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Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The musical equivalent of a Dixie Cup full of air.

I've bitched before about my almost pathological hatred of Eighties pop hits and made mention of a-ha's number one hit "Take On Me" as being quite high on my list of songs that I think should be banned by the Geneva Convention, but this weekend I was once more reminded of just how much that fucking song sends me into a state of berserker fury (which I suppose is only appropriate since the song is a product of Norway).

During a trip to the supermarket around the corner — a place that irritates me for a number of reasons but mostly because the staff refuses to listen to anything other than eighties music or shit like B-Rock & D Biz's "My Babydaddy" (a song that set black people back by at least seventy years) — the dreaded "Take On Me" issued forth from the store's speakers and I felt my eardrums tighten in an attempt to cause spontaneous hearing loss. I was in and out of the store fairly quickly but the damage had been done: the song was stuck in my head and it would not go away, no matter how I tried to exorcise it with healthy (?) doses of GG Allin's "Ass-Fuckin' Butt-Suckin' Cunt-Lickin' Masturbation" (believe it or not, a real song), Cannibal Corpse's cover of Sabbath's "Zero the Hero" or even Hurricane Smith's "Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?"

When "Take On Me" came out it scored huge thanks to its admittedly creative hit video as seen eleventy-million times on MTV and elsewhere, and if not for the video I'm willing to bet the song would have been largely ignored at the time and totally forgotten now. Have you ever paid attention to the song when separated from its visual component? Here are the lyrics:

Talking away
I don't know what I'm to say

I'll say it anyway

Today isn’t my day to find you

Shying away

I've been coming for your love O.K.

Take on me (take on me)

Take me on (take on me)

I'll be gone

In a day or two.

So needless to say I'm odds and ends

But I’ll be, stumbling away
Slowly learning that life is O.K.
Say after me,
“It's no better to be safe than sorry.”

Take on me (take on me)

Take me on (take on me)

I'll be gone

In a day or two.

Oh the things that you say yeah

Is it a life or just to play

My worries away

You're all the things I've got to remember

Be shying away

Oh I'll be coming for you anyway.

Take on me (take on me)

Take me on (take on me)

I'll be gone

In a day …

Take on me (take on me)

Take me on (take on me)

I'll be gone (take on me)

In a day …

Take on me (take on me)

Take on me (take me on)

Take on me (take on me)

Take on me …

I know that pop music is not necessarily high art, but come on. This is not a song. This is bullshit.

If you were born any time before 1989 you've probably seen the video and if born later you've probably encountered it on one of the installments of shows like "I Love the '80's For No Apparent Reason," but for those not familiar with it here's the skinny: Some blonde chick is sitting in a coffee shop reading a sparsely-illustrated comic book apparently about auto racing. Suddenly a rotoscoped hand pops out of the comic and beckons her into the 2-D landscape. Once there, she meets lead singer Morten Harket, a leather-jacketed pretty boy with one of those puffed-out hairdos (or don'ts) common to the era, who when I first saw him I thought was a skinny, butch lesbian.

As the inane lyrics marshmallow their way through the song's running time, the video's narrative revolves around this vile human stick insect (who bears a shocking resemblance to the young Cliff Richard) trying to woo the girl while the two attempt to evade a couple of racing-helmeted bad guys who understandably want to cave in the singer's head with a lug wrench. After much unsuspenseful mishegoss the girl escapes back to reality after the cartoon hero confronts their assailants, and when she gets home she opens the comic to find him lying unconscious, unfortunately neither dead nor being eaten by starving wolverines as one would have hoped. The guy picks himself up off the floor and throws himself against the comic's panel borders. Miraculously, he appears as a drawing in her hallway and bashes himself against the walls, ALTERED STATES-style, until the transitions between rotoscope and live-action stabilize with him as the girl's newfound squeeze.

"Talking away/I don't know what I'm to say/I'll say it anyway/Today isn’t my day to find you Shying away...What the fuck am I talking about?!!?"

Admittedly the video was a step away from the mostly uninspired fare generated for MTV and on the strength of that video the single sold a gazillion copies, ensuring it a torturous duration on the airwaves, both radio and TV. And while there were plenty of eighties hits that got played to death and made me want to go on a sadistic killing spree, none set me off like "Take On Me" thanks to it being quite literally the pop music equivalent to elevator music. You've read the lyrics, so imagine if the song had these words instead:

Blah gawgaray
I zubbazagga-zig-zig floofa poppity doo-dah
On the good ship Grilled Cheese Sandwich
I want to eat Cheez Waffies
In a day or twoooooooooo...

I fail to see a qualitative difference and while I fucking hate "We Built This City," "We're Not Gonna take It" and "Come On Eileen" with a fervency usually reserved for child molesters or organ thieves, none of those contain the sheer, unadulterated sugar water slightness of a-ha's biggest international hit. And somehow these fucksticks were allowed to record what may be the very worst of the James Bond movie themesongs, "The Living Daylights," and considering that Rita Coolidge's "All Time High" (from OCTOPUSSY) and "The World Is Not Enough" by Garbage exist, that's really saying something. (There are those who make a strong case for Duran Duran's "A View To A Kill," but I let that one slide because the music's pretty good.)

Then the late-1980's happened and it looked like "Take On Me" was finally being put out to the pop culture pasture, never to be heard from again...that is until it began to pop up all over the goddamned place as one of the songs absolutely guaranteed to be included on the many "Weren't the '80's Fucking Awesome?" CD compilations that were churned out without mercy. As I've often noted, pop music tends to get recycled and the music of the 1980's has been resurrected with a strength previously unimagined, or at least that's been my experience of it. "Take On Me" has proven to be a favorite of those two decades my junior and I have no clear idea as to why, other than that it can be seen as one of the progenitors of much of the past fifteen years' wimped-out musical confections, there to be absorbed briefly before the next pack of dildoes/heroin addicts shows up to lip-synch their hits on the People's Choice Awards.

I suppose the realization that you hate pop music after a certain period in your life is the moment when the generation gap really gets started and you run the risk of being labeled an old fart or a curmudgeon, but if that be my fate, then I accept it with pride. Just so long as I can preach for the complete and total eradication of the blight that is a-ha's most well-known product, and I do mean "product."


Frank said...

Well, let's hope that exorcised your aural demons.

Da Nator said...

Sorry, buddy. I'm a few years younger than you, so that era was my teenage MTV watching phase. I love 80's pop in all its terrible glory.

Ooh, and that Morten was such a cutie. SQUEE!

P.S.: That just reminded me to download some Cliff Richard...

Anonymous said...

To each their own. I'm afraid my intense nostalgia for tacky, groundbreaking-at-the-time MTV videos usually preempts any feelings I had about the song. This one I just didn't hate as much as I did anything by, say, Yaz. Remember, too, that the formula is common to all Greatest-Hits shit collections, as proven by the old cassette Rockin' 50s collection I still have somewhere, with the awfullest, gratingest novelty hits from that period imaginable. I'm sure it made music lovers with 50s childhoods cringe when it came out, and now we're old enough to have it happen to us. :)

Mzilla said...

Take on Me sounds like Beethoven's 5th compared to that Babydaddy song.

Kevie said...

I actually like the drawings!

Bunche said...

But they aren't even drawings! They're rotoscoped, in other words traced-over film frames.

Mark B. said...

The woman who is now the wife of one of best friends from high school was obsessed with Morten... she could never understand why this band had no other major hits. To the rest of us, it was obvious. Frankly, the '80s pop song whose appeal I will never, ever understand is Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus."

Anonymous said...

So was "Snow White" and nearly every Disney animated feature with a non-mutated human character. It made movement and flow so much more believable visually and I feel it works beautifully when incorporated with hand-drawn movement.

John Bligh said...

2 things:

1) As awful as "Take on me" is (and it IS fucking horrible) "We Built This City" is the worst song of all time.
2) There hasn't been a good Bond song since "Live & Let Die"... But I truly HATE "A View To A Kill"... Perhaps because I hate the movie so much.

That is all.

Jim Browski said...

I would rather listen to Take on Me 24 times in a row than ever be subjected to my two most hated 80's songs:

Mister Roboto by Styx

and Too Shy by the inexplicably named Kajagoogoo.

In fact, I think I hate the bands name even more than that insipid song.

Steve said...

You think you have it bad? A-Ha remains one of the most popular groups in all of Brazil, and I've heard that song at least once a week since I've been here (including at a rock club where it was wedged between a decent block of Ramones and Blondie tunes).

But "We Built This Shitty" remains the all time worst. All. Time. Worst. And if someone can explain to me what RFTW's "Oh Shiela" was all about...

Bunche said...

To Anonymous-

regarding Disney's use of rotoscope, tell me something that isn't painfully obvious. And even though rotoscope can be used to good advantage — that amazing shot of the Evil Queen descending that spiral stairway as her cape billows behind her in SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS for example — but it can also amount to a turd, like the entire running time of Ralph Bakshi's THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

Satyrblade said...

*shrugs* On the grand scale of intolerable '80s songs, that one's neither a favorite nor anathema. Now, "We Built This City" rips like steel nails down a chalkboard for me every time, with "Come On Eileen," "Too Shy" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" right up (or down) there with it... them and whatever the fuck that "Come on Ricky/ You're so fine" song is called. Man, I still want to throw radios through windows when I hear that abomination...

As for rotoscoping, I'm not sure it gets worse than the "battle scenes" in Wizards. I just re-watched part of that film again recently, for the first time since the very early '80s, and... wow. They just painted winged helmets on World War II footage. Jeezeus! And this is still considered a "classic" of animation? By whom? I'm guessing those late'70s hallucinogens still hadn't worn off when most folks saw that turd for the first time!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, rotoscoping sometimes look like crap on a cracker. You generalized in your comment, "But it's rotoscoped" as if it was ALL crap and it ain't, as I cited by offering the example of "Snow White." Where's the argument?

Bunche said...

My comment was in reference to another comment referring to the drawings in the video, to which I responded as I did becuase the work seen in "Take On Me" amounts to mere tracing over the frames as opposed to doing much of anything to make it of interest as "animation." Something like Disney's PETER PAN gave the characters distinct looks that showed there was some design applied to them to give them unique facial features, et cetera, but the only concession to actual artistry found in "Take On Me" is a somewhat smudgy tracing. That's it.

Satyrblade said...

Now HERE'S a neat bit of animation used for a music video:

And nowhere near as annoying as "Take on Me." :)

Red Stapler said...

A city built on rock and roll would be structurally unsound.

I find myself unable to hate "Take On Me," mostly because while I did watch it on its initial ascension, I was too young to go, "Oh, this song sucks." So now it's in my heart. Oh well.

You did see the version of the video where it's the singer narrating what's on the screen?


Ken Pierce said...

Yeah it was not the world's greatest tune, but I did enjoy the video since at its time it was rather original and unique. Great post and let me know if you plan on recording your own version. You certainly know enough musicians. Just imagine a rotoscoped Bunche......the horror, the horror...... :)

Laser Rocket Arm said...

I have never quite understood the hatred for "We Built This City." Yes, it's pop. Yes, it's hard to believe that members of the same band who did "White Rabbit" performed on this. But this was not Starship's darkest hour--that goes unequivocally to "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now," the piece of shit theme to the piece of shit movie "Mannequin" that makes WBTC sound original and sophisticated. The video is hilarious because you can see how much Grace Slick is loathing the whole thing. Listen to NGSUN and come back and tell me that WBTC is worse. You can't do it.

PS--I also like "Take On Me." I'm a kid of the eighties.

Bunche said...

"Listen to NGSUN and come back and tell me that WBTC is worse. You can't do it."

Oh, I can do it alright. Both of those songs are execrable and it's admittedly a case of asking "Which is worse: scabies of pelagra?" overblown self-congratulatory would-be anthems make me angrier than sappy romantic crap, so WBTC still looms as a baleful shade from the depths of Mordor in my estimation.

Stopheles said...

"Take On Me" is the most blatant example of that great 80s phenomenon (more common in the second half of the decade) - the song that is ONLY known because of its video.

The video's stylish enough, I guess, but never really did anything for me. But it comes off like something by Tartovsky compared to the completely forgettable song removed from its imagery.

Laser Rocket Arm said...

Just for S&G I looked up WBTC on Wikipedia. BERNIE TAUPIN wrote the lyrics. Gah.

Anonymous said...

My personal rage exists for "Walking On Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves, it makes me physically ill when I hear it.

Anonymous said...

I have a deep-seated hatred for pretty much ANYTHING from the 80's, so I don't even need to deconstruct the song to agree with you here.

That's not to say I begrudge those who get really into big hair and stonewashed jeans... it's just that that sort of thing nauseates me.

I found that whole decade to be singularly unpleasant when I lived through it in my teens/tweens, and this whole 80's nostalgia thing that seems to be happening now is something I want to be a part of about as much as I want to wax rhapsodic about a root canal I once endured without Novocain (which, incidentally, occurred in the 80's).

(Exceptions to my 80's hatred include "Empire," "Raiders" and "Aliens," and a small handful of other rare gems that are notably far removed from the 80's pop culture and fashion).