How The Human League made Don’t You Want Me

Back in the 1980s, Philip Oakey was recruited by Martyn Ware to make The Human League. But due to a lack of success, severe pressure from their label, and the inability to decide on the sound the band wanted to take forward, they split up just days before their UK tour.

A portrait of Susan Ann Sulley, Philip Oakey, and Joanne Catherall.
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Philip Oakey was allowed to retain the name The Human League, and he needed to find a woman to sing the high vocals on their songs. It was the start of a revival for the band and led to one of the most memorable hits of all time.

Finding the Perfect Duo at a Club

Trying to find a new vocalist in clubs across the city, Philip went to Crazy Daisy nightclub, and his eyes fell upon two best friends, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. The two girls were dancing and seemed to be in sync while showing apparent individualism.

Suzanne Sulley, Phil Oakey, and Joanne Catherall pose together.
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Philip asked them to audition right away. The girls accepted, but they asked their parents, who refused since they were underage. Undaunted, they secretly auditioned and were selected. Philip went to their parent’s house to ask permission to take the girls on tour.

Making Don’t You Want me

Phillip got the permission, and the girls went on tour and became a part of The Human League. It was a new and exciting experience, even if not very glamorous, because the band was in severe debt. The Human League started to work on their next album “Dare.”

The Human League is performing on 'Top Of The Pops'.
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They wrote the songs in disused vets in Sheffield, which had horrible conditions. One of the synth players, Adrian, started the basis of Don’t You Want Me as a vocal melody, but it did not have a chorus. It would soon become the hit we know it as today.

How the Song Was Written

Philip wrote the first line of the song from a romance magazine he had been reading at the time, which said, “You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.” He felt that cocktail bars sounded glamorous. He recorded the vocals for the song in the toilet, and the initial recording had the sound of the toilet flushing by their engineer, which they left off the record.

A portrait of Suzanne Sulley, Phil Oakey, and Joanne Catherall.
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Although the song was complete, it did not have a chorus. They were soon recording the song in a studio, and the Producer, Martin, told Philip to go to another room and not come out until he had a chorus. It took him two hours to finally find something that satisfied him. The chorus line of “don’t you want me, baby” was soon created.

Finding Success with an Instant Classic

Philip initially did not want to release it as a single from their new album because he considered it one of their weakest songs. The producer at the time disagreed and released the song along with a music video, which became an instant hit.

Philip performs on stage.
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Philip thought the song was too smooth, but it reached number one on the UK chart and had success. It has cemented The Human League as one of the leading artists of the 1980s, with the incredible song still being hugely popular today.