Great Moments In Pop – The 80s Part 26.

This is a British group who I wasn’t sure about featuring in this series because their story is rather well-known, and they have been popular for decades, but as they have made so many terrific singles, I do want to pick out my highlights. The Human League formed in the late-70s, and their frontman is Phil Oakey. I suppose that their philosophy is we’ve got a synthesizer and we’re gonna use it. In June 1978, their first single “Being Boiled” was released, but this didn’t make the chart.

By 1980, they did have some minor hits, and two members had left to form Heaven 17. But Phil wasn’t that concerned, because he discovered two women to replace them, and they never looked back really. 1981 would turn out to be a hugely successful year for them. In May 1981 they made the Top 40 for the first time with “The Sound Of The Crowd”, which is always a pleasure to hear on the radio. Next in August was their first Top Ten hit with “Love Action”, which was followed in October by “Open Your Heart”.

But it was in December 1981 when “Don’t You Want Me” was released that they finally became one of the best groups of the early-80s. This was the biggest-selling single of 1981 in the UK, and this was also a Transatlantic chart-topper. In January 1982, their debut “Being Boiled” was released again, and this time became a Top Ten hit nearly four years on, as interest in their earlier material increased after new fans wanted to discover more. They also won a Brit in 1982.

There would be further hit singles in 1982 with “Mirror Man”, in 1983 with “Fascination”, and in 1984 with “The Lebanon”, “Life On Your Own”, and “Louise”. The later songs hadn’t done as well though. In 1986, they decided to take a gamble and work with producers Jam And Lewis, who were much in demand at this point, and they would help to bring their sound into the mid-80s. Some sessions were reported to be tense, and Phil came close to walking out (I must avoid doing a “but this is Phil walking” pun here).

But even he had to concede that this was all worthwhile when in August 1986 “Human” became their first Top Ten hit single in the UK for three years, and also their second Number One in America. This left them in the rather unusual situation of being a British group who had more chart-toppers in the USA than they did in the UK. They didn’t make the Top 40 in the 80s again though, but at least they were still together.

And just when it looked like they were a group who had finally been confined to the past, 1995 turned out to be their most successful year for about a decade. In January 1995 “Tell Me When” made the Top Ten to become their biggest hit since the days of “Human”. Further hits “One Man In My Heart” and “Filling Up With Heaven” did well too. For some reason, they finished off this year with a remix of “Don’t You Want Me”, but this made the Top 20 for a second time.

Since then, The Human League have become more of a nostalgia group. When they occasionally release new singles or albums, the response is now usually “stop working on new songs and just give us the classics”. They have made nine albums, but unfortunately they are in the position of having had more best-ofs released than studio albums. And in March 2014, “Don’t You Want Me” made the Top 20 for a third time! They’re still on tour, and people will always be fond of them and their songs, together in electric dreams.

The Smash Hits Years – Part 2.

On we go with this series taking a look back at some issues of Smash Hits from the 80s. This is one from 1 October 1981, and features Phil Oakey from The Human League on the cover. By the end of ’81, they will have hit the big time with “Don’t You Want Me”, one of the biggest songs of this era, which was also a transatlantic chart-topper (indeed, The Human League would have more Number One singles in the US than the UK). Oh, and where’s the free badge?

At this point, three years in, Smash Hits is still developing its style, and hadn’t reached its late-80s peak yet. Even now, looking back at those issues makes you realise that there are so many made-up words and in-jokes that it can be tough to decipher them (unless “swingorilliant” has since made the dictionary), and baffling people in interviews by asking them if they think “Ruddy Big Pig” by Reg “Reg” Snipton is going to be the next big thing or whatever it was called.

I think I’m right in saying that the team behind the early days of Smash Hits also later launched Q, a magazine trying to do a similar style, but for older readers, hoping that people would eventually move from reading Smash Hits to Q, and that did work, for a bit at least. Now let’s pick out some of the highlights from this 48-page issue…

The first songwords is “Thunder In The Mountains” by Toyah. Poor Toyah has now been locked in her kitchen for the past two years… And there is a note from the editors, informing readers of changes. The Indie and Disco pages have gone, and there are some new features. Hopefully it’ll be worth the 3p price rise. The interview with The Human League is accompanied by songwords for “Open Your Heart”.

Next is The Pictures, Bow Bow Wow are back, Gary Numan has a plane, Mood Six are the new The Move, a piano is about to fall on someone’s head, and also exciting newcomers Bananarama. I can’t see them getting anywhere?!? Next are more songwords with “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode, and “It’s My Party” by Dave “not that one” Stewart With Barbara Gaskin.

Then there’s an interview with David and Sketch from Linx. The Bitz pages feature all of the latest music rumblings. These include Alexei Sayle’s new album, The Higsons, a review of Madness’s film Take It Or Leave It, the Indie and Disco charts, a profile of Buster from Bad Manners, Suggs’s Top Ten, and a special apology for the wrong Star Teaser grid in the previous issue. Next songwords are “Mule (Chant No. 2)” by Beggar And Co., and “It Will Be Alright” by Odyssey.

Singles time! This is supposedly a golden time for pop music. Will it be reflected here? Again, here are the reviews of the hottest A-sides around reduced to one standout word that may (or may not) describe the quality of these records…

The Police “Invisible Sun”: “creamy”
Elvis Costello And The Attractions “Good Year For The Roses”: “sobbing”
The Human League “Open Your Heart”: “dreamboat”
Shakin’ Stevens “Shaky Sings Elvis”: “burping”
Toyah “Thunder In The Mountains”: “dazzle”
Squeeze “Labelled With Love”: “japesters”
Bee Gees “He’s A Liar”: “plods”
Foreigner “Juke Box Hero”: “leadweight”
Gary Glitter “Then She Kissed Me”: “spongy”
Bad Manners “Walking In The Sunshine”: “slobby”
New Order “Everything’s Gone Green”/”Procession”: “interesting”
Devo “Being Cool”: “pompous”
Tom Tom Club “The Genius Of Love”: “bizarre”
Hazel O’Connor “Hanging Around”: “sweaty”
Secret Affair “Do You Know”: “unremarkable”
Billy Idol “Mony Mony”: “desperation”
Kirsty MacColl “See That Girl”: “snappy”
The Cramps “The Crusher”: “kneecaps”
Associates “A”: “supple”
Bill Nelson “Living In My Limousine”: “slinky”
Dire Straits “Tunnel Of Love”: “chunky”
The Revillos “She’s Fallen In Love With The Monster Man”: “hammy”

On the albums page, highlights include “7” by Madness which scores, er, 8/10, and “Thirty Thousand Feet Over China” by The Passions top scores with 8½/10. Also notable is “Rhythm Breaks The Ice” by Bette Bright, soon to be Mrs Suggs, and helping out on this album is Ian Broudie, 15 years before “Three Lions”. The Get Smart! column is where your music questions are answered (“Simple Minds discography, please”). All of these would be answered nowadays with “go on Wikipedia, you fool”.

Next songwords are “Walking In The Sunshine” by Bad Manners, and “Mad Eyed Screamer” by The Creatures. And there’s an interview with The Creatures, the Siouxsie And The Banshees spin-off group. Look, there’s an Ultravox colour poster. More songwords with “Genius Of Love” by Tom Tom Club, and “He’s A Liar” by The Bee Gees. Then there’s an advert for The Face with Pamela Stephenson on the cover, and a quiz.

Next is an interview with parody group The Hee Bee Gee Bees, featuring Angus Deayton, Philip Pope, and Mike Stevens, soon to be among the cast of Radio Active. And there’s the songwords for “Quite Ahead Of My Time” by David Bowwow. It’s a shame that he didn’t do a collaboration with another group around at the time, they could’ve called it David Bowwowbowwowwow.

Letters! “Could you tell me whether Champagne and Orange Juice doing a gig together would sound like Bucks Fizz?”. Well that’s a great way to earn a £5 record token. Then there’s an advert for music and fashion magazine New Sounds New Styles. The request spot is “Get Off Of My Cloud” by The Rolling Stones. An interview with The Police features the songwords for “Invisible Sun”.

Next are the Star Teaser and Crossword, with correct grids hopefully! Next songwords are “You Sure Look Good To Me” by Phyllis Hyman, and “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Then there’s a stupendous competition to win a video recorder and Madness prizes. We are introduced to new columnist Barry, who knows a lot of things. The new concert column has a review of Depeche Mode. And next time, there’s an Adam Ant poster… nice!