten days time of writing this, I’m going to say ‘I do’ to the woman I love. And my mother, who has very little acquaintance with a Western catalogue of music, asked me if we could dance to “Stumble” for our dance together at the reception. To me and in terms of my mother, that chorus my friends are always so good about singing back to us at shows, is a reminder of how my mom has always kept me grounded when my wild head spins me away.

“I stumble a little bit every time I see you.”

Look, maybe my personally biased spiel wasn’t enough to convince you, but play the song and you’ll see that “Stumble” is what you spin when the leaves give up their colors, when the old love isn’t good enough, when the new one might be, when you catch that look in someone’s eyes so striking, it almost knocks you down.

“Stumble” isn’t a song just for me. It’s for me, and you, and for anyone looking for a reason.

(Song recommendation by Nishat Ahmed)

James recommends “You Know What I Mean” by Cults

It’s from this album.

It’s the best song never played at the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks.

It’s further evidence that the best things happen in 6/8 time.

It’s perched on the diving board of space-aged pop gorgeousness, staring into the abyss (nevermind that the video features a very different diving scene).

Cults’ “You Know What I Mean” starts with a waltzy simplicity: a precisely stepping bassline, watery guitars and snaps that echo into infinity. Madeline Follin’s voice steadies us with a sixties-ish remove; she feels it, but with a cool distance that’s betrayed by the less-hinged lyrics: “Tell me what’s wrong with my brain, cuz I seem to have lost it.”

I stumbled on this song while watching Russian Doll (which if you haven’t by now (and I’m sure that you have), come on). It was the end of episode six, and by that point, I was used to my mind being blown by Natasha Lyonne’s death-resetting timeline, but my heart wasn’t used to being ripped open. Lyonne’s character, Nadia, runs from her origin party (and those opening chords begin) to the home of the only person who knows what shemeans. When he opens the door, Nadia bursts in and looks at Alan with a raw need, and his response is so nakedly unguarded — stripped like…well, like what happens at 1:36 in the song, where everything drops out (save the bass and those cavernous snaps) as Follin pleads, “Please, please come and save me.” Those dizzying keyboards flurry and swirl as she echoes the titular refrain with an urgency that suggests that No One knows what she means, like she just needs someone else to shout back that they know, like saying “I love you” for the sole purpose of having the other person say, “I love you, too.”

And as those last snaps bounce around in my head, and as no one else echoes back, I hit play again. And again. And again.

You know what I mean.

It’s seriously a bizarre video. Just hit play and then close your eyes.

(Song recommendation by James W. Moore)

Seigar recommends “Basic” by Bilal Hassani

Androgynous games.

Seigar, the photographer, is back.

During the last Eurovision Contest Bilal Hassani represented France with “Roi,” though the song and the performance were both stunning, he ended in 16th place. In my opinion, he should have won, but maybe Europe was not yet prepared for his act. Controversy has always been there in his short music career. The fact he defends LGTBIQ rights and that he seems just to do things freely and his way is not received by everyone with the same enthusiasm.

Some of the highlights of the song “Roi”:

I am me, and I know I will always be

You put me in a box, want me to be like you

At the end of the day, you cannot change me, boo

Who are we?

When we hurt, when we fight for free

Only God can judge you and me

Influenced by Beyoncé, Freddie Mercury and High School Musical, what can you expect? This.

Today, I’m bringing you “Basic,” the gayest anthem in his album and probably also worldwide this year. “Basic” starts with a very 90s disco vibes, Bilal mixes English and French lyrics randomly. With the same charisma of his influences, he becomes a Mika on acid with cheerful beats and catchy lyrics. The song will work well on stage, he even embraces a cheeky quote of Cher. She usually says things like this during her concerts when talking to the audience:

“Girls, gays and whoever else is there, gather ‘round, listen up”

“Don’t be basic, be fantastic” he repeats and we all just can some fun with him. Let’s indulge ourselves with this. It’s weekend sensation. Do justice to his Eurovision position and listen to Bilal.

(Song recommendation by Seigar)

Jeanne Recommends: “Star People ’97” by George Michael

Every morning I’d tuck my fragile Sony Discman into my handbag, pop the headphones over my ears and press “play” as I crossed the overpass that spanned Amsterdam Avenue on my way to the 116th Street Station to catch the 1/9 subway to Columbus Circle.

Star people
Counting your money until your soul turns green
Star people
Counting the cost of your desire to be seen

I was approaching my senior year of college, studying art history, and interning at one of New York’s celebrated auction houses. The internship was unpaid, so what money I had I’d earned by temping for a few weeks before I left for “The City.” My parents covered my flight from Seattle and the comparatively cheap cost of renting a room for two months in one of the high-rise dorms on the Columbia campus. I had a credit card for emergencies and every so often my mother would mail me $20 so I could catch a movie or buy a book to read.

I went above and beyond at my internship as often as I could, volunteering to do research at the library or stay late to help write proposals to prospective consignors of priceless art collections. My reward was the occasional petty cash voucher or TransitChek for subway fare. My association with the auction house also granted me free access to most of the major museums in New York, so I took full advantage of that perk on the weekends.

I learned how auction houses operated and went on field trips to view some of the most exquisite — and otherwise inaccessible — private art collections in the greater tri-state area. I also did plenty of random chores reserved for interns (shredding, anyone?) but those occasional research forays and opportunities to flex my writing muscles sustained me.

The song that accompanied me the most during my subway commute was George Michael’s “Star People ’97.” Its beat matched the hustle of weekday mornings in New York and infused my stride with a kind of confidence I’d never felt before. The lyrics kept me grounded through the days of exposure to unimaginable, unattainable wealth and privilege.

I do not count myself among you
I may be living in a dream
It’s just there seems so many of you
Can’t help but hope there’s a difference between…
You and me

I was grateful for the experience, but I flew home to Seattle at the end of the summer certain I would never want to work in an auction house. The commodification of art had left me cold, and I wanted no part of it. George Michael had been my voice of reason, my source of balance all summer long. I’ll never hear “Star People ’97” without remembering the impossible humidity (and distinctive odor) of New York subway stations in July, the acrid chill of the air-conditioned subway cars, or how good it felt to get to know myself just a little bit better.

Star people
Never forget your secret’s safe with me
Just look at all the wonderful people
Trying to forget they had to pay for what you see

(Song recommendation by Jeanne Sharp)

Kristin Recommends “Dancing In The Dark” by Lucy Dacus

I started writing this recommendation with a light Googling. It turns out that this song that Spotify threw my way a few weeks ago was recorded in honor of Lucy Dacus’ father, who shares a birthday with a singer they both loved — Bruce Springsteen, of course. And from there, I couldn’t help pondering how this song evolves through thirty-five years of music and filtered through the lens of and a female performer.

I love the way Dacus holds this song up almost like a mirror. How Springsteen is a portrait of Americana, and Dacus is here to take it for herself. I keep coming back to the line “I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face” sung by a virulent man is meant to be disarming, in a woman this kind of self-scrutiny is expected, almost virtuous. Dacus makes this line less confession and more an assertion. It’s a kind of a catalyst. From here the energy builds with the tempo of the song. It’s the spark.

How does one consider “You sit around gettin’ older / There’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me” in Dacus’ voice? Aside from the naked beauty of her performance, there’s the fact that she is twenty-five. When the Boss performed it he was thirty-five. And while, yes, this is probably coincidental, I know some of Dacus’ other work and her writing style and I wonder if the way she sings this line might be tongue-in-cheek. Yes, women have an expiration date. She knows this. I know this. And the joke is this: She doesn’t fucking care.

I mean, Lucy Dacus’ cover of “Dancing In The Dark” is just lovely and wonderful and well-crafted and a perfect song to throw on if you’re looking for something upbeat and nostalgic. Of course it’s all of those things. But in a way — and perhaps this is how Dacus makes this song her own — it’s also a sort of journey into owning feminine joy in a such a clever little way that it has earned a place in my heart that I can’t quite put my finger on. But I can hit the repeat button. So I will.

(Song recommendation by E. Kristin Anderson)

Erica Recommends: “Dream State” by Son Lux

Image from Son Lux’s Bandcamp

In 2018, I was taking a gap year. The pockets of free time I had were many, leaving me with a desire to seek out new music, something different from my regular playlist of indie and mainstream pop.

This was when I stumbled upon Son Lux. I was mesmerized by the song that this dance was choreographed to. I mean, it is pretty difficult to look away from people being painted in gold, dancing as Ryan Lott sings about dreams and days that have gone past.

It spoke to me, a directionless, lost, 20 year old, stuck in a minimum wage job, trying to figure out what she wanted in life. There was this sense of invincibility that I felt from the lyrics, in the part of the song where it dies down, only for the music to swell, building up to the post-chorus. The lyric of “out of the dark day, into the brighter night” is something that will stay with me for a long time. The imagery struck me. I would probably never know the real meaning behind the lyric, but it felt like journeying from things that you know, that may not be what you want (“the dark day”) into something more unknown, something that may turn out to be bright (“the brighter night”).

Inspired by this, I created this piece of art.

Looking back, I think I found much solace in one part of the second verse, where it goes like this:

Will we survive in this, our new wilderness?
We have nothing on our feet

Nothing else was able to encapsulate my feelings in that time of my life that perfectly. That gap year may be well behind me, but playing this song takes me back. It feels like being transported to another world, another time.

Want to feel invincible for 5 minutes and 30 seconds? This is the way to go.

(Song recommendation by Erica Yong)

Sam Recommends: “That Thing You Do!” by The Wonders

Today, I’m bringing you a song from one of my favorite movies of all time, That Thing You Do. While The Wonders may be a fictional band, that doesn’t diminish just how rockin’ of a track “That Thing You Do!” is. It’s truly catchy as hell, and I just know you’ll love having it looping in your head for the rest of the day.

In fact, all of the songs from the film’s official soundtrack are pretty solid. This title track in particular captures the same wholesome, flirty, and fun vibe that a lot of the rock music of the late 50s/early 60s embodied. The song and the film are both nice palate cleansers from the noise, problems, and general chaos of our modern day.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the endless scroll of bad news in your feed, step away from your computer, lock your phone in a drawer, and sync this film up. I think you’ll enjoy your 2 and a half hour trip back in time.

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

Mileva recommends: “For the Innocent” by Villagers of Ioannina City

It’s another one of those nights I’m flabbergasted at reality. It gets tiring, falling from the clouds all the time, that’s one of my favorite lines lately, because it happens more and more often. Two are reported dead following a fire in a camp for refugees, which is actually a concentration camp in disguise. The word ‘disguise’ is controversial, as one can obviously see it as it is, except if talented in turning a blind eye to reality.

It’s been my dad’s nameday today and we’ve spent the day celebrating. I introduced my family to this song, since it’s a new one and I found out about it recently. My dad is only into folk music. Our tastes in music have always been different. So that was a compromise. Villagers of Ioannina City, or VIC, are a folk rock band I ran into some years ago at a festival. I never expected to like regional music from Epirus, yet they made it sound appealing. Despite the English verse, my dad enjoyed it. We enjoyed ourselves, while refugees got burnt, just because they were unfortunate enough to be born on a different corner of the planet. Police responded with tear gas.

I watched the news when I got home. I listened to the song again and again, until anger overwhelmed me.

“We will stand against all wrong
With all the strength we’ve got
And if we stand together as one
We will overcome.”

Anger is essential in cases like this. Anger is a weapon against despair. If you don’t lose your mind over this, you clearly don’t have a mind at all.

And anger shared is power. What this song delivers, along with anger, is hope. Hope that one day, we will be strong enough to make the world a better place for all.

(Song recommendation by Mil Ana)