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a night to remember – no.1 in the usa

It is October 9, 1985. We are sitting with a lukewarm Budweiser and a can of low-calorie cola, staring at the garish colors on the TV screen. Morten is in his room. Pål is leafing through his notebook, jotting down loose thoughts and ideas and making sketches which may become new ideas, songs and lyrics. Mags and I are trying to follow what’s on TV.

“Isn’t there anything better on TV?” Mags snarls as he switches from channel to channel, finding nothing but tacky soaps, boring chat shows and dull films. Maybe it’s just that the boys are tired. Another hard working day is over, and tomorrow morning they’ll be getting up early to finish the video production of The Sun Always Shines On TV. The director, Steve Barron, is an incredibly hard worker and demands rested actors – at an early hour.

It’s only half past nine in the evening, but in the three-room apartment at the John Howard Hotel in Kensington, London, it’s about time to call it a day. Clothes, letters and instruments lie strewn about the floor. Morten’s girlfriend Bunty takes a friend of hers to the tube station. Pål stretches, looks at the clock and says, “I think I’ll hit the sack’. Just then, the telephone rings.

“Oh, what now,” Mags groans, who is sitting nearest the phone and picks it up to answer. Everything seems to go quick, with only the noise of the TV droning on in the background. Until Mags explodes. Jumping about three feet in the air, he shouts, “We’re number one in the USA!” The telephone falls to the floor, Pål tips his glass over on the table, Morten comes flying through the door, slamming it shut with a bang.

The news from Los Angeles is true! a-ha’s first single, Take on Me, has gone to the top of the Billboard chart in the USA. The boys all start talking, laughing and crying at the same time. Everyone is hugging each other, and Bunty is nearly moved down by them when she comes back from the tube. “We’re number one! We’re number one!” Suddenly everyone starts diving for the telephone. I want to catch the newspapers before they go to print in Norway, and the others want to call Lauren in Boston, Heidi in Oslo, their mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends.

So, the evening is not over after all. What else could we do now but go out and celebrate! No time to order the usual limousines, so Bunty and I dive into a taxi and the boys bicker about which restaurant to go to. We end up at West End, a part of town the boys know as well as Oslo, having spent several meager years living in London. They charge about as if they were in a film, jumping over fire hydrants, congratulating total strangers on the street, racing each other, stopping cars, making faces, screaming and shouting.

Finally, we stumble down the stairs to Joe Allen’s restaurant in Covent Garden. The way is barred by a head waiter who is being bawled out by two customers complaining about the service. So we just force our way around the quarrelers and seat ourselves at a corner table. There’s no doubt about what the appetizer will be: champagne! I am now about to witness a very special drinking session. Mags starts the ball rolling, and for once, the otherwise overly moderate Pål and Morten are game as well. “Bottoms Up!” Pål shouts, and down goes the second glass. He gives one more toast, then he slaps down his empty glass so that the stem splinters and the glass breaks. The pieces are deftly swept into the bottom of the champagne cooler before the next bottle is ordered. Things calm down a bit now. The boys start to think about what has happened…

“It was unbelievable,” Pål says. “It was as if my whole life flashed through my mind at once when I heard it.”

“It sure feels great to have proof now that our expectations weren’t too high, as so many people have told us,” Mags adds.

The champagne is still flowing, but Morten and Bunty dilute it with orange juice and mineral water. And they pick soberly at their salads, while the rest of us gorge ourselves on steaks and gravy. It’s not every day you’re number one in the USA. No one around us has any idea who it is sitting here celebrating so noisily. a-ha are not celebrities in England – yet. Scowls from the neighboring table and a few snide comments from the waiters have no effect tonight. But when the bill arrives, the situation does get somewhat embarrassing because the restaurant will not accept my American Express Card. So everyone empties their pockets and there’s just enough left over for a small tip for the waiter. “Hopefully we won’t have to go through that next time we’re number one,” laughs Mags just before the cheerful gang heads back to the hotel. More hugs and congratulations and then to bed.

But no. The grapevine and other, more technically advanced methods of spreading the news have been at work. Each and every newspaper office in Norway has grasped what has happened. So one by one, the Norwegian press come streaming in, and the boys, being good patriots, go along with it. They’re not likely to get much sleep before the alarm goes off in the morning to call them to their next video shoot. But it’s unbelievable what you can handle when you know you’re number one in the USA. The first big dream has come true, though not without a good deal of hard work.