The Human League: Don’t You Want Me?

(someone turned the embedding off, so you may need to click it twice – sorry)

I was 14 years old when the Human League’s ‘Dare’ album was released.  ‘Don’t You Want Me?”, then, is part of the soundtrack of my desperate youth.  And for someone who has always hated Christmas, having this as the Xmas Number One that year, selling 1.4 million copies in total, it didn’t help matters.

‘Dare’ was a huge departure from what had gone before, namely ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’.  You could dance to most of it.  Well, I couldn’t, but you know what I mean.  Ware and Marsh had already cleared off, leaving Phil Oakey and the two girls he’d plucked unceremoniously from school to appear on Top of the Pops.  The four singles from the LP did pretty well – the album went triple platinum in no time at all.

Dare threw together the band’s synthesizers plus whatever they could find in Woolworths, like the Casio VL-1.  Other synths of note on the LP include Martin Rushent’s Linndrum, a Roland System 700, Jupiter 4 and the MC-8 among others.

‘Don’t You Want Me?’ is a song about obsession and jealousy.  Phil has found Susan working as a cocktail waitress, and having promised her fame and fortune as a music star, dumps Oakey once she’s gotten what she wants.  Rushent and Jo Callis put the final mix together, but the band didn’t like it – it was too poppy, and not the darker song they had previously envisaged.  The song was released (against Phil’s wishes) in November 1981.  Not only was it the band’s biggest hit ever, it also became one of the biggest selling singles of all time in the UK.

The video, with the setting of some murder-mystery movie, was filmed in Slough, Berkshire.  It was shot on 35mm film, and because the video was ‘on-set’, the crew and equipment are seen in virtually every shot.  The clapperboard seen in the video shows the words “Le League Humaine”, a nod towards director Francois Truffaut, whose film ‘Night and Day’ influenced ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ director Steve Baron.

In once scene, Phil is seen shooting Susanne Sulley through the window of a Saab 99 Turbo.  The scene is generally edited out of DVD and TV versions.  Jeremy Clarkson once noted that the other car in the video was the Rover SD1.

Brad Pitt had the song as a ringtone in Ocean’s Thirteen.  It’s variously been heard in CSI, Will & Grace and Ashes to Ashes.  Because of a legal wrangle instigated by Virgin, the band receive no royalties for the song whatsoever.

For me, the song trawls up bitter memories of an unhappy childhood, frightened of the future.  I still bash out the bassline whenever I find a decent sounding synth sound in GarageBand, and the memories come flooding back, causing me to leave it all alone and go do something less cheerless instead.

The band remixed it and re-released it in 1995.  It got to Number 16 in the UK, and I wish to hell they hadn’t.


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