The Human League, Dare 1981, Virgin Records
The Things That Dreams Are Made Of
Open Your Heart
The Sound of the Crowd
Do or Die
I am the Law
Love Action (I Believe in Love)
Don’t You Want Me
Pioneering syth-poppers The Human League formed in 1977 and had two albums under their belts before they achieved commercial success with Dare. They started out experimenting with a variety of musical styles but when they were able to afford a synthesiser they found their niche with making electronic music. They appointed a “director of visuals” after their first live performance as they were worried that standing behind their machines would make for uninteresting shows. Subsequently they incorporated film clips, projections and lots of different lighting into their performances.
The group’s line-up changed after their first two albums and on Dare, The Human League were Philip Oakey on lead vocals with Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall (both of whom were still in high school at the time the album was recorded) providing the female vocal parts. The synthesisers were operated by Ian Burden, Jo Callis and Philip Wright.
Dare which won a Brit award and was nominated for a Grammy, was a truly genre-defining album. It reached number 1 in the album chart eventually achieving triple platinum status and it stayed in the chart for an impressive 71 weeks. It was produced by Martin Rushent who fully understood the emerging musical technologies of the early 1980s. The album name was lifted from the cover of the April 1979 issue of British Vogue, and the album cover art is also meant to be reminiscent of a Vogue magazine cover. Despite pioneering a new style of music, the band were inspired by Kraftwerk, David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
The Things That Dreams Are Made Of kicks the album off in true lighthearted 1980s synth style with a song about all the group’s favourite things. It feels about as ‘80s as its possible for anything to feel. Open Your Heart is a break up song and it’s a bit of a wall of noise but it improves when the backing vocals kick in. The Sound of the Crowd which Philip Oakey once described as “the maddest song to enter the top 20” is a party song both lyrically and musically, and it’s a lot of fun. Darkness which has a beautiful start, is a total change of tone, it’s a dark, sad song. Do or Die has a great bit of drum machine action to start, the rest of it puts me in mind of a Sonic the Hedgehog game but by the end the beat is kind of intoxicating. I am the Law inspired by the “Judge Dredd” comic books has a slow start and this change of pace gives it something of a malevolent twist. Seconds has another good drum machine start, it’s about the assassination of JFK, and again it's a melancholy song. Single release Love Action (I Believe in Love) was a success but it’s just a standard love song with electronic music. Classic single Don’t You Want Me originally dismissed by their band as mere filler, is of course the highlight. It’s literally the sound of the early 1980s, the rather dark story of a controlling guy and his girlfriend breaking away from him once she has achieved success is probably the most recognisable piece of music of the decade.
It’s a really interesting album and while for me, the only truly standout is the final track it’s still a great example of electronic music that shows how machines can be used to create the same level of emotion as traditional instruments. The quality of this album and its closing track in particular cemented the Human League as the best British synth band ever. Although some of the songs have a darker tone, in general, the optimistic style of synth music is the opposite of the punk that had dominated the charts at the end of the 1970s.
This album’s legacy has been truly long lasting. It represents the sound of the 1980s for many people but It’s also directly influenced Moby, Pet Shop Boys and Pulp and Human League tracks have been sampled by people as diverse as Ladytron, LCD Soundsystem and George Michael. Elements of the Human League’s style can be found across all current popular music genres, not bad for a group that was on the verge of breaking up before going into the studio to create Dare.