It is now more than 37(!!!) years since the April 1981 release of the 45 which took the new-look The Human League into the charts and onto our television screens via Top of the Pops. Synth-pop had duly arrived with a bang.

The Sound of The Crowd was an extraordinary single that still sounds superb all these years on. It was full of catchy little chants such as ‘Get Around Town’ and ‘Arse Around’ (sorry that should read ‘Pass Around…but I’m sure the way it was put down on record was deliberate) and yet it was impossible to fully sing along to without making an idiot of yourself thanks to phrases like ‘Make a shroud pulling combs through a backwash frame” which I’m sure is one that Ian McCulloch has always wished he’d come up with.

This was the first release in which Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall featured as backing vocalists to Phil Oakey. There can be no argument that their contributions were every bit as vital as the tune itself in creating the pop hooks which made it such a natural tune for daytime radio.

The visual element they brought with them was also a huge factor in raising the profile of the band – if you want evidence for that claim then just look at the fact the first TOTP appearance came when the band was sitting outside the Top 50 ; the show’s producers obviously believed that the contrast between these two young and attractive teenagers and the bloke with the funny haircut would get people talking.

Further evidence that TOTP saw the band as naturals for the show? The second appearance came a few weeks later when the single was at #15….having dropped down from #12 the previous week, thus breaking the rule-of-thumb on the show in those days that you would only be invited to perform if your song was rising up the charts.

I’m sure that many who had been interested in the band from the early days would have been appalled at the apparent sell-out. The Sound of The Crowd was a million miles away from Being Boiled and about half that distance from Empire State Human but there were no grumbles from me as the song became part of the soundtrack of my final few weeks at school and its follow-ups were aired at the student union disco nights as I found my feet at University.

Here’s some cuts straight from the 12″ vinyl:-

mp3 : The Human League – The Sound Of The Crowd (Complete)
mp3 : The Human League – The Sound Of The Crowd (Instrumental)



Back in 1980, this was the review penned in Sounds which was then one of the main weekly music UK papers:-

Too much, too late, but too good to be missed. Eighteen months ago The Human League stood on the brink of altering the course of British pop music. Their humour and conviction combined to create an aura of (until then) unknown commercial excitement. Had the Sheffield funsters swallowed their hip pride and attacked the singles charts, they would have created a devastating impact on the British pop music(k) scene.

But as always seems to happen to the originals, they failed because of their own foolish move towards dignity and ‘below ground’ obscurity. They stood back for a moment allowing the empty and dull Gary Numan to ruin their market with his one and only flash of excellence. As soon as ‘Are Friends Electric’ hit that number one spot it became clear that The Human League had lost the gamble. And the stakes were high.

So, now in the midst of ska silliness, the finest electronic band of all time finally release the goods. A double single that clearly defines to all four angles of synthesised madness. The soft beauty of ‘Marianne’, the weirdness of ‘Dance Vision’, the perfect semi-harsh statements of ‘Being Boiled’ (new version) and finally the absurd pap-poppity of Gary Glitters ‘Rock And Roll’ and Iggy’s ‘Nightclubbing’. To be taken in large doses. To be played to life.

Nobody then could have predicted that within 12 months, The Human League would be the band to redefine British music in a way that no-one else had done since the era of The Beatles as synthesisers replaced guitars as the instrument of choice on the attack on the pop charts. Listening to Holiday 80, which is as excellent a release as the Sounds critic indicates, it really is hard to imagine what would unfold in the months ahead:-

mp3 : The Human League – Marianne
mp3 : The Human League – Dancevision
mp3 : The Human League – Being Boiled
mp3 : The Human League – Rock’n’Roll/Nightclubbing

But 37 years ago???? Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.


PS : This is an apt posting as I’m off to Lanzarote for a few days with Mrs V.  The rest of the week will be guest postings of a far higher quality than the rubbish that’s been here in recent times.



It was the summer of 1980 when I heard this in a local record shop not far from where I lived with my parents and brothers. It was in the box of singles marked ‘Just In’ and I remember thinking that I was dead clever at picking up so quickly on something so utterly quirky, mesmerising and unique. It was a single I bought with money for my 17th birthday.

My bubble got burst about three days later when my mate’s big brother, who was very much into weird electronica music and hated, with a passion, the new-wave guitar bands that I was such a fan of, took immense pleasure in pointing out that I’d bought a re-released single and that if I really thought I was cool in my choice of music and wanted to stay ahead of the game, I had to be a bit sharper.

And while I wasn’t among the first to pick up on The Human League, I’m still proud that I knew a bit about them before the the astonishing success they enjoyed from late 1981 onward when they unleashed the magnificent pop opus that was Dare.

Empire State Human is a magnificent record. I cannot to this day understand why it failed to chart on its original release in September 1979. It wasn’t as if radio stations were totally adverse to electronic pop as Gary Numan was riding high in the charts throughout that year. It’s one of those songs that sticks with you when you play it and you just cant get it out of your head. And its not an unpleasant feeling.

mp3 : The Human League – Empire State Human

It also added to my fascination with NYC, a city that as a teenager seemed to be the most exciting, exotic and vibrant on the planet.  But it may as well have been on the moon such was the cost and ability to visit there back in the early 80s. Changed days for young folk nowadays.




It’s now coming up to 8 years since I started up TVV during which time many very fine bloggers have come and gone, many of whom now concentrate their efforts on podcasts or other more instant forms of social media.

It has become increasingly rare to find new kids on the blogging block – particularly those who decide to focus in on that punk/new wave era which was so exciting – and so you can imagine how delighted I was to find my way onto For Malcontents Only, particularly given that it is a place which looks back at the scene in and around Glasgow.

This excellent blog kicked off back just 12 months ago.  Judging by some of the postings, I’m hazarding a guess that Jamie (I’ve only just learned his name thanks to his e-mail address!) is maybe a couple of years older than me given that he is able to reminisce about gigs in pubs at a time when I was dreaming of being able to shave on a regular basis… or maybe unlike me he didn’t have a baby face and a great fear of knock-backs from bouncers.

As you’d imagine, it’s a place heavy with nostalgia but there’s also a tremendous selection of posts concentrating on the here and now.  One of the most unique aspects of FMO is that it features interviews with some of the lesser-known artists who were part of the punk/new wave scene and brings their stories bang up to date.  In short, it is the sort of blog that I had dreams TVV would look like when I set out all those years ago!!

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from May when Jamie looked back at a single released on a small Scottish label:-

The Human League: Being Boiled (1978) Fast Product

In a Melody Maker interview back in February 1979, Martyn Ware of The Human League mentioned that the band were more influenced by films than by they were rock, claiming he’d rather see a good film than a good rock band. In the cinema, ‘You’re part of the experience. Whereas, watching a rock band, it’s just some guys up on a stage.’
When a tour (due to take in Edinburgh and Aberdeen) was later announced supporting Talking Heads, it became apparent that The Human League didn’t see themselves as your standard guys up on a stage kinda band.

Their idea for the show was a multimedia extravaganza, utilizing their new synchronization units that meant they could operate slides in sync with each song. The problem with the plan as far as Talking Heads (not exactly backwards looking dinosaurs themselves) were concerned was the fact that while each member of The Human League would be at the gig, rather than being the centre of attention, they would supposedly be in the audience, hopefully discussing the automated events on stage and signing autographs.

The idea got the band dropped from the tour although they wanted to press ahead with the concept and even expand it.

As their manager Bob Last explained to NME: ‘It’s cost us a lot of money to set up and now we have audio-visuals, tape memory banks – in fact, the whole gist of the show – just sitting in boxes and waiting to go.’

Last outlined the potential of the show and spoke of creating a version for discos rather than rock concerts. ‘There are various other avenues to be explored. For example, I think it would be the ideal support for Alien, or a film of that nature.’

After the comparative failure of second album Travelogue, tensions within the band increased; eventually singer Phil Oakey decided that he wanted to sack Ware, Ian Craig Marsh wasn’t keen on the idea and the pair quit and teamed up on a new project to be known as the British Electric Foundation (BEF).

Remaining members Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright retained The Human League name, although they had to be convinced by Bob Last to do so. The music press didn’t see much of a future for a band with only a singer and director of visuals (even if Wright had started playing incidental keyboards). And you could hardly blame them.

Oakey, though, came up with a possible solution to enable a forthcoming European tour to still go ahead. His plan to fill in the gap left by Marsh and Ware revolved largely around the recruitment of two schoolgirls, Suzanne Sulley (17) and Joanne Catherall (18), who he’d spotted on the dancefloor at the Crazy Daisy’s ‘Futurist’ night in Sheffield although he also additionally employed a professional keyboard player, Ian Burden.

Neither girl had any kind of remarkable singing voice and neither was that great at dancing either. If the pair had time-travelled thirty odd years forward and showed up at an X-Factor audition, they would likely be dismissed as no-hopers.

Luckily the pop buying masses of 1981 didn’t require performers with touching ‘backstories’ on Saturday night TV, neither did they require anyone to have been coached by professionals to perform pointless vocal gymnastics or to display a look that had been (supposedly) ‘styled’ to perfection by somebody with no sense of originality or indeed style.

Having seen the new look League on Top of the Pops miming to Sound of the Crowd, the pop buying masses decided they actually liked the caked-on mascara, beauty spots and lippy and the slightly awkward and un-coordinated dance routines. Generally, girls identified with them while boys fancied them.

Joanne and Suzanne soon became the poster girls for synth-pop but Bob Last, in particular, judged the band could be improved further by the addition of one final and vital ingredient, another professional musician, after Ian Burden temporarily left post-tour.

It might have appeared that the ex-guitarist of the retro obsessed Rezillos and the futuristic Human League had little in common bar sharing the same manager but in April 1981, Jo Callis was invited to become a permanent member, the idea being even stranger if you bear in mind Callis’ confession that he had never been near a keyboard in his life.

The first Human League album with the new line-up, Dare was released in October, 1981 and quickly made its way to the top of the UK album charts. By Christmas it had gone platinum in Britain, its number one status equalled by a single that Phil Oakey hadn’t wanted released, Don’t You Want Me – he only agreed finally on the condition that a large colour poster accompanied the 45, otherwise, he felt, fans would feel ripped off by the ‘substandard’ single alone.

Co-written by Callis, Oakey and Wright, the ‘substandard’ single went on to become one of the UK’s biggest ever selling songs*, the British Christmas number one of 1981 and also later an American #1 too and a worldwide smash.

And here I finally get round to the Scottish independent labels part of the post. Due to the success of Don’t You Want Me, the first ever Human League single, Being Boiled, which had been originally released during the summer of 1978 on Bob Last’s Edinburgh based Fast Product label, was made available again and this time entered the top ten of the singles charts, where it should have been first time around. For me it’s a much better record than Don’t You Want Me. See what you think:

mp3 : Human League – Being Boiled

And if anybody is wondering, this is only the first of a number of entries in this series looking at Fast Product, so I will get round to writing more on the actual label in the future. Honestly.

* It even re-entered the charts here a couple of months ago after being taken up by Aberdeen fans in the run up to their team winning the Scottish League Cup.


I’ve never met Jamie…not knowingly anyway…..but there’s no doubt that over the past 35 years, we have been in the same place at the same time on many an occasion…we might even have nodded to one another in passing and noot realised!!

The last of this particular Friends Electric series will be tomorrow. TVV should, all being well, begin to return to normal next week.