Young people, you can’t imagine how alone how I felt defending Dare as a favorite album in 1995. I still own the C-90 tape on which I’d recorded it and New Order’s 1981-1982 EP. Factored together, this secondhand cassette represents the single greatest and most influential album of the eighties and 2000s, so vindication came quickly — for me and and for the Human League, who scored an honest-to-god top forty hit that summer with a garrulous trifle called “Tell Me When,” in which they sounded like St Etienne.
Subsequent reports, substantiated in Simon Reynolds’ Rip It Up and Start Again, revealing the extent to which producer Martin Rushent programmed and arranged Dare hasn’t dimmed its clumsy power. I simply can’t fathom how Robert Christgau can categorize singer/keyboardist Philip Oakey as the sort of cyborg that “comes on like three kinds of pompous jerk” and intend it as dismissal! Part of what made Human League so popular with the UK kids in 1982 and the American kids who took “Don’t You Want Me” to #1 was how fucking human he sounded — that’s why the Jam-Lewis composition also hit #1 in fall 1986! I realize Janet Jackson was ascendant, but “Human” sounded nothing like her; it required Oakey’s flat notes and Suzanne Solley and Joanne Catherall’s genderfucking to register its regret. If the vocal were any better, it would collapse into camp.
Below is a reasonable top twenty culled from the League, BEF, and Heaven 17, the latter comprising the League-ists who jumped ship before Dare to create their own synthesized critique of capitalism partially funded by the one percent royalty to which the law entitled them.
1. Human League – Love Action (I Believe in Love)
2. Human League – Seconds
3. Heaven 17 – Let Me Go
4. Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder – Together in Electric Dreams
4. Human League – Don’t You Want Me
5. Heaven 17 – Temptation
6. Human League – Human
7. Human League – Mirror Man
8. Heaven 17 – (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing
9. Human League (Keep Feeling) Fascination
10. Human League – Do or Die
11. Human League – Jam
12. Heaven 17 – Let’s All Make a Bomb
13. Heaven 17 – We Live So Fast
14. Human League – Tell Me When
15. Human League – Life On Your Own
16. Heaven 17 – Play to Win
17. Human League – Are You Ever Coming Back
18. Heaven 17 – Come Live With Me
19. Human League – Open Your Heart
20. British Electric Foundation ft. Tina Turner – Ball of Confusion