33 years on, Aberdeen Dons put Human League back in the charts

A terrace chant is heard at the top of iTunes

The Human League: Don’t you want them? Yes, actually, you do (photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times)

The Human League: Don’t you want them? Yes, actually, you do (photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times)

Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 00:00

Golfer Paul Lawrie pulled out of an important golf tournament in Morocco two weeks ago to be in Celtic Park to watch his football team, Aberdeen, beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle on penalties to win the Scottish League Cup.

A feature of the Dons cup run was fans singing The Human League’s classic Don’t You Want Me but changing the lyrics to Peter Pawlett Baby in honour of the team’s key midfielder. This happens all the time in football grounds around the UK and Ireland, but what’s odd here is that the tune has spread from the 21,000-capacity Pittodrie to the top of the charts this weekend.

Golfer Lawrie has spent this past week driving a car branded with the song’s social media hashtag #PeterPawlettBaby (to number One) and, as some indication of the affection still felt for the 1981 song, the original is now flying up the charts.

We’ve seen plenty of these song/ social media campaigns before (most of them rubbish), but this one is exceeding expectations and it began not with a Premiership behemoth but with a Scottish team who have had their ups and downs.

Already No 1 in the Scottish charts, Don’t You Want Me is the highest new entry in the iTunes charts this week and is battling it out with Pharrell Williams et al for the top prize.

Crucially, Dons fans picked a universally loved song that, 33 years on, sounds as melodically taut as ever. But Don’t You Want Me has an interesting history: it was never supposed to be released in the first place, and arguments about how bad it was almost broke up the band.

When they formed, The Human League thought of themselves as Sheffield’s answer to Kraftwerk. The breakthrough Dare album (which includes Don’t You Want Me ) was made without the use of any conventional instruments. It caused such a fuss at the time that the Musicians’ Union called for a ban on the use of synthesizers and drum machines in recorded work, saying it would make their members redundant.

Singer Phil Oakley wanted Don’t You Want Me to be “dark, cold and lonely” but after recording his vocals in the studio’s toilet (for the acoustics) he left producer Martin Rushent to finish it off. Rushent didn’t hear the bleakness of the song (the lyrics are based on the film A Star Is Born ) but an “electronica Abba” and sweetened it up with pure pop flourishes.

Oakley was so furious that his Kraftwerk-style oeuvre now sounded like cheap synth pop that he buried the song as the final track on Side B of the album. When the record company came looking for a fourth single from Dare , Oakley almost walked out on the band and their label deal when they suggested the song he hated so much.

Proof, if it were needed, that musicians shouldn’t decide which songs are released or why. The rest is chart history and this week the tale of the waitress who was working in a cocktail bar is back where it belongs. Well done Dons Fans.

And see if you can work out the connection between The Human League and League of Ireland side Derry FC without Googling.

Love: The first new Pixies album in more than 20 years is out April 24th.
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