What happened to the Human League?


The shot heard round the world that started the second British Invasion was fired from a synthesizer, and the Human League were the instigators. Their 1982 hit “Don’t You Want Me,” along with Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” paved the way for the onslaught of British musicians the following year. But what happened to them?

Replicating success

“Don’t You Want Me” slowly worked its way to No. 1. The group followed it one year later with the single ‘”(Keep Feeling) Fascination,” which hit the Top 10, but “Mirror Man” failed to replicate its success in the U.K. 1984’s Hysteria was widely panned by critics and failed to yield any Top 40  and one of the group’s main songwriters, Jo Callis, left, as did their manager, Bob Last. Even worse, the recording of their fifth album was going nowhere. Sensing failure, Virgin Records talked the band into scrapping the tapes and working with two of the hottest R&B producers in the industry—Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

The album, titled Crash, was released in September 1986, and the Jam/Lewis-penned track, “Human,” was the first single. A soulful ballad with the same two-sides-to-the-story approach as “Don’t You Want Me,” “Human” took the U.S. by storm, topping the Hot 100 for one week and rising to No. 3 on the R&B chart. It was light years away from the stark, industrial sound and the manifesto that the Human League first embraced, but it solidified their position as pop superstars.

“Human” was the last No. 1 song for the Human League. Ian Burden left the band in 1987, leaving only Philip Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley as the core of the band. They released another album, Romantic?, in 1990, but sales were dismal, and Virgin dropped them from the label.

They signed to EastWest Records and released Octopus in 1994. And while the single “Tell Me When” reached the Top 10 in the U.K., it could only manage a No. 31 showing in America. They were released from their record contract once again and toured with Culture Club and Howard Jones.

In 2000, the Human League released Secrets in 2001, but it stalled at No. 44 on the U.K. chart and didn’t chart at all in America. The results were the same with 2010’s Credo. It’s their last studio album to date.

human league now The trio continues to tour, having headlined with ABC, A Flock of Seagulls, Naked Eyes, and Belinda Carlisle on the US Regeneration Tour and with fellow Sheffield natives ABC and Heaven 17 on “The Steel City Tour.”  “We’d all thought we’d do one album, at a push two, together and that would be it,” said Sulley. “I can remember conversations between the three of us working out what jobs we were going to do because there was no money. We never thought it would carry on.”


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