AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #228 : THE HUMAN LEAGUE

The positive response to the recent musings on Don’t You Want Me, and in particular the unbridled enthusiasm of Post Punk Monk, has led to this very quick cash-in.

It’s awfully easy to forget that much of the new wave/electronica music and the sound of the underground here in the UK in the late 70s/early 80s was unable to travel very far, unless it either crawled into the mainstream or the singer/band in question was on a label that had the ability to have product issued on overseas subsidiaries or affiliates; even then, a would-be-listener, especially in North America, usually had to dig deep to find things in smaller record stores having, in all likelihood, heard the music on an obscure or college radio station.

PPM mentioned that his first Human League purchase was The Sound of The Crowd EP, released by Virgin Canada in 1981 which very handily contained some tracks from the back catalogue, thus giving him a great insight as to how the band’s sound developed.

This ICA is quite narrow in its outlook. There aren’t necessarily the best ten tracks that the band ever recorded and everything is lifted from a short period in time, with nothing after 1983. There’s also no Don’t You Want Me or Seconds on it, on the basis that both songs featured a short time ago (both tracks would ordinarily have been shoo-ins).

Side A

1. The Things That Dreams Are Made Of

Even if had turned out that Dare wasn’t packed with unforgetable hit singles, the very existence of this, the album’s opening track, would have made it an essential purchase. It’s the perfect blend of art-house synth and pure pop in which Phil Oakey gets to go all Mary Poppins and sing all about a small number of his favourite things.

2. Being Boiled (John Peel Session)

It’s still amazing to think that this track has such a strong Scottish connection, originally being released (in mono) on Fast Product, an Edinburgh-based independent label which was run by Bob Last. The music for this one was composed by Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, both of whom would leave The Human League in 1980 and going on to form the equally successful Heaven 17.

It was released at different times in different forms to differing acclaim and sales, I thought for something different that it would be worth featuring the Peel session version that was broadcast in August 1978.

3. The Sound of The Crowd (complete)

The breakthrough hit that catapulted the band into the Top 20 for the first time, here it is in its full 12″ vinyl glory.

It was a real bolt out of the blue as just two month previously, they had released a single called Boys and Girls which was a real disappointment, offering little of merit and suggesting they had next-to-nochance of surviving the departure of Ware and Marsh. The decision to feature female vocals and to ask a more pop-orientated producer to get on board proved to be a masterstroke. It also got invited onto Top of the Pops on 30 April 1981, and would, over the ensuing weeks and months, lead to many a joke about a particular haircut.

4. Rock’n’Roll/Nightclubbing

As featured on the Holiday 80 EP, which was released in the period between debut album Reproduction and its follow-up, Travelogue, and came from a period when the band had been working with John Leckie, who was also very heavily involved at the time with Simple Minds and Magazine.

The EP had a new version of Being Boiled on it, but the highlight for many was this six-minute effort that was a medley consisting of a cover of tracks by Gary Glitter and Iggy Pop, neither of which seemed obvious choice for the electronica treatment.

In what was a very unusual move, the producers of Top of The Pops invited the band to perform on the show in May 1980, even though the EP wasn’t in the Top 40. It proved to be the only time the original line-up would appear on the show:-

Ah…. the haircut was in place all that time before…..but when you don’t have hits, nobody pays attention!

5. Hard Times

Such was the depth and quality of material available during the sessions for Dare that this, largely instrumental number was only made available as the b-side to Love Action (I Believe In Love). The 12″ version of the single came with a 10-minute effort in which the b-side segued seamlessly into the a-side….but that’s for another occasion.

Side B

1. Black Hit of Space

A song that should provide a stonewall defence should anyone accuse early-era The Human League as being po-faced and without humour. The opening track on Travelogue in which a shit-faced Phil Oakey gets home after a night on the piss and proceeds to play a futuristic looking and sounding record that proves to be so big and popular that it takes over everything. Some said at the time that he was looking enviously at Gary Numan……

2. Mirror Man

The first new song to emerge after the success of Dare, almost a full year after Don’t You Want Me had been the world-wide smash. It’s reminiscent of the Motown sound, having the same sort of beat as so many of the big hits of the 60s; worth noting too that the the female members of the band, while being very integral to the song, don’t actually have any lyrics beyond ooh-ing and ahh-ing to great effect.

3. (Keep Feeling) Fascination

There are days when I think this could very well be my favourite of all the hit singles. It was the follow-up to Mirror Man and it felt as if the band were throwing the kitchen sink at it. From it’s jarring and nearly out-of-tune opening synth notes to the fact that all three main vocalists get a solo turn (as indeed does the mostly unheralded Jo Callis), it was the signal that, from now on, The Human League were going down the pop route and to hell with anyone who pined for the days of the Being Boiled/Reproduction era.

OK….there wasn’t all that much that I loved afterwards as the sound degenerated largely into the sort for which the 80s became loathed, with the synths bordering on soft-rock at times (exhibit #1 being the album Crash which was released in 1986), but that spell from April 81- April 83, which was bookended by Sound of the Crowd and Fasination was triumphant.

4. Empire State Human

My first exposure to the band and one of the first electronica singles that I ever bought, back in June 1980 when it was given a re-release by Virgin Records some nine months after first flopping. I wasn’t the tallest of teenagers and I was envious (a bit) of the lads who could hold their own at centre-half in the football team. It was easy to sing-along to this one.

5. WXJL Tonight

The closing track on Travelogue and a sort of sci-fi fable in which radio DJs have become a thing of the past and music is played on an automated basis. Might have seemed a tad far-fetched in 1980, but with Spotify and its ilk becoming the choice of millions the world over………………..

JC

 

17 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #228 : THE HUMAN LEAGUE

  1. This set zooms me right back to 1981. HL didn’t get on the radio in the States until the titanic Don’t You Want Me, but they were super popular in the clubs. No complaint about any of these tunes, although “Life Kills” was the standout Travelogue track for me.

  2. I remember getting Crash and being horrified. Still view it more as a Jam and Lewis lp than a Human League lp. Hysteria has some good stuff on. Life on Your Own is still one of my favs by them.

  3. I remember Crash being reviewed stating rumour had it Jam & Lewis played all the instruments as they didn’t think the HL could play decent enough, with the review concluding it was a pity J&L didn’t do the vocals too…

  4. I virtually wore through my copy of ‘Reproduction’ in 1979 – it was the sound of the future. This is a fine selection JC and a really enjoyable listen.
    In terms of their later work, I have a soft spot for the 1984 ‘Don’t You Want Me’ sequel, ‘Louise’, magnificently covered by Tony Christie a few years back.

  5. I still adore Travelogue and reckon some of their best material is there….Life Kills segues into Dreams of Leaving perfectly. I do still love the album version of Being Boiled – wind the bass up to full and let this one fly….but Reproduction is also stunning – Morale into You’ve Lost should be terrible but my god Phil could hold a tune and finally Dare – well Carter into Law into Seconds. After that it was all too brief – Mirror Man, Louise and maybe Human…..

  6. That ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ performance is painful to watch: Martyn Ware so obviously wants to be the front-man, it’s embarrassing.

  7. Not keen on much post-Dare (and the essential remix album Love Unlimited Orchestra stuff) but have a sneaking fondness for the suburban melodrama Louise, spoken word section included.

  8. At some point or another (probably towards the end of their primary school years) I got my sons into Empire State Human – ten years on, it still enjoys a level of popularity in our house that would suggest it had been a major hit.

  9. The HL are one of those bands that I think we would appreciate more of they were from the USA. Dare is my favourite album of all time as I love each track. there are other great albums out there which I think are fab but have a duff track or two. Great ICA!

  10. Good call on “WXJL Tonight,” which has recently undergone a transformative renaissance with my ears. I spent a weekend a few months ago obsessed with that song for the first time in 37 years of loving “Travelogue.” I’ve never heard the Peel Sessions version, but the remake of “Being Boiled” was unstoppable in my world. The Fast Version remains just a curio to me. The version on “Travelogue” was the perfect dark club hit that I never heard in a club.

  11. “This ICA is quite narrow in its outlook…everything is lifted from a short period in time, with nothing after 1983.”
    Didn’t realize there was that much HL output after ’83. There was ‘The Lebanon’ single, which was surprising for its use of guitar. But I don’t remember anything after that. At all. Is there enough legit material for a ’84-present ICA part 2? Inquiring minds want to know!

  12. JTFL – There is barely enough material for a strong EP compiling ’84-present. Off the top of my head?
    • Life On Your Own [I prefer it to “Louise” which has many fans here…]
    • Heart Like A Wheel [as good to me as “Fascination”]
    • Tell Me When
    • Filling Up With Heaven
    • Cruel Young Lover

    There’s probably a few from “Secrets” but I’ve not listened to that one in ages. Can’t remember the songs. [a sign, perhaps] There’s nothing on “Crash” or “Credo” worth saving.

  13. This is an excellent ICA! Can’t quibble with any of it. If I was going to dig deep in Dare, I would go for I Am The Law. I would have to leave room for Marianne as well.

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