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Oldies 17/09/2003

Retro: The Human League

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Gillingham, Kent, UK (By Mikey) - Human League was born, in the late 1970s as the brainchild of two computer operators, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware, from Sheffield, England. Inspired by the likes of Kraftwerk, Roxy Music and disco producer Giorgio Moroder, they recruited Martyn's school friend Philip Oakey, who worked as a hospital porter, as lead singer. They tried a number of names including the Dead Daughters and The Future.

With this new line-up, along with Phil Oakey, the group decided to change their name. After briefly considering ABCD, they chose The Human League, a name taken from a science-fiction board game called 'Star Force'.

Adrian Wright joined shortly thereafter to prepare slide shows for projection during the group's live performances. The Human League appeared from the art-house left field as The Future, before releasing their initial public offering: a dark, futurist dancefloor classic, to cacophonous silence in 1978. Being Boiled, still famously the only hit single about the breeding of silkworms, was all paranoid synths and proto hip-hop beats, informed as much by the robo-funk of Kraftwerk as it was by disco-pioneer Giorgio Moroder.

Phillip Oakey was notably famous for his jet-black hairstyle, where it was longer on one side of his head and shorter on the other side, spooky!!!

The group were swiftly signed by the influential indie label Fast Product to release their seminal debut single 'Being Boiled' (1978) and were then snapped up by Virgin, for whom they produced two ground breaking albums, 'Reproduction' (1979) and 'Travelogue' (1980).

This was The Human League's debut single, recorded in mono on a Sony two-track tape recorder. The single was issued under the title Electronically Yours and the original release sold several thousand copies before being deleted. When re-issued in January 1982, after the huge success of 'Don't You Want Me', the single soared to number six in the UK charts, spending nine weeks in the Top 75.

In October 1980 the group split in half. Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left to begin a project called the British Electric Foundation whose first spin-off was the group Heaven 17 and their hit (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang and not forgetting their ground-breaking single Temptation. Of the remaining Human League pair, only Philip Oakey was a performer. With determination to complete a European tour, Adrian Wright began learning to play synthesizer and two female singers, Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall, were recruited from among the dancers at Sheffield's Crazy Daisy disco. Susan and Joanne were just into their late-teens, barely just out of secondary school, when they joined the band. Bassist Ian Burden was also added as a temporary group member.

With additional recruits Ian Burden and Jo Callis on synthesizers, they recorded the 5-million-selling album 'Dare' (1981) which spawned worldwide hits such as 'Don't You Want Me' and 'Love Action', and effectively introduced synthesizers into the US mainstream. With this surety of purpose, Oakey and his premiership Human League released three hit singles, steadily getting closer to that precious numero uno. Then, on the eve of the album Dare, they let 'Don't You Want Me' out of the traps, a simple hymn of lost love and cocktail bars in Sheffield that would have got to the top spot with or without a bullet.

The group, which also topped the US Chart, with 'Don't You Want Me' and won Best Newcomer Award at the 1982 Brit Awards. 'Don't You Want Me' was the best selling single of 1981 with over 1,430,000 in sales. This was followed by 'Love And Dancing', a remix album (credited to the 'League Unlimited Orchestra') that would have a tremendous impact on dance and remix culture.

However, the group struggled to follow 'Dare' with a full studio album and their next release, 'Hysteria' (1984) was patchy and coolly received. For their next album, 'Crash' (1986), US R&B producers were drafted in; the results sounded little like The Human League, though lead single 'Human' provided them with a second US number one.

After the 'Greatest Hits' compilation (1988), the group returned with 'Romantic?' (1990), but with little commercial success. Dropped by Virgin, they finally bounced back into the UK Top 10 in 1995 with 'Tell Me When' and the album 'Octopus' (East West), but were dropped again within two years. They eventually returned on Papillon in 2001 with the critically acclaimed 'Secrets' album, but with little support from their record label, the album sank without trace, leaving the group little choice but to resort to the nostalgia package tours they detest in order to stay afloat in 2002.

Besides the Human League, lead singer Phil Oakey, has worked with a number of artists, from Giorgio Moroder (Together In Electric Dreams), to Alex Gold. And wrote the music along with Giorgio Moroder for the Motion Picture 'Electric Dreams'. Phil Oakey also had a minor top 40 hit '1st Man In Space' collaborating with All Seeing I, in January 1999, peaking at No.28.

Human League have been touring with the likes of, Bananarama, Heaven 17, ABC, Go West, Kim Wilde in the Here and Now concerts in London, to outstanding performances to a large worldwide selling audience, with fans from all over the European continent to see these acts performing again.

A couple of artists started sampling Human League singles such as, George Michael, by using a sample from 'Open Your heart' for the single 'Shoot The Dog' and Richard X vs. Liberty X, by using a sample from 'Being Boiled' for the single 'Being Nobody'.

A very inventive band of their era, and the era of New Romantics was born, surpassing two decades of their career, mixing with the likes of Duran Duran, ABC, Heaven 17, and many other numerous acts which have re-surfaced in today's ever changing music industry.

You can catch them in the late autumn when they start touring again in the Here and Now concerts, showcasing in London.

The Human League Discography

03/05/80 Holiday 80 (Double Single) - Chart Position No.46, 10 weeks on chart
21/06/80 Empire State Human - Chart Position No.62, 2 weeks on chart
28/02/81 Boys and Girls - Chart Position 48, No.4 weeks on chart
02/05/81 The Sound of the Crowd - Chart Position No.12, 10 weeks on chart
08/08/81 Love Action (I believe in love) - Chart Position No.3, 13 weeks on chart-
10/10/81 Open Your Heart - Chart Position No.6, 9 weeks on chart (*)
05/12/81 Don't You Want Me - Chart Position No.1, 13 weeks on chart (*)
09/01/82 Being Boiled - Chart Position No.6, 9 weeks on chart (*)
20/11/82 Mirror Man - Chart Position No.2, 10 weeks on chart (*)
23/04/83 (Keep feeling) Fascination - Chart Position No.2, 9 weeks on chart (*)
05/05/84 The Lebanon - Chart Position No.11, 7 weeks on chart
30/03/84 Life On Your Own - Chart Position No.16, 6 weeks on chart
17/11/84 Louise - Chart Position No.13, 10 weeks on chart
23/08/86 Human - Chart Position No.8, 8 weeks on chart (*)
22/11/86 I Need Your Loving - Chart Position No.72, 1 week on chart
15/10/88 Love is all that matters - Chart Position No.41, 5 weeks on chart
18/08/90 Heart Like A Wheel - Chart Position No.29, 5 weeks on chart
07/01/95 Tell Me When - Chart Position No.6, 9 weeks on chart (*)
18/03/95 One Man In My Heart - Chart Position No.13, 8 weeks on chart
17/06/95 Filling Up With Heaven - Chart Position No.36, 2 weeks on chart
28/10/95 Don't You Want Me (remix) - Chart Position No.16, 3 weeks on chart
20/01/96 Stay With Me Tonight - Chart Position No.40, 2 weeks on chart
11/08/01 All I Ever Wanted - Chart Position No.47, 1 week on chart

N.B. 'Holiday 80 (Double Single)' reached its peak position on re-entry in February 1982. Tracks on the Double Single are Being Boiled / Marianne / Rock and Roll - Nightclubbing / Dancevision.
(*) Top 10 Hit Single

11/10/79 Reproduction - Chart Position No.34
31/05/80 Travelogue - Chart Position No.16
31/10/81 Dare - Chart Position No.1
28/06/82 Love and Dancing (League Unlimited Orchestra) - Chart Position No.3
19/05/84 Hysteria - Chart Position No.3
06/09/86 Crash - Chart Position No.7
12/11/88 Greatest Hits - Chart Position No.3
23/09/90 Romantic? - Chart Position No.24
23/01/95 Octopus - Chart Position No.6
23/11/95 Greatest Hits - Chart Position No.9
25/11/96 Soundtrack to a Generation - Chart Position No.32
06/07/01 Secrets - Chart Position No.42
11/11/02 The Golden Hour of the Future (Early Human League Material) - Chart Position Unknown
15/09/03 The Very Best of... (Double CD)

N.B. For early material on The Human League - The Golden Hour of the Future, album showcases early material that was never used, before the very first release of Being Boiled in 1979. The album can be order from a back catalogue from various record stockists.

Look out for an album review in the near future on The Very Best of... coming soon.

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