All this pandemic malarkey has got in the way of some landmark anniveraries.
Not least this one - the 40th Anniversary of Human League's 'Dare'.
At the start of 1981, the Human League were basically on their arse. Half the band had left, the remaining members had a microphone stand and a slide projector between them, and they were seriously in debt. Despite high hopes, the early Human League singles - much to Phil Oakey's confusion - had failed to garner commercial success.
Working on the principle that a great pop band has 2 female singers, 2 dancers were recruited from a Sheffield nightclub, and the Tour was fulfilled (maybe not as intended, but fulfilled nonetheless).
Now the re-birth began - the avant-garde stylings of the past were stripped back (although maybe not removed completely), and a pure pop sheen added in the pursuit of commercial success.
Virgin Records kept the faith (and continued financial support) and the breakthrough came with the single "The Sound Of The Crowd". This was followed by the Top 10 "Love Action". Off the back of his production work on those couple of singles, The Human League hunkered down with Martin Rushent to create, assemble, and record the album.
What came out was an almost perfect mix of synth-pop, nightclub, and a little bit of avant-garde/Kraftwerk-y brooding from the immediate past.
Oh, and another hit single - "Open Your Heart" to add to the mix
"The Things That Dreams Are Made Of" opens the album pointing clearly to a new start, and what is to come over the next 40 minutes. "Open Your Heart" jacks up the pop quotient, with Phil Oakey's almost anguished vocals at the top of his range.
Much of the accessibility of 'Dare' is the detailed song construction, lyrics veering to the almost wordy and arty, and the relatively simple memorable tunes. It's a synthesiser album played by pop folk who are not synth geeks (in perhaps the way original members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh were).
An album tooled for the night-club, and as the say in "Sound Of The Crowd" - "dance around!", but also with a touch of menace about it (maybe it's the way Phil intones the lyrics, but there are at times a feeling of confrontation).
There is one cover version - the theme to the film "Get Carter" fits the tone of the album as showing the different facets and moods of the band. Singles were given a Red or Blue deignation identifying if they were dancefloor ready (Red) or straight pop songs (Blue). There are elements of 'Dare' ("Get Carter" being one of them, but also "Darkness", "I Am The Law" and "Seconds" which should probably have a Black (or Dark Grey) marker.
It's another of those "witness the 80s being born" moments - and the production from Martin Rushent is a big factor here - his studio was one of the most tooled up at the time.
It says a lot about Virgin Records support of the band to give them a chance to come back from the brink of implosion, and their support to pair them with a producer and studio of some renown.
And the return on Virgin's investment was handsomely rewarded when a single lifted from the album (which originally had no place on the album, and under compromise was tacked on the end of Side 2) sold in droves to become the Christmas Number One.
That single - "Don't You Want Me" - became Human League's signature (and probably millstone around their neck). It would eventually sell over a million copies, and that success gave new life to Human League's old work (the album 'Reproduction' and 'Travelogue' started to actually sell, and their first single ('Being Boiled' (from 1979)) crept into the Top 10 in early 1982.
Not content with the continuing sales of 'Dare', producer Martin Rushent took the tapes back into the studio. Tapes were cut and re-spliced, echo and other effects added, vocals stripped, and one of the first re-mix albums was thrown to a ravenous market.
'Love And Dancing' was released under the name The League Unlimited Orchestra, and was retailed at a lower price to ensure fans were not ripped off by buying (nearly) the same songs twice.
If 'Dare' is an essential album (which I think it is), then 'Love And Dancing' is the perfect compliment.
The Human League stayed on a high with the release of their next single "Mirror Man". and nearly scored a second Christmas Number One. "Keep Feeling Fascination" followed it to the higher reaches of the chart, but a new album had to wait until Spring 1984. It sold well, but the departure of Martin Rushent was noticeable in sound presentation, and the sheer time between album releases (despite continuing sales of 'Dare'), did seem to damage their popularity.
Phil Oakey scored a solo success with "Together In Electric Dreams" in late 1984, and the Human League looked to be in hiatus (either chosen or enforced?).
They did return in 1986 with 'Human' and scored a US Number one, but despite a couple of further albums the bands trajectory was turning downwards towards the 80s nostalgia circuit.
'Dare' remains their high watermark, a synth-pop album that ranks alongside other greats, both in terms of sales and influence.
The Things That Dreams Are Made Of
Open You Heart
Don't You Want Me (from 'Love And Dancing')