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The Human League
If a chart of ‘The Most Nostalgic Music of the 80s’ is ever compiled, then the legendary Human League would definitely have a place in that Top Ten.
As one of the most iconic artists of that decade, The Human League have come to epitomise this sentiment of music nostalgia perfectly with such iconic tracks as “Don’t You Want Me?”, “The Sound Of The Crowd”, “Love Action (I Believe In Love)”, “Mirror Man”, “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” and “Open Your Heart” to name but a few! You only have to hear the first few notes of any of those tracks and you are transported back in time to a totally different world!
Oh, and let’s not forget, our heroes are not just iconic in terms of their sound but also in terms of their image! Who doesn’t remember that hairstyle and all that sultry black eyeliner!
However, before all the hits, tours and accolades, the band had a very rocky start and they were not the overnight success that some would have you believe!
The band we know today as The Human League was actually formed in Sheffield, England in 1977 and underwent numerous line-up and name changes until settling on The Human League in 1978. Lead singer Phil Oakey, who incidentally was originally born just outside Leicester and not in Sheffield, is the only constant band member since 1977, though former members did go on to achieve their own success, most notably the creation of another 80s icon, Heaven 17!
Today, The Human League are essentially a trio comprising of Phil Oakey and female vocalists Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall.
Whilst having no success with their first album Reproduction (1979) and very limited success with second album Travelogue (1980), the band was in danger of imploding as in-fighting, member changes and a complete lack of support from record company Virgin were all steering the band one way! The end result of all this was that, some members were allowed to leave and form the fabulous Heaven 17, in return for original member Phil Oakey being allowed to keep The Human League moniker.
However, this came at a price as he also became responsible for all the group’s commitments, including a small tour, its debts and then there was the ever-looming threat of being sued if he didn’t deliver! It was a difficult time and, in an effort to try and save the tour and the band, an urban legend was created! Well, not so much an urban legend and more ‘a true life story’!!! As they say, the rest is history!
In a bid to save the tour and avoid being sued, Oakey ventured out into Sheffield City centre one Wednesday night with his then girlfriend. The objective was to find a female singer for the band. However, he didn’t bargain on getting TWO singers and world-wide success as a result!
Upon entering the ‘Crazy Daisy Nightclub’, Phil happened to spot 17-year old students Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall dancing together on the dance floor. And, even though neither of them had any experience of singing or dancing professionally, Phil asked them to join the tour as dancers and incidental vocalists…’that much is true!!!’
In 1981, The Human League hit the Big Time with FOUR hit singles…
“Sound Of The Crowd” (No. 12*)
“Love Action (I Believe In Love)” (No.3)
“Open You Heart” (No.6).
“Don’t You Want Me?” (No.1 & USA Billboard No.1)
Further UK Top 40 hits followed, including:
“Being Boiled” (No.6)
“Mirror Man” (No.2)
(Keep Feeling) Fascination (No. 2)
“The Lebanon (No.11)
“Life On Your Own” (No.16)
“Human” (UK No.8 & USA Billboard No.1)
“Heart Like A Wheel” (No.29)
“Tell Me When” (No.6)
“One Man In My Heart” (No.13)
“Don’t You Want Me” (No.16 Re-release)
“Stay With Me Tonight” (No.40)
The 9 studio albums released by The Human League are as follows:
Reproduction (1979) (No.16 in 1980)
Travelogue (1980) (No. 34 in 1981)
Dare (1981) (No.1)
Hysteria (1984) (No.3)
Crash (1986) (No.7)
Romantic? (1990) (No.24)
Octopus (1995) (No.6)
Secrets (2001) (No.44)
Credo (2011) (No.44)
The Human League continue to tour in their own right and appear regularly at music festivals, usually as the headline act. Most recently, they undertook the extensive ‘Red Tour’ across the UK and Europe in 2018, as well as the ‘Dare 40’ European and UK Tour in 2021, in which they played the Dare album in full to commemorate its 40th anniversary, as well as numerous other hits from their back catalogue.
The Human League won the 1982 BRIT Award for Best British Breakthrough Artist, as well as the 2004 Q Award for Innovation in Sound. They were also nominated for the 1982 BRIT Award for British Album (Dare), and nominated for Best New Artist at the 1983 Grammy Awards.
*UK Chart Position (OCC Official Chart Company)
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