Today’s Flashback Friday is about an English Synthpop/New Wave band who originally started in the late 70ies, but had their prime success in the 80ies. You might know their biggest hit, Don’t You Want Me. Doesn’t ring a bell? Well… read on then!
The Human League was founded by two computer operators, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, in 1977. On their search for a vocalist, a certain Glenn Gregory, who later became lead singer in Ware and Marsh‘s new band, Heaven 17, turned down their offer, and so they went with an old school friend, Philip Oakey. Shortly after that, they decided to call themselves The Human League, a name taken from a science fiction wargame callet Starforce: Alpha Centauri. The Line-up was completed by art student Adrian Wright. Two albums were released by the quartet: Reproduction in 1979 and Travelogue in 1980, both mildly successful. The song Being Boiled was a reasonable club hit in 1978. But then the 80ies started…
The original line-up split, and Oakey gathered a bunch of new musicians, the biggest change being the addition of two female singers, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall. The new line-up was already touring together, and in 1981, Virgin Records teamed up the League with former Stranglers producer Martin Rushent. Soon after, the single The Sound Of The Crowd was released, and The Human League finally scored their first chart success. Followed by that, the “new” band’s first album Dare saw the light of day, and it was a huge success. It included more hit singles such as Open Your Heart, Love Action/Hard Times and above-mentioned Don’t You Want Me, the band’s first No. 1-single in the UK as well as in the US.
The difficult second album proved to be just that. The band struggled to compile material worthy of the debut, and to bridge the gap to the release, a six song EP called Fascination! was put on the American market. It included the new songs Mirror Man and (Keep Feeling) Fascination, and also became a strong seller as an import in the UK. Meanwhile, the stressful work on album No. 2 led to the split with Martin Rushent. The band then ditched almost all of the new songs and started over again with new producers Hugh Padgham and Chris Thomas, and in 1984, the new single The Lebanon was finally released. It left both critics and fans rather puzzled, and it failed to enter UKs top 10. The second album called Hysteria entered at No. 3, but failed to climb further, and a second single called Life On Your Own also missed the Top-10. Due to this, plans for a third single release were then put on hold.
Later in 1984, Phil Oakey teamed up with synth-pioneer Giorgo Moroder and recorded the song Together In Electric Dreams for the movie Electric Dreams. The single was a huge success, the follow-up album wasn’t. But it was enough success for the record label to finally release a third single from Hysteria, the ballad Louise.
In 1986, third album Crash was released, this time with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who had just released Janet Jackson‘s No. 1 album Control). It spawned the US hit single Human, but failed to impress otherwise.
The 90ies started off with lots of changes in the line-up, and the release of the fourth album Romantic? It included the minor hit single Heart Like A Wheel, but was not blessed with more success. Virgin Records decided not to renew the contract with the band. In 1995, The Human League were back as a trio, now only consisting of Phil Oakey and singers Sulley and Catherall (although a lot of musicians were obviously working behind the band). The single Tell Me When was their first major hit since Human, and the accompanying album Octopus was also a reasonable success. But further single releases once again failed to impress, and finally, the contract with EastWest Records was cancelled just after this one release.
The new Millenium proved to be difficult for The Human League. They released another album, Secrets, in 2001, now with Papillon, a subsidiary of Chrisalis Records. It was well received by the critics, but shortly after the release Chrisalis decided to close down Papillon, and Secrets was hardly promoted anymore. Also radio stations ignored their songs because they “didn’t fit into their target audience” anymore. This all almost led to to the break-up of The Human League.
But they got themselves together once more, and continued touring during the next years. There were the obvious 80s-revival-tours, but they also managed to sell out lots of venues themselves in the UK. As for 2007, Phil Oakey has stated that The Human League will record new material. We will see if the world’s ready for the League again…
Here are some remixes of the band’s greatest hits. You can find many fansites on the net, and most of the albums are still available as well. Enjoy!