Monday, October 19, 2009

New Wave for the New Week #32

“Being Boiled” coverImage via Wikipedia

Like so many of the New Wave acts who became big crossover pop stars, The Human League had actually been around for several years before achieving international chart success with 1981's million-selling "Don't You Want Me?" single. Although that song essentially set the template for mainstream synthopop to come, (can you imagine Men Without Hats existing without having heard that dun-dun-d'dundun keyboard riff?), it had taken Phil Oakey three years of studio noodling, tape manipulations, and electronic experimentation, as well as a complete overhaul of the band's lineup, to find that sound.

And, like so many of the New Wave acts who became big crossover pop stars, The Human League managed a few more enjoyable tunes before succumbing to the Music Industry's demand for another massive hit single and sliding into MOR pop schmaltz (remember their last hit, "Human"?)

Their early work remains fascinating, and at times difficult to listen to. Beginning as a rather somber trio of Oakey, Martin Ware and Ian Marsh, they created a claustrophobic, Kraftwerk-inspired drone out of early synthesizers and processed recordings looped endlessly on tape machines. They were a studio-only band for a long time, as their electronic din was difficult to recreate live with no overdubs; in fact, their first single hit the shelves before the band ever performed in front of a crowd.

This version of the League delivered two full albums before disintegrating amid creative differences, with Ware and Marsh splitting off to form Heaven 17, leaving Oakey to remake The Human League into a more radio-friendly product. While Heaven 17 had their UK hits and achieved minor airplay here in the States, it was Oakey's revised League who found the magic sound that led them to global success.

While I've always been a fan of The Human League, I've grown particularly fond of their early work over the years. This week's NW4NW entry is the earliest incarnation of the band performing their first single, "Being Boiled," on UK television in 1978. Enjoy!

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