ALBUM (1981)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am

The Human League

The Human League's frontman, Philip Oakey, considered the single Don't You Want Me as a filler. It was December 1981, and he was arguing with executives at the band's label, Virgin. The album Dare had already done a four-week run near the top of the British charts - a huge, unexpected success - and the label wanted to milk it for all it was worth. But its choice of a fourth single didn't sit well with Oakey. He thought the song the album's weakest, much inferior to already-successful singles The Sound of the Crowd, Love Action (I Believe in Love) and Open Your Heart.

Ultimately, Oakey lost the battle - and was proved very wrong. Aided by a meta film-within-a-film-within-a-film music video, the album shot to No1 and went on to sell 2 million copies worldwide, capping off one of pop's most influential records of all time.

What was significant about Dare and the new wave band was not so much their catchy chorus lines or their art-house pretensions, but their technology. The Human League weren't the first electronic band to enjoy commercial success - Gary Numan beat them on that front - but they were the first to use only synthesisers (rather than instruments) from the start. It was only in the mid-70s that such equipment became affordable for bands. One early British television interview with Oakey had him explaining to an incredulous host that, yes, they did take those coffin-sized keyboards on stage for live performances.

The road to Dare was far from smooth. An earlier incarnation of the Sheffield band saw Oakey grouped with two computer operators, Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh, who had more avant garde visions for the band. In 1980, after two unsuccessful albums with Virgin and just 10 days ahead of a tour of the UK and Europe, Ware and Marsh left Oakey to start a different project, Heaven 17. Oakey kept the band name and had to recruit replacements for the tour in the space of just over a week. He brought in keyboardist Ian Burden and found two girls - 17-year-old Susan Sulley and 18-year-old Joanne Catherall - at a nightclub and convinced them to join as dancers and back-up singers.

The tour was a failure, with Oakey ridiculed for his 'dancing girls', who were routinely heckled by crowds. But then the group were introduced to producer Martin Rushent, who took them to a new studio and soon produced The Sound of the Crowd, which reached No12 on the charts. The partnership proved extremely fruitful. The next single, Love Action, hit No3 and then Open Your Heart made it to No6, ensuring a fast start for the album when it was eventually released in October 1981.

The Human League haven't been able to replicate the blockbuster impact of Dare, but Oakey, Sulley and Catherall have stayed together all this time, scoring middling chart success with 1984's Hysteria, 1986's Crash, and 1995's Octopus. They continue to play shows around the world and have just released their ninth album, Credo (Wall of Sound), their first studio effort since 2001's largely unnoticed Secrets. So far the reviews have been mixed.


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ALBUM (1981)

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