Tracks January 1989

all HUMAN life is there

The Human League’s ‘Greatest Hits’ isn’t the story of a group – it’s the story of the ‘80s. Philip Oakey, Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall share their memories with John Aizlewood.

They enter as one. Two beautiful women flank a man in a dark designer suit, long leather coat, long crinkled swept back hair, plus a moustache shaped like an unused staple. Philip Oakey takes off his gloves, crosses his legs, nods a greeting, and begins to talk.

The women, Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley, laughs a lot. Mostly at Philip’s jokes, which he tells straight-faced.

“Like the image then?” I’m waiting for YTV to rerun Jason King, then people will understand the ‘tache. I go round with the heavy metal people in Sheffield now. I get out my old clothes and fit in perfectly.”

The Human League’s influence has been astounding. Take the Pet Shop Boys. Neil Tennant might sing like Al Stewart, but it’s the music and detachment of The Human League that scores.

Joanne: “They’re very good friends of mine. They’re northern lads  so there’s got to be something there.”

Philip: “They’re alright. They’re the new Human League obviously. I’n intensely jealous of them.”

Take acid house. The Human League went through it years ago.

Susan: “I’m not saying we were the first because Martyn (Ware. Now of Heaven 17) ripped it all of f Grandmaster Flash.”

Philip: “The weirdest thing of all is that it’s us, even more than Kraftwerk. It’s exactly what Ian Marsh (now of Heaven 17) used to do. He did on a machine and we had just basslines like acid house.”

Amazingly The Human League have only made five albums.

Joanne: “We take so long making them that by the time they’re released, the songs are already out of date.”

But still ahead of their time. The group admit ti two reasons for putting out a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection:

Joanne: “The Human League have been going for ten years so it seemed a good opportunity for a celebration.”

Philip: “We’re building a studio in Sheffield. It was supposed to be ready last Christmas and we were supposed to to have a new album out this Christmas. The studio isn’t ready,  we’ll probably scrap the new songs, and we don’t actually have the money to go into another studio to make a record – so this should tide us over nicely and buy some time.”

The album itself is, of course, a delight.



(Reached number 2 in the charts. Said at the time to be about John DeLorean and the problems of fame.)

Philip: “It’s absolutely nothing to do with John DeLorean. We’ve kept this quiet for years but it’s actually about Adam Ant. It’s not anti Adam Ant and we didn’t want to offend him, but he was having to respond to his public more than was good for him. I always rather hoped the Daily Mirror would use it in an ad so I’d get lots of money, but it never happened.”



(Number 2. Feature Philip going ‘Hey hey hey hey’. The only League single of 1983.)

Joanne: “There had been such a gap since ‘Mirror Man’, we were all scared to death. We had all these big discussions about whether this would be the one people didn’t like. Producer Martin Rushent wanted Philip to sing the verses and us in on the chorus.”

Philip: “I wanted it to be like Prince’s ‘1999’ where everyone sings a line. We did a better version of the ‘Hey hey hey heys’ but it got wiped.”



(Number 12. The first hit and the first record to feature Joanne and Susan.)

Susan: “Ooh no, we weren’t nervous at all. We were into dressing up when someone asked us to sing on tour with The Human league. It was an extension of going out.”

Joanne: “It wasn’t like we were going into a group who were megastars, so there was no problem with with the public accepting us. Also, although music had been a hobby we’d never thought about being in a group or doing it as a career. We still haven’t got a deal with a record company.”

Philip: “No one thought it would be successful. Our manager at the time pleaded with Virgin not to put it out. He thought the girls couldn’t sing and wanted to do it with sessioners.”



(Number 11. The Human League ‘go political’ shock Guitars!)

Philip: The militia went into a Palastinian camp after the men had been exiled and killed the women and children. It was the worst thing I’d ever seen. Also we’d just made a lot of money and you can’t celebrate how good life is when you’re doing well, can you? It’s arrogant.”

“Looking back, it’s the key record in losing our following. The people who like metally guitars didn’t like us because we were a pooffy synth band and Human League fans liked because we weren’t a guitar band. Thus we alienated everyone. I’m proud of this record – we did the right thing.”



(Number 8. Written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and the best track on the


disappointing ‘Crash’.)

Philip: “We indetified the best producers in the world before anyone else. Jam and Lewis hadn’t worked with Janet Jackson when we approached them. We both compromised because we wanted to break America and they wanted to cross over. I think ‘Crash’ is great.”

Susan: “Since ‘Dare’ everyone’s been waiting for ‘Dare II’ and it’s never happened.”



(Number 3. By Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder and taken from the film Electric Dreams. The dou’s self-titled album is a treat.)

Joanne: “Stock, Aiken, Waterman have got a copy of that album and they keep reverting back to it every time they run out of ideas.”

Philip: “If you examine the lyrics closely you’ll find they’re the best I’ve ever written. There’s my favourite pun too: the film’s hero is called Miles and there’s a line ‘You’re miles and miles away’. No one ever noticed but I was really proud.”



(Number 1. Anthem of a generation, impossible to dislike, etc, etc)

Joanne: “No one, not even a synth group, had done anything like it before. Now the charts are full of it.”

Philip: “I don’t see it that way. Everyone’s writing love songs. This is a power song, sexual imperialism.”

Susan: “I can’t stand groups who turn round and disown their past. I’m very proud of it. Reaching number one was a goal, if not the goal, and we’d no idea how big it was going to be.”



(Number 6. A hit five years after first release. Sounds like a demo tape.)

Philip: “It’s worse than a demo. It was the first song I ever had a hand in writing. I decided I’d be a Buddhist so I went out and got this book on it. I thought it was about elves living in trees and stuff, but that’s Hinduism and I was really offended as I’d spent good money on that book. I was a vegetarian at the time and Buddhist drop live silkworms into a vat of boiling water to get the silk off, which seems a little unfair.”



(Number 3. About Philip’s divorce. The song breaks off for ‘This is Phil talkin’ – a great moment in music.)

Philip: “We supported Iggy Pop. He did this song called ‘Turn Blue’ and went ‘Hey Jesus, this is Iggy talking’. You know is was a real person saying something he means. As for religion, I’m like Jam and Lewis: they believe in God but hate the church.”



(Number 13. The Human League’s proudest moment, even though not a top ten hit.)

Joanne: “It would have been if we’d had a better video. We wanted to work with director Steve Baron but then he shot it in black white and on a barge.”

Philip: “Video is a disgusting medium. It’s spoilt pop music and spoilt television. ‘Louise’ is the same people in ‘Don’t You Want Me’ 15 years later who meet up again in a bus station.”

Susan: “The music makes it more sad and melancholy.”



(Number 6. Marvellous verse, toe-curling chorus.)

Philip: “Exactly right. Jo Callis had written a brilliant backing, the verses had a lot to say, and then I let everyone down with the chorus.”

Susan: “It’s a very difficult song to sing, so we don’t do it live.”



(Number 41. Off ‘Crash’, and a tad dull if truth be told.)

Philip: “There were no more singles on ‘Crash’ and Virgin wanted something to precede the ‘Greatest Hits’ thing. This is exactly what’s sabotaged our career around the world: if there’s ballads on albums they pick them as singles.”

Joanne: “They pick singles by committee.”



(Number 16. A noble song which like al the singles off ‘Hysteria’ deserved much more.)

Philip: “When Virgin said they were putting this out we tried to stop them so we’d have a rocking disco song. They said this would go top three, so what could you do except watch it go to 16? The lyrics are rubbish really.”

Joanne: “Nobody hated it or anything or anything, it was just the wrong song at the wrong time.”

Susan: “All these songs are wonderful and we’re not embarrassed by any of them. Would you be?”

Not a chance!