Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 70 Dare

Top 102 Albums. No 70
Dare - The Human League

When David Bowie called The Human League 'the future of pop music' I don't think he envisaged Dare. At the time the League were at the arty side of the music spectrum and included Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, who created their own slices of pop history with Heaven 17 and the British Electric Foundation.
Indeed Ware and Craig Marsh were seen as the creative core of the band and my memory is that there was a lot more excitement about what they would do than about what Phil Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright would do. Wright's role in the original League had been as director of visuals rather than musician. And much was made of Phil Oakey's own visuals, mainly his haircuts. But determination and ambition can take you a long way, if you dare.

The split, as reported in Smash Hits.
Thanks to Like Punk Never Happened
When Oakey recruited two schoolgirls who he found in a nightclub there were many predictions that it would all end in tears, perhaps tears of laughter but they were quickly proven wrong. An alliance with producer Martin Rushent and the addition of two further musicians including Jo Callis from The Rezillos created the classic line up which would produce the pop monster that was Dare.

I remember all this from the pages of Smash Hits, which I had on order at the local newsagents at the time. I've retrieved copies of the story from the wonderful Like Punk Never Happened which is building an archive of the golden era of Smash Hits fortnight by fortnight, thirty years after the original publication date.

The New League with some new members prepare for tour.
Thanks to Like Punk Never Happened
Anyway, to cut to the quick, after a few singles the all new Human League were prepared to release Dare and the growing success of the singles meant that the record company was behind it. When the record company went against the band's wishes and released the 'weakest' track off the album as a single pop history was created. "Don't You Want Me?" sang Phil to one of the two schoolgirls he had taken from the dance floor to the stage. It's like Simon Cowell being rejected by one of his X-Factor puppets. Surely a remake is due.

Although I don't think anyone would call it a weak track now, it does not overwhelm the album. Other tracks are as good, if not better, although Don't You Want Me? is the only one I've sang at Karaoke.

The album opens with The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, which acts as a manifesto for the album.

Take a lift to the top of the Empire State
Take a drive across the Golden Gate
March, march, march across Red Square
Do all the things you've ever dared
It also includes a shout out for The Ramones, not what you'd expect from an electronic band.

There is a real sense of the ordinariness of life in many of the songs, creating a world which could be embraced by the many, in the best way. Even their 'dreams' are laced with the ordinariness of life.

Everybody needs love and adventure
Everybody needs cash to spend
Everybody needs love and affection
Everybody needs 2 or 3 friends

Their pop success, and that of their ex-band mates, and ABC and Cabaret Voltaire made Sheffield a Motown for the eighties, a hotbed of pop music which captured the pulse of the times and crossed the divide between the cool kids and the masses. I love this album and I hope you do too.


  1. this was all so unbelievably glamourous and excting to someone growing up in a grey market town in the fens

  2. Seemed pretty glamorous from a crumbling seaside town on the Irish Sea also. Although it always felt like it had been made by people who came from a grim enough background. The glamour and aspiration always seems grounded in real life. But all infused with cinematic drama.

  3. I used to hang around Sheffield's Limit Club in the late 70s.
    And it was grim, but glorious. Lots of other students, lots of nurses, fights (and feigning), lots of booze (me), drugs (not me), all to a post punk soundtrack that was as exiting as it was unlistenable. Oakey used to strut the dance floor in his big heels and bigger hair and occasionally would perform his early HL synth pop. Nobody listened. Things changed quickly of course. He was the kind of New Romantic who said 'fook' every other word. I loved the fact that he obviously slapped his make up on without the aid of a mirror. You wouldn't mix it with Phil...

    1. Again with the envy. Wherever it was, you were. You are the Zelig of my blog. Swapping curses with the Human League, teaching Wilko how to strut, husking corn with John Lee Hooker, giving Bob Dylan motorcycle lessons....

  4. I have photographic evidence...
    You're wrong about Dylan's lessons; it was singing and (funnily enough) my charm school that he attended in 1966...
    FYI: I was also at the famous Limit Police gig where there were 6 of us in the crowd and Sting introduced the audience to the band.
    Also at Headingly on THAT day for Botham's ashes.
    That's it for Zelig moments, although I reserve the right to have my memory jogged.
    Go on! I dare you...