Friday, 23 December 2011

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met you...

Quick HIt

“Don’t You Want Me” by the Human League (1982)

The human sea of people at the malls this time of year drives me crazy. I have been checked out of the way a couple of times already this year - once by an old lady, who did to her credit say “Sorry, dear” after she hip checked me into the metal tubular poles at the check-out line.

The United Nations now estimates the population of the earth at over 8 billion people. I believe it with the day I had at the grocery store!

So the story goes two very lucky girls were dancing at the Crazy Daisy Nightclub in Sheffield on a Wednesday night when a desperate Phil Oakey, in search of a backup singer found them.
Susan Sulley (17) and Joanne Catherall (18) were just on a girls night out.  Supposedly with no preamble, Oakey asked if they would be dancers and background singers for his upcoming tour. After visiting with the girl’s parents, as they were very young, they agreed to join the tour

You see Martyn Ware was the one that originally formed the Human League and he and the ‘talent’ had just left ten days before the tour was to begin.  Oakey also hired professional synthesizer player Ian Burden and valiantly they went on tour. The crowds were savage and the press was harsh. Where was the all-male line up and who were these girls? Sometimes the crowd even threw bottles at them in disgust but the venerate professional Oakey was, he even completed the Berlin leg of the tour.

In 1977 Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh were computer operators (yes they did have computers in those days) and developing the electronic/glam style. The price of synthesizers had dropped to the point where Marsh purchased a Korg 700S and learned to play it. Soon Adi Newton joined them – him with a Roland System 100 synthesizer and they came to be known as “The Future”.

‘The Future’ had no future as far as the record companies were concerned – they had no marketable songs with no lead singer. In their search they found the flamboyant Phil Oakey, a school mate of Wares.  A weird board game called “Starforce: Alpha Centuri” would inspire the bands new name. In the science fiction war-game (yes they were kinda of geeks, and yes I was thinking the same thing), they named themselves after the ‘Human League’ which in the game rises in the year 2415, seeking a better place to live in the universe.

The independent label ‘Fast Product’ released their first single, written by Oakey in 1978. It was a bit of an odd thing at the time but the New Music Express picked up on it and seemed to glean on to the band.
Their electronic, computer and now visual show courtesy of one Phillip Wright began to gain momentum. One night David Bowie appeared in the audience and quoted that “he had seem the future of pop music”.

1979, now signed with Virgin records they were opening for Iggy Pop and hoping their new single “I Don’t Depend on You” would be the next big thing.  It did not chart very well, but prophetically it had female backup singers making it sound a lot like the later Human League line-up.

They did produce a full album with Virgin called “Reproduction” with its single “Empire State Human”, but the funky techno-pop of one Gary Numan was getting all the attention. Numan of course went on to do the electro indulgence “Cars” to great success.

Virgin decided to dump them due to lack of commercial success. Oakey and Wares having always having a quarrelsome, via for control broke up the band. The tour was only 10 days away now and Oakey was carrying all the debts and commitments. This is where we came in.

After the unsuccessful tour with the ‘new’ band. In January 1981 under enormous pressure to produce a single for Virgin records Oakey produced “Boys and Girls” which thankfully was the best outing of the HL to date, charting at #43 on the U.K. charts.  Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall having proven themselves previously became permanent, paid members of the band.

Oakey tracked down Ian Burden and hired him permanently to the band. New producer Martin Rushent sent them to record in Genetic Studios in Reading – the resultant single “The Sound of the Crowd” was an instant success of number twelve.

Adding Jo Callis in April ’81, the next single “Love Action (I Believe n Love) went right to number three on the charts. Now Virgin was back and board and authorized a full album. “Dare” was born. This album went to number one in the U.K. and stayed there for 4 weeks. “Open Your Heart” was released and did very well again.

Late in 1981 Virgin executive Simon Draper decided that he wanted to release “Don’t You Want Me” as a single. Oakey fought it – this song was weak, just filler, what they hell were they thinking?

“Don’t You Want Me”, went straight to number one in December 1981 and stayed there for weeks. It has now sold something in excess of two million copies. Huh. Maybe those executive types have a clue or two sometimes.

Early in 1982 “Being Boiled” a very early HL song was rereleased and went top time, whilst an American version now called “Dare!” threw “Don’t You Want Me” to number one of the U.S. music charts by mid-year.  Later in the year the single “Mirror Man” went number two in the U.K.

In 1983 the six-song EP including the hit “Fascination” kept the momentum going for this now international band. 1984 saw the much different “Hysteria” produce the politically charged single, “The Lebanon” and “Life on Your Own”.

The band stagnated a bit at this point but did produce “Crash” with its U.S. number one single “Human”.  The 1988 Greatest Hits package also did well. More albums and more concerts kept them busy in the 90’s but the band drifted into being the sound of yesterday as they all do eventually.

In the league of humans it is always competitive. As one of my favourite comedians Lily Tomlin once said “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat”.

No comments: