My mate Martin used to fucking love the Human League. We used to take the piss out of him because Phil Oakey dressed like a girl but what the f**k did we know? Didn’t all the best popstars (Bowie! Bowie! Bowie!) dress like birds?
Anyway we saw them one day as an unlikely support on a bill at Kings College which had The Fall and Stiff Little Fingers, The Scars, The Fire Engines and maybe a couple more. I think it was a Fast Records night. That’s how it rolled then.
Needless to say the League got bottled off by the assorted punks and scruffians, because they had fancy computer things (which came to be called synths) and funny hair.
But Martin still liked them and I must admit I was pretty sold by this one -
Kind of electro-glam with its brilliant chorus of “I want to be tall tall tall, as tall as a wall”. They had a good slide show too.
On a side note the clip above is worth watching for the presenter’s hair alone which reminds me of how punk rock and sociology students made uneasy partners.
They had another cracker called Being Boiled too.
It was well packaged and came “electronically yours”. It seemed an unlikely title for a stab at chart glory (which weirdly ended up happening for it later in the height of League fever).
But no sooner had we got to like them that the news came from Sheffield that two of the band had left to set up something called B.E.F and lambast then brand new “corporate marketing”. We should probably resent B.E.F. for the resurrection of Tina Turner, but that’s another tale. And therefore it was all fucked, as they were “the talented ones” apparently. And anyway Gary Numan had stolen their thunder with “Are Friends Electric” (which was ace but we didn’t like him then because he said he voted Tory and didn’t mind Maggie Thatcher).
But it wasn’t.
Phil recruited two hairdressers from Sheffield who couldn’t dance and who looked like they’d be plenty of trouble after a babycham and black or two.
And with Martin Rushent he went off and wrote some cracking pop songs that Susan Ann and Joanne could shake and fingerpop too. This one was the first which carried off sounding weird and modern and bright and sparkly all at once.
And as if that wasn’t enough “Don’t You Want Me” (co-written with remaining band member Jo Callis) came a minute later and was just brilliant but was SO POP we all had to stop liking it. Those were the rules then. Pop = Shite.
The League went on to sell about a trillion records everywhere and they still sound great now. I didn’t go and see them anymore because they were too big but I did love their “ecstacy” remix album tribute to Barry White which was billed as “The Love Unlimited Orchestra”.
Everyone also loved Phil’s solo gambit with Georgio Moroder “Together in Electric Dreams” (even more in its 80s “extended 12”” version) although god knows where that came from. Some soundtrack or other I seem to remember.
And when later I did see them touting something horrible called “The Lebanon” Phil had lost or shaved his hair and it wasn’t fun.
But they had done it. They had taken the avant-garde and made it work awesomely brilliantly and sold lots of records and been rich and (sort of) glamorous. Or at least as glamorous as being from Sheffield allowed.
Frankly, it isn’t LA.
And even though it has seven hills it isn’t Rome either.
And I believe they are still touring away celebrating 35 years alive.
But they will never top this:
even if it was a Glitter band cover.
As for Martin we’ve lost touch – but I reckon he got this one right.
Cool Accidents brushed its long fringe back whilst trying to think who would be as cool as The League if we were doing the list today. Naturally La Roux sprang to mind as she stole their schtick, but one hit doesn’t make a League of your own. The same applies to Flume because although he started back room programming and blew that shit right up, but he doesn’t really have a hit. Or maybe we could point the fingers back at the man himself and say the exploratory electronics of LCD Soundsystem is a close parallel. But again the League was about HUGE pop moments, and so we opted for the clever way Gorillaz has allowed Damon Albarn to take cult sources and ideas to the top of the charts by dressing up as a cartoon .. League Mk2 was sort of a cartoon too so it kind of fits and no one can argue that “Clint Eastwood” isn’t a top pop moment, or that “Don’t You Want Me” wasn’t sunshine in a bag.