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Soundtrack to a Generation: The ‘lost’ music of the Human League
04:26 pm


The Human League
Yellow Magic Orchestra

The Human League? When’s the last time you thought about them?

It must be incredibly galling to have recorded one of the top-selling pop singles of all time and then just a few years later, no ones cares about you anymore or has much interest in your new thing. No matter how good it is!

I’ve always been a Human League fan since I was a kid, but I wasn’t like a “fanatic” for them. I owned all of their albums up to and including 1986’s disappointing Crash but after that they fell off my radar. When 1990’s comeback album Romantic? flopped, it sold for $1 in the cut out bins and even then, I didn’t bother buying it. I still listened to them, but it tended to be the earlier “Being Boiled” or Dignity of Labour-era material that I liked the best, the pre-Dare stuff.

About fifteen years ago I picked up a bootleg of “The Jason Taverner Tape,” or just “The Taverner Tape” at the Pasadena Flea Market. This was a name from a Philip K. Dick novel, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. In the book there is a television personality named Jason Taverner. “The Taverner Tape” is a demo that the Human League made and circulated to record companies, as The Same Mistakes blog explains:

The trio gathered homemade demos of several of the tracks they had been playing live, in support of bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Stranglers, and asked local network television personality Jason Taverner to introduce them on a tape to be sent round to the labels. Taverner was an avuncular figure; when they appeared on his show, he liked to call Ian, Martyn, and Phil, “the lads,” and praised their youthful optimism when other bands “were just trying to shock people.” In return, the band had recorded a hit album, “There’ll Be A Good Time With Taverner Tonight.” This was sure to get the attention of the A&R men.

Of course there was no Jason Taverner. The League had never been on TV, let alone recorded a hit album. It was all an elaborate ruse, somewhere between Situationist prank and Monty Python skit, with Phil playing the part of the regional television personality to a tee. To further confound matters, they inserted the same fifteen second theme, the so-called “Dominion Jingle,” after each song. An obscure reference to a fictional drug, and sounding like a lost sound cue from a low budget horror movie set in an abandoned amusement park, the jingle cast an ominous shadow over the demo’s collection of pop songs and futuristic instrumentals, reminding listeners that the League were as much descendants of Delia Derbyshire as Donna Summer.

Sounds good, right?

It is. Similar early Human League material was released as The Golden Hour of the Future in 2002 which is also highly recommended. Then one day I saw dozens and dozens of $1 cutout CDs of their 2001 album Secrets (it turns out that the label that released it had gone bankrupt and their offices were down the street from this record store) and so I bought it. To my surprise I guess, it was really, really good. I picked up both Romantic? and their little-heard 1995 album Octopus, in short order.

All three of them, I reckon, are quite good. If you look into it, the reasons these three excellent albums failed to get noticed can probably best be chalked up to bad luck and having not one, but two, record labels going tits up in row for consecutive releases!

If timing is everything, the baffling lack of success in the instances of both Octopus and Secrets cannot be blamed on the music. Phil Oakey must want to bash his head against the wall sometimes at what shitty fate the worthy music that he’s made during the latter part of his career has had. On the other hand, time is a great equalizer and I’m sure that at some point in the future some of the Human League’s “lost” songs will be rediscovered and perhaps adopted as a soundtrack by a new generation. It seems inevitable.

After the jump, some of the “lost” (at least in the US, if not Great Britain) songs of The Human League…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Logic, inspiration and luck’: How The Human League became one of the biggest groups of the 80s
09:15 am


The Human League
Phil Oakey

I was working as a porter in hospital doesn’t have quite the same ring as “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…” but that’s exactly what Phil Oakey was doing when he was asked by ex-schoolmate Iain Craig Marsh to join him and Martyn Ware as singer with their band—The Human League.

Logic: Marsh was in his early twenties and beginning to make good money working when he decided to put his extra moolah towards buying one of the cheap commercial synthesizers that were coming onto the market. Inspired by Kraftwerk, science fiction (J. G. Ballard) and the industrial landscape of their hometown Sheffield, Ware and Marsh began creating an ambient soundtrack. It quickly became apparent to the pair they needed a lead singer to make the music work. That’s when Marsh remembered his classmate Oakey—as he looked like a pop star.

Inspiration: With the arrival of hospital porter Oakey, The Human League were now ready for phase one of their career—as an influential, semi-avant garde, electronic band.

In 1977, they issued a group (slightly tongue-in-cheek) manifesto:

SCENARIO: In the summer of 1977 The Human League was formed due to the members finding no conventional channels for their immense talents.

BACKGROUND: None of The Human League have any orthodox musical training, but prefer to regard compositions as an extension of logic, inspiration and luck. Therefore, unlike conventional musicians their influences are not so obvious.

CONCLUSION/MANIFESTO: Interested in combining the best of all worlds, The League would like to positively affect the future by close attention to the present, allying technology with humanity and humour.

Gradually building up a young predominantly male fan base at college campuses and small venues, the band were signed to Virgin Records where they released two critically acclaimed albums Reproduction (1979) and Travelogue (1980). But the success the group hoped for did not follow. The band split with Marsh and Ware going off to form Heaven 17, leaving Oakey and Adrian Wright to carry on as The Human League.

Luck: With a European concert tour imminent, and the reality of Oakey and Wright being sued for failing to fulfil their tour commitments, Oakey decided to bring in two random girls he had seen one night dancing in a club—Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. Both girls knew Oakey and The Human League, and had planned to see the band at their forthcoming gig in Doncaster. Oakey’s bright idea of bringing in Joanne and Susan changed The Human League from a nerdy boy’s favorite to everyone’s favorite.

With the arrival of ex-Rezillos guitarist Jo Callis in 1981 and the release of their generation defining album Dare the same year, the greatest phase of The Human League had begun.
Young Guns Go For It was an godawful title for a rather good series about eighties pop bands—from Culture Club to The Smiths, Bananarama and Soft Cell. The 30 minutes on The Human League was arguably the best of the series as it brought together all the band members and took them on a literal journey through their hometown of Sheffield and their classic pop history.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
What if that Human League song were only ‘you were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’?
04:39 pm


The Human League

File under “so dumb it’s genius.”

You Tuber svantana has reduced the lyrical content of Human League’s 1981 hit “Don’t You Want Me” to the catchiest and, perhaps, most thematically important line: “You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.”

The gist of the entire song boils down to that anyway, right?

At 1:35 into the song Susan Ann Sulley takes up her half of the duet with Philip Oakey and responds “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, that much is true. I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. I guess it’s just what I must do.”

What’s clearly important here is that both sides understand that the woman was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.


Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Flyer for the first Human League gig, 1978
01:03 pm


The Human League

A flyer for the very first Human League show in 1978 done by Martyn Ware.

Via Post Punk Tumblr

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
‘Dare’ Producer Martin Rushent has died

It’s been a bad week for music with the passing last week of Gil Scott-Heron, and on Friday Andrew Gold. Now we have the sad news that producer Martin Rushent has died at the age of 63.

Rushent was one of the most influential producers of the late 1970s and 1980s, who created the soundscape that defined the era. If you turned on the radio back then, you were guaranteed to hear a Rushent-produced track within minutes, for Rushent was the touch of genius on some of the best work released by The Human League, Altered Images, The Stranglers, Generation X, The Associates and The Buzzcocks.

Though Rushent may be best remembered for his work producing (and performing on) the Human League’s album Dare and its hit single “Don’t You Want Me”, for which he won Best Producer at the 1982 Brit Awards, his influence was not kept to one band.

There was a trick I once heard, which claimed: if you ever travel around London, vaguely point in the direction of old churches and say Hawksmoor, you’re bound to be right, so prodigious was that architect’s work. The same can be said for Martin Rushent, hear any track from the late 1970s and especially the early 1980s, and if you can’t name the band just say, Martin Rushent and you’re bound to be right, for so prodigious, and impressive, was his output.

Dare proved “that synths and drum machines could be used to create mainstream pop.

Rushent also produced The Stranglers first three albums, which as Louder Than War states:

Rushent, born in 1948, produced the Stranglers first three albums – creating that classic sound that was clear, punchy, dark and sleazy and groundbreaking all at the same time. With The Stranglers third album, ‘Black And White’ Rushent with engineer Alan Winstanley created a soundscape that was post punk before the term was even thought of.

He had a trademark sound. Each instrument had its place. he could make the complex sound simple and harnessed The Stranglers weird imagination and pop nous into something totally original and very commercial making them the best selling band of their period with a bass sound that launched a generation of bass players.

In an interview with Uncut Rushent recalled recording The Buzzcock’ biggest hit:

“Pete [Shelley] played me ‘Ever Fallen In Love…’ for the first time and my jaw hit the floor. I felt it was the strongest song that they had written-clever, witty lyrics, great hooklines. I suggested backing vocals-to highlight the chorus and make it even more powerful. No one could hit the high part-so I did it. I’d sung in bands in my youth and I also worked as a backing singer.”

Before his career with Punk, New Wave and Electronic bands, he worked on records by T Rex, David Essex and Shirley Bassey.

Rushent was said to be working on a 30th anniversary edition of Dare at the time of his death.

A Facebook page has been set up by Martin Rushent’s family to collect memories of the great man, which you can add to here.

The Stranglers - ‘No More Heroes’

Human League - ‘Open your Heart’
More Rushent-produced classic tracks, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment