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Music / The Human League

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Original lineup, 1978 - 1980 note 

"Hi, I'm Jason Taverner, and I'm here to introduce this third demonstration tape by a
great group of guys, the Human League."
— "Jason Taverner, from the Taverner Tape'"

The Human League are a synthpop band from Sheffield, England. They formed in 1978 when the experimental synth duo The Future (consisting of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh) teamed up with singer Phil Oakey to write pop tunes. At the point they formed, synth music was often in the proggy vein (e.g. Kraftwerk, Vangelis) or in the disco vein (e.g. Giorgio Moroder), but the group took note of the DIY punk aesthetic to create their own dark style of synth music with poppy structures.

Releasing two albums, an EP and several singles, the original lineup split in late 1980 due to creative differences, with Ware & Marsh walking out and going on to form BEF, and soon after, Heaven 17. Oakey and their visual director Philip Adrian Wright had to honour touring agreements so added Jo Callis and Ian Burden to the lineup. Additionally, Oakey hired female vocalists Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley initially as backing vocalists though the songs got written around their vocals later. This lineup of the group recorded their album Dare, which made them a household name with several singles, most notably "Don't You Want Me".


While the success of Dare would be something of a miracle for the band at the time, it would later become an albatross around their necks, as each following album failed to meet the expectations their 1981 album established. By 1990, the group were generally regarded as has-beens among the general public, something the band themselves lampshaded with their song "The Stars Are Going Out". Their 1995 album Octopus would be seen as a return to form, and their following album, 2001's Secrets, was praised by fans to almost Dare-levels, but mainstream critics eviscerated it and it flopped on store shelves. Their next album, 2011's Credo, would receive middling reception from fans and critics.

Despite their rocky history, the Human League are generally considered to be one of the most influential bands of the synthpop era, often being considered a Trope Codifier for the genre alongside Kraftwerk. Dare and its associated singles are still fairly well-remembered as high points of 1980's pop music, and several of their songs have continued to find new audiences through inclusion in movies, TV shows, commercials, and video games.


There's a fan website dedicated to preserving the content of Mk. I Human League, as linked here

Discography (studio albums in bold)

MK I Era

  • Reproduction (1979)
  • The Dignity of Labour EP (1979)
  • Holiday '80 EP (1980)
  • Travelogue (1980)


  • Dare (1981)
  • Love and Dancing remix album (1982)
  • Fascination! EP (1983)
  • Hysteria (1984)
  • Crash (1986)
  • Romantic? (1990)
  • YMO Versus The Human League EP (1993)
  • Octopus (1995)
  • Secrets (2001)
  • Credo (2011)

The Human League provides examples of:

  • Ascended Fanboy: Joanne and Susan were already fans of the group and owned their first two L Ps, which was part of the reason they agreed to join the reformed group despite not having any prior musical experience.
  • Badass Baritone: Phil Oakey
  • Bald of Awesome: Again, Phil Oakey, since 2001.
  • Circus of Fear: Circus of Death deals with this, also doubles as a Hawaii'O'Five fanfiction of sorts.
  • Call-Back : On the "Love Action" 12", the song is preceded by "Hard Times" which segues into it - hence the line "I've had some hard times in the past" (which also samples that song).
    • Hysteria has three songs that are this to previous hit "Don't You Want Me" - these being "Louise" (in which the ex-lovers meet again several years later), "Life On Your Own" (which derives its theme from Don't You Want Me's line "Now I think it's time I lived my life on my own") and "Don't You Know I Want You" which is obviously a tongue-in-cheek rewrite.
  • Canon Discontinuity : The single "Boys And Girls" was an unfinished song rush-recorded and released to fulfil record company demand, and has never been performed live after the tour it was released during. It is available as a bonus track on the Travelogue CD and the A Very British Synthesizer Group box set, but has never been on a Greatest Hits release.
  • Canon Immigrant: After the "Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder" project fell apart, Oakey repurposed their hit "Together In Electric Dreams" as a Human League song, with it being on compilations and performed live.
  • Cover Version: A few:
    • "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (by The Righteous Brothers) on Reproduction.
    • A medley of "Rock n Roll" (by Gary Glitter)and "Nightclubbing" (by Iggy Pop) on Holiday '80 (which also made for the League's first Top of the Pops appearance); the medley was later included on all CD releases of Travelogue as a bonus track, even ones issued well after Glitter's convictions for multiple sex offenses against minors.
    • "Only After Dark" (by Mick Ronson) on Travelogue.
    • "River Deep Mountain High" (by Ike and Tina Turner) on their 1980 tour.
    • "Rock Me Again And Again" (by James Brown and Lyn Collins) on Hysteria.
    • "King of Kings" and "Reach Out I'll Be there" from their 'Golden Hour of the Future' demo as The Future.
    • They also covered the Get Carter theme.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Philip Oakey in the early years of the band with his asymmetrical haircut and makeup.note 
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Their early work is quite dark and minimalistic and lacks the female vocals and the rhythms.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Black Hit of Space implies this.
  • Excited Show Title!: The Fascination! EP. Also, Dare became Dare! when it was released in the United States.
  • Expy: Martyn and Ware asked Glenn Gregory to join the original lineup, though he declined, so they asked Phil Oakey (who had a similar voice) instead. After the MK1 group split, Martyn and Ware asked Gregory to join their new group Heaven 17, and this time he agreed.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Tell Me When", which then jumps into a reprise of the chorus before fading out for real.
  • Greatest Hits : Numerous releases.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Invoked in "Dreams of Leaving" in the form of loud noise that plays just a few seconds in, and also in "Introducing" with the sampled screams. Also scattered in various other songs due to tape errors with the backing tracks they used.
  • I Am the Band: This was more or less Phil Oakey's stance after the musicians Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left. The two did however continue to receive royalties from Dare!.
  • Leitmotif: The Dominion Jingle appears between every track on their demo album The Taverner Tape, and also at the start of "Circus Of Death" on Reproduction.
  • Left Hanging: The song "Human" is all about a guy who cheated on his lover and is remorseful and asking her forgiveness at the end she does forgive him, and admits she cheated to and asks for the same charity from him. The song ends without saying whether he did or not, although one would certainly hope so, as he'd be a world class hypocrite otherwise.
  • Lighter and Softer: Dare! abandoned the ominous, borderline industrial sound of their previous works for a radio-friendly electronic pop sound.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: The group took its name from a faction in the Sci-Fi Tabletop Game Starforce: Alpha Centauri.
  • Meta Fiction: Some copies of "The Dignity Of Labour" included a bonus Flexidisc featuring a track called Flexidisc, which is a conversation between the group members about what to include on the Flexidisc.
  • New Sound Album: Several, though Dare! (with the addition of female vocals and poppier structures) and Crash (A US-oriented pop album produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis) are most notable.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • "Seconds" deals with the tragedy of the death of John F. Kennedy. On the other hand, "The Lebanon" deals with the war in Lebanon at the time. And from their earlier line up, "Dreams of Leaving" deals with a refugee wanting to escape Apartheid in his home country.
    • "The Stars Are Going Out" from Romantic is a more personal example, being about the band's fall from critical and commercial popularity following the unexpectedly gargantuan success of Dare!
  • Re-release the Song: After the group's rise to popularity with Dare!, their debut single "Being Boiled" was re-released and went to Number Six.
  • The Rival: MK2 to Heaven 17. The two sides ultimately patched things up, and even toured together in 2008.
  • Sequel Song: "Louise" is one to "Don't You Want Me" several years down the line.
  • Revolving Door Band: Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley have been the only constant members of the band since the mid-1980s.
  • Shout-Out: "Tom Baker" is heavily inspired by the Doctor Who theme song.
    • The Cabaret Voltaire track "Eastern Mantra" has the phrase "Human League" backwards said throughout the entire track.
    • The songs "Darkness", "Get Carter", "I am the Law", and "Seconds", are all homage tracks to the Mk1 phase of the band ("I am the Law" actually predates Dare!) Then there's what "Get Carter" and "I am the Law" are named after.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: The Mk. I incarnation's covers of "Rock 'n' Roll, Part 1" by Gary Glitter and "Nightclubbing" by Iggy Pop, largely thanks to CD re-releases of Travelogue packaging the two together as a single track (which became something of a necessity for the 2003 remaster in light of Glitter's conviction for possession of child pornography).
  • Stealth Parody : Most of their older pop songs tend to be parodies of then current trends, like some of the songs on Reproduction and Travelogue.
  • Spoken Word in Music : The original single version of "Circus Of Death" in which Oakey explains the premise of the song at the start. Whilst the LP lacks this part, he does speak some of the lines towards the end of the song.
    • Also used at 3:16 of "Louise" where Oakey comes to terms with the relationship being a moment in time.
    • In earlier Versions of Marianne, Phil would speak some lines after his singing parts
  • The Svengali: "Don't You Want Me" is a duet between a Svengali and his increasingly-rebellious protegee.
  • Trope Codifier: One of the first electronic bands to hit the UK Sheffield scene, in fact. Also a Ur-Example of UK Synthpop.


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