Here’s a clip from synth-pop-with-a-hint-of-Northern-Soul collective from Sheffield, England The Human League. It’s their spring of 1983 hit, “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”, a hit single released between hit albums Dare! (which included the massive hit “Don’t You Want Me”) and Hysteria. The song was released as a single, later to be included on the 6-song EP Fascination.
The early-to-mid 1980s was an incredibly creatively fertile period for the band, with a number of instant pop singles that made them a smash success on both sides of the Atlantic, during a period in pop history where British groups were once again making headway into the North American market on par with the way they had twenty years earlier in the 1960s.
But, that track to success was not a goal when the band started, with a completely different set of players, with completely different approaches to making synthesizer-based music.
The Human League began in 1978 as a means of following in the footsteps of Gary Numan, and by extension, Kraftwerk. To wit: they were musically austere, serious, and not interested becoming “pop stars” in the strictest sense of the term. But, lead singer Phil Oakey parted company with fellows Martin Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh on that score, wanting to emulate a path to pop success in the top 40, rather than being strictly on the cutting edge. Ware and Craig-Marsh would leave to form Heaven 17 with vocalist Glenn Gregory, and they’d have some pop success on their own anyway.
As the inheritor of the Human League name (and its legal obligations as a commercial concern) Oakey would search for a new lineup for the Human League, and he had to do it fast in time for a tour that had been planned and locked in before the original band split. To accomplish this, he decided not to go to the musical apple barrel of local musicians in Sheffield, but rather to the tree of music fans that frequented the clubs.
In one such club, he found Susan Ann Sulley (17) and Joanne Catherall (18), both schoolgirls at the time, and not experienced singers. He hired them anyway, having to obtain their parents’ permission to go out on tour. It seems like a foolhardy move now, but the mix of Oakey’s male voice, and the voice or voices of female singers would help to define the vital tension the new version of the band needed to craft a trademark sound. This combination of voices would give them an incredible run of hit singles during the first half of the 1980s.
Another ingredient that the Human League would be known for would be their continued use of synthesizers, yet with a distinct Northern Soul-influenced pop sheen, which you can certainly hear on this track. The push-me-pull you textures of the lead voices would add an earthy appeal next to the synths and programmed drums, resulting in an appealing contrast.
The possibilities for pop chart success were all the greater, with “Don’t You Want Me”, “Mirror Man”, “The Lebannon”, “Together in Electric Dreams”, “Human”, all released between late 1981 to the summer of 1986, and proving the group’s sonic template in the pop chart success stakes on both sides of the Atlantic.
Where their popularity plateau can be identified during this span of years, the band continued into the 90s and 2000s, with Oakey, Sulley, and Catherall as the principles. More recently, they’ve enjoyed a rennaisance as new audiences are discovering the 80s electro-pop sound in the 21st century that the Human League were instrumental in creating and popularizing in the early 1980s.