There was one band in the ‘80s that made us want to either a) work as a waitress at a cocktail bar or b) date a waitress who worked at a cocktail bar. That band was The Human League, led by Phil Oakey and his leading ladies Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall, and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ was the hit that turned the British band into international chart stars.
Of course, as readers of this blog are undoubtedly aware, the ‘80s is the new black; although the decade and its music and fashions have been unfairly derided over the years, recently there seems to have been a shift that has re-established the ‘80s music scene as cooler than ever. Sure, Oakey may have looked a little silly with his half-undercut curtained hair (although the boldness of the fashion is part of the decade’s charm), but the band’s music holds up as exemplary pop of the highest order.
Last weekend, I had the chance to see the band turn out the hits live in the UK. On their biennial ‘greatest hits’ jaunt around the country, THL took to the stage in Wolverhampton to an enthusiastic (and mainly middle-aged) crowd prepared for a party atmosphere, many in the band’s branded tees. It soon kicked off with a celebratory run-through of all the hits, the nuanced new-wave of ‘Lebanon’, ‘Louise’ and ‘The Sound of the Crowd’ all given early showings and sounding just as fresh to noughties ears. Oakey prowled the stage with all the vigour of his younger New Romantic self, flanked by his shape-pulling female counterparts; throughout, the central trio rocked a monochrome look that matched the retro-futuristic white set (which included backing players’ shiny white drums and synths) and were joined by a Bolan-wannabe keytar player enhancing the danceability of the key hits.
The gig was a resounding success and a reminder that, despite the fun nostalgia factor associated with the decade’s music, ‘80s output stands up on its own merits. The likes of ‘Love Action’ and ‘Mirror Man’ were greeted like old friends and, to my ears, trounced much of the power-pop that clutters the charts today. It was a shame early hit ‘Being Boiled’ did not make the setlist, but the best was saved for last, with an encore consisting of ‘Don’t You Want Me’ (which was headed up by an extended intro which saw the crowd sing the entire first verse and chorus entirely unaided) and ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, ever a rousing sing-a-long climax.
Following this blast from the past, I’ll certainly be passing on Christmas songs and instead digging out my greatest hits compilation and blasting out ‘Fascination’ in my car. I suggest you should too.
Luke McNaney is an avid pop culture junkie who writes about fashion and jewellery for The Jewel Hut. He was born in 1986 so has since been trying to reclaim those lost ’80s years by watching John Hughes’ movies and dancing to early Madonna.