Sep 302010

As ladymisskirroyale suspected, our latest Mystery Date, a song entitled “4jg,” was by early Human League, or maybe The Human League under their original name, The Future. I downloaded this track from a collection of early demos, The Golden Hour of The Future, and didn’t pay attention to which band name this track was recorded under.

There’s no doubting the band name for this track, from the same collection:

The Human League, “Dance Like a Star”

Lately the hit songs by The Human League have been all over television, in ads for Coke and Sprint, I believe. Everytime I hear the few hits by The Human League I feel something deeper than a “guilty pleasure.” It’s not often that I can enjoy a synth-pop song from the ’80s, and that was the case when these songs were new. As some of you know, I’m of the belief that rock ‘n roll was dealt a nearly fatal blow in 1983. The various forms of “Big ’80s” production were a nightmare for my ears. Arrangements conformed to the new technical standards, and I checked out.

I especially hated synth-pop, or what’s since been lumped in with the late-’70s term “New Wave.” The Thompson Twins were the worst. I could enjoy Pete Shelley‘s “Homosapiens” because it still had the charms of a Buzzcocks song. One time the first Yaz album didn’t sound so bad, but that night I was hanging out with a girl I had a crush on. (As you might suspect, the crush never went anywhere.) Beside those songs, to my ears Gary Numan‘s “Cars” sucked. New Order was OK, because they still used guitars and a real bass, but the rest of those bands, whose identities I’ve long blocked out, made me want to rip my head off whenever I had to hear them. Depeche Mode…ugh!

The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” which was a huge smash as I entered college, was a huge exception to my hatred of synth-pop. I always liked that song. It was fun and upbeat and distinct. It laid its hooks on the line. There was no phony asexual posing going on. The band members looked a bit pouffy, in the way big-jawed Brits wearing eyeliner can’t help looking, but they struck me as people who I could have a conversation with at a party. The couple of hits that followed were enjoyable too. As much as I felt like music from that scene was morally wrong, I couldn’t help but let “Don’t You Want Me” take advantage of me.

My friend Karl and I did a graveyard shift at our college station. They had the first two Human League albums, from the time when a future Heaven 17 (I think) guy was in the band and before the two big-jawed British women joined. That stuff was experimental, more like the instrumental song I posted, often a lot more like Throbbing Gristle‘s tuneful numbers than anything they were doing during their hit-making days. By this time I liked Throbbing Gristle, but I could never get myself to buy one of those early Human League albums or their smash hit, not even the single I truly liked. It would have been hypocritical. Now that I own an iPod I could probably allow myself to download “Don’t You Want Me.”


  15 Responses to “Mystery Date Revealed: The Human League (or The Future)”

  1. ladymisskirroyale

    I really like early Human League, such as “Being Boiled” on this post. For those of you who don’t really like them, but might be interested in learning more, may I recommend Chapter 6 in Simon Reynold’s “Rip It Up.” This chapter, titled, “Living For the Future: Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League and The Sheffield Scene,” draws a parallel between those bands and the Cleveland scene of Devo and Pere Ubu. The Future included members of CV and the eventual Human League, and initially made instrumentals. Later, Phil Oakey (he of the famous haircut) joined and they morphed into HL. “Dance Like a Star” was patterned on Moroder’s “I Feel Love” but a lo-fi version. “Being Boiled” was their Parliament-Funkadelic homage.

    You could make a case that these bands were very punk in their use of synths, rather than guitars.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    I can see how that paralell might make some sense, ladymiss. I’ll have to check out Cabaret Voltaire again one of these days. I remember stumbling across a track a couple of years ago and thinking it wasn’t bad.

  3. I highly recommend seeking out a documentary called “Synth Britannia” which can be seen on You Tube in short eight minute clips. Really great program about the early British synth scene.

    Ironically, I was burning a copy of this for a friend when I made my completely wrong guess as to what the mystery song was.

  4. ladymisskirroyale

    And, like punk music at the time, the British synth scene of that time was very political. Heaven 17, whom Mod referenced above, took it to the next level. And does anyone know where the name Heaven 17 comes from?????? Even if you don’t like the band, it’s a good bit of trivia.

  5. Also, the transition from experimental Human League to super-poppy Human League is discussed in detail in the documentary Made in Sheffield about the music scene there in the late ’70s and early ’80.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks for the tips on these docs. Isn’t Heaven 17 named after something from a George Orwell book? Or does their name come from Nazi Germany, like Joy Division?

  7. I have been going (slowly) through a crate of LPs a neighbor gave me after they couldn’t unload them at a garage sale. It is primarily synthpop and 80’s club R&B 12″ singles.

    No Human League or Soft Cell but I found good things by Yaz, Pet Shop Boys and early Duran Duran. Catching Up w/ Depeche Mode is either great or awful – no in-between with them. (Violator is quite good as someone said in the original thread). OMD was just horrendous. Erasure and Bronski Beat seem pretty heavily targeted to the gay clubbing set and are hard to appreciate. And Frankie Goes to Hollywood was really amusing once. I will probably never listen to that again.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    Make that Clockwork Orange for the roots of Heaven 17’s name… That book/film is ripe with potential rock ‘n roll band names and imagery.

  9. OMD has their moments – in their early stuff, there are parts of Dazzle Ships that are very spacious and stark – the super poppy stuff is a bit over the top for me. They coalesced into a more palatable pop sound (and tolerable singing) with their albums “Crush” and “Junk Culture.” I’m not their biggest advocate, though.

    Don’t know about “Catching Up With Depeche Mode,” but the European version that album (which was called something like “The singles from (whatever year) to (whatever year)” had numerous quotes from scathingly bad reviews. It was really self-depreciating and highly amusing.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    I forgot about OMD. They had that “Enola Gay” song, some album with a gray and orange cover, and another called Architecture and Morality that I could handle in small doses. They reminded me of the mellow songs from Eno’s solo records.

  11. I’m not generally a Synth-pop fan but I do really like Heaven 17. “Fascist Groove Thing” and, especially the 12″ version of “Play to Win” were really nice.

    I saw Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark at the Hot Club, back in the day. I don’t think of them as strictly synth-pop, because they had a drummer and a regualr line up with keyboards as I recall. I guess I’m asking if synth-pop is characterized by all machines or if it includes, say, Flock of Seagulls?

    Anyway, OMD were at least pleasant and entertaining, but neither sensational not horrible.

  12. ladymisskirroyale

    I liked them all, in varying degrees. My family is English, so on trips to England, we were provided large doses by my cousins. But I would agree that all reached a tipping point where they were no longer palatable.

    Mod – correct on Burgess’s “Clockwork Orange” for the origination of “Heaven 17.” It was the name of a band that was popular in that dystopia. Although Alex liked his Beethoven, the devotchkas requested a particular band, Heaven 17. In the movie, when Alex is looking for the record stacks, one of the albums he passes on is by Heaven 17.

  13. bostonhistorian

    I thought the “Made in Sheffield” documentary was really interesting because of the inclusion of Def Leppard, instead of a focus solely on “new wave” bands.

  14. BigSteve

    Looking for something else (about the Lowe/Costello show this weekend), I found this interview Martyn Ware about what’s happening with Heaven 17 now:

  15. ladymisskirroyale

    Re. Heaven 17 currently on tour: “Let’s All Make A Bomb.”

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