Feb 09

THE HUMAN LEAGUE – “Don’t You Want Me”

FT + Popular110 comments • 9,081 views

#491, 12th December 1981

It’s almost a shame that after three years making records concerning sericulture, medieval time-slips, singles-as-singularities, assassinations, Judge Dredd, Dr Who and whatever the hell “Crow And A Baby” was about, the Human League get to #1 with a straightforward song of embittered romance. They maybe felt the same: “Don’t You Want Me” was the fourth single off Dare, released at the insistence of the label. Who of course were quite right.

Their cosmic imagination was only part of what made the League’s records good, though. They made their synthesisers slam together in an awkward but still addictive dance, and they had Phil Oakey’s marvellously rigid voice. Which you might not have thought was suitable for a song as directly emotional as “Don’t You Want Me”, but no – its limited range and perpetual tetchiness are ideal for a record about a man who simply won’t or can’t acknowledge the reality of the situation. Nobody else could have made the chorus sound quite so honestly uncomprehending.

For all that the guy in “Don’t You Want Me” is obviously a bit of a shit – “and I can put you back down too” – there’s something so hangdog about Oakey’s delivery that you feel sorry for him, like you might feel sorry for Alan Partridge or David Brent. Susanne Sulley’s polite and pitying dismantling of his perspective – blankness masking obvious irritation – leaves you in no doubt whatsoever that this is indeed a full stop.

As with “Tainted Love”, this is not a record I expect to stop meeting any time soon. I don’t think it’s as good as “Love Action” or “Sound Of The Crowd” – to be honest by now I’d even prefer to hear “The Lebanon” if I’m out of an evening. But it’s also easy to hear why it did so well: even beyond the all-too-yellable chorus, its clear-sighted outline of a whole romantic history makes it one of the most complete number ones.



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  1. 91
    wichita lineman on 6 Jun 2011 #

    RIP Martin Rushent. I always twinned him with Martin Hannett in my teens, one being dark and spacey, the other light and clean. Both made records that sounded like the future, and in 1981/82 were my favourite producers.

  2. 92
    swanstep on 6 Jun 2011 #

    @wichita. Thanks for the heads-up on that. I twinned Rushent with Hannett in my teens too.

  3. 93
    punctum on 6 Jun 2011 #

    An awful weekend; first the news about Andrew Gold, and now Martin Rushent – I only got round to picking up Pete Shelley’s Homosapien album on CD on Saturday.

    Black armbands and an honorary playing of the 12” of Altered Images’ “I Could Be Happy.” RIP big New Pop architect.

  4. 94
    Jimmy the Swede on 6 Jun 2011 #

    Andrew Gold? Oh no, what a shame. We should never have let him slip away.

    Okay, I’m going…

  5. 95
    wichita lineman on 6 Jun 2011 #

    Benny Spellman of floor filling Fortune Teller fame, also gone this weekend :-(

    I’ve never ventured into Andrew Gold album territory, which is daft because his biggest hits are all super-melodic and up my street save for the odd sax/rock gtr squall. Any recommendations? None are on Spotify.

    His first single was recorded during a year-long stay in the UK and came out in Polydor in 1966 – This East by Villiers & Gold. Never heard it, but I’m most intrigued.

  6. 96
    punctum on 6 Jun 2011 #

    His Best Of compilation Thank You For Being A Friend is a good place to start. “Looking For My Love” – what a song (off All This And Heaven Too, which is likewise a fine starting point if you want to investigate his albums further).

  7. 97
    wichita lineman on 6 Jun 2011 #

    Thanks. Will do.

    I’ll vouch for his 1970 single as a member of Bryndle. I didn’t even know he was involved til I read the obits, but it’s a lovely slice of west coast pop, sonically caught exactly between the Mamas & Papas and Linda Ronstadt eras. Not on youtube, unfort.

  8. 98
    seekenee on 24 Sep 2011 #

    I remember at the time a talking point re Don’t You Want Me besides the fact that it had gone to number one was that Phil had had a haircut – the video seemed charged with the extra information of this “different” Phil.

    The first issue of Smash Hits I bought was the late 81 League on the cover, I was annoyed that I hadn’t noted the existence of the mag up to this point, i was surviving on Songwords and some other thing – Tops?

    I share the view that it’s not as overplayed as Tainted Love which might be down to the fact that it’s easy to stop listening to side two of Dare after Seconds whereas TL is difficult to avoid on Soft Cell’s debut LP.

  9. 99
    Patrick Mexico on 9 Apr 2013 #

    10 without a moment’s hesitation.

    Obviously it’s been said a million times before, a brilliant slice of suburban melodrama meets electro-pop as pure as driven snow.

    And here’s one they made earlier.


  10. 100
    lonepilgrim on 23 Apr 2013 #

    if you haven’t done so already, then I urge you to read Marcello’s wonderful response to the album from where the single came: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-human-league-dare.html

  11. 101
    Patrick Mexico on 27 Jul 2013 #

    A rather shocking piece of reactionary nostalgia-annihilation from this month’s Martyn Ware article in Mixmag (yes, really), which I quote verbatim:

    “The musical landscape in 1970s Britain was dominated by a mixture of supergroups with keyboard players dressed in capes and top hats, pub rock bands with pudding-bowl haircuts playing Chuck Berry riffs and bass players dressed in Bacofoil and their mum’s feather boa. It was illegal not to wear denim. Pubs only served beer that was warm and accompanied by pickled eggs. Packets of dried Vesta curry were seen as the height of exoticism. Britain, in short, was shit.”

    I don’t know what it was like – I wasn’t there, man, but a bit strong.

  12. 102
    thefatgit on 27 Jul 2013 #

    As a kid, I thought Vesta Curry was food of the gods. That was until I tasted a “proper” takeaway curry from our local Indian Restaurant. It was a lamb biryani. Not necessarily like for like, but you could actually taste the spices, where Vesta had a lasting MSG aftertaste. Vesta’s offerings lost their appeal after then.

  13. 103
    Lazarus on 28 Jul 2013 #

    Vesta curries just about the last place on earth you can get crispy noodles, though. And I still go for a pickled egg now and again.

  14. 104
    Mark G on 28 Jul 2013 #

    I bought a Vesta curry with crispy noods, years after the event and with full knowledge of good curry.

    I can honestly say that the early seventies were much better than Vesta curries.

    Alice Cooper kicked the doors down, we all stared at the open portal for a couple of years, then the Pistols ran through, then we all did..

    We could never go back to Vesta curries after all that happened. Maybe the pan wasn’t hot enough for the noodles to crisp properly.

  15. 105
    Jimmy the Swede on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Pot noodles, baby. Followed by instant whip. Hmmm!

  16. 106
    thefatgit on 31 Jul 2013 #

    Butterscotch flavour Angel Delight!

  17. 107
    hectorthebat on 19 Oct 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Beats Per Minute (USA) – The Top 100 Tracks of the 1980s (2011) 100
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 150
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 101
    Pause & Play (USA) – 10 Songs of the 80’s (2003)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 86
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 21
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 618
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 93
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1980s (2008)
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Mojo (UK) – The Ultimate Jukebox: 100 Singles You Must Own (2003) 98
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 33
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Sounds (UK) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1986) 92
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 16
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 311
    Spex (Germany) – The Best Singles of the Century (1999)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – Singles of the Year
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 9

  18. 108
    mapman132 on 24 Oct 2014 #

    One of my all-time favorite songs, even if it’s been a little overplayed over the years. Not much to add about DYWM that hasn’t already been said. TEN from me.

    I actually went through my Human League phase a bit later than most. I loved “Heart Like A Wheel” in 1990 (#32 in the US – deserved to be a bigger hit) and Romantic? was in fact the first one of their albums I owned. Oddly I never have gotten around to acquiring Dare although four of its best known songs are on their Greatest Hits which I do own.

  19. 109
    mapman132 on 24 Oct 2014 #

    Also of note: this cover video by a group called Atomic Tom. Not as good as the original of course, but might be amusing to figure out all 39 movie references if you’re feeling bored some evening.

  20. 110
    Gareth Parker on 30 Apr 2021 #

    One of those instantly memorable tracks. Always have time for ‘The League’ and glad to see this reach #1. 8/10 for me.

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