American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/7/85: a-ha, “Take On Me”

This was the first weekend of my senior year of college, classes likely having started on Wednesday. I was taking courses in math, physics, computer science, history, and French, plus my usual quarter-credit for tooting on the trombone. Easily the most enjoyable class that semester was History of England to 1660; James and Stacey were among the others in the class. We read engaging books on pivotal moments such as the Norman Conquest, the Black Death, and the Spanish Armada (the last of these was especially good) and then slammed out two-page papers and the occasional essay exam for Dr. Binford. I kinda wish now I’d had room to take the second half of the sequence in the winter. While I’ve yet to travel to Great Britain, I suppose it’s not too late.

By this point I’d pretty well settled on a post-baccalaureate plan. I imagine graduate study of some sort was always in the cards. Three years earlier I would have told you that computer science was by far the most likely subject for further investigation, but along the way I had slowly turned toward mathematics. I realize CS would have been the sounder choice from a financial perspective (I don’t even need to add a phrase like ‘in retrospect’ to that–it had to have been obvious at the time). Even though I still like to noodle around with programming, there are zero complaints about the path I wound up following. I’d spend a chunk of the fall semester beginning the process of identifying potential next destinations, taking the GRE, etc. Mark H was also planning on graduate school, though in CS; we wound up considering some of the same places.

When casting around for a song from this show that reflects some part of where I was in my social life at that moment, I found two diametrically opposite positions to take. The harder view is represented by Sting’s “Fortress Around Your Heart.” At the beginning of 85 I’d written a diary entry claiming as a result of a particular experience the year before I’d “stashed…emotions in an ice box somewhere far down” and that I was “colder than I used to be.” It’s not clear this was remotely true, but knowing I was leaving Lexington in less than a year (UK wasn’t really on my radar for grad school) did make me loath to seek out a dating relationship.

On the much brighter side, I was already in love with a-ha’s “Take On Me” and its striking, magical video. Watching vocalist Morten Harket and his then-girlfriend Bunty Bailey (who’s just three months younger than I) act out those moments when you first meet a potentially special someone…well, I guess it gave a 21-year-old hope. The future #1 song was hanging out at #21 on this show.

Perhaps you can tell we’re going with optimism today–I’m a sucker for a happy ending, I suppose.

One other note: I immediately knew the source of the ending for the vid of “Take On Me” the first time I saw it. I’d gone on a double date with a friend early in 81 to see the William Hurt/Blair Brown flick Altered States. (You can find a clip of the film’s final scene on YouTube, but it’s NSFW.) Given the R rating, the folks at the cinema must not have been enforcing the rules the night we were there–maybe I’d just turned 17, but my date was younger.

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