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The Human League - Don't You Want Me (1981)

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  • 80's Score80's Score80's Score 80's score: 2.64

“Don’t You Want Me” is a single by British synthpop group The Human League, released on 27 November 1981 as ...

“Don’t You Want Me” is a single by British synthpop group The Human League, released on 27 November 1981 as the fourth single from their third studio album Dare (1981). The band’s best known and most commercially successful song, it was the 1981 Christmas number one in the UK, where it has since sold over 1,560,000 copies, making it the 23rd-most successful single in UK Singles Chart history. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the US on 3 July 1982, where it stayed for three weeks.

In November 1983, Rolling Stone named it the “breakthrough song” of the Second British Invasion of the US. In 2015, the song was voted by the British public as the nation’s seventh-favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.

Chart performance and sales

“Don’t You Want Me” was released in the UK on 27 November 1981. The B-side was “Seconds”, another track lifted straight from the Dare album. As with previous singles, a 12″ version was also issued featuring the original version of “Don’t You Want Me” and “Seconds” on the A-side and an “extended dance mix” lasting seven and a half minutes on the B-side. This mix is also featured on the Love and Dancing album that was released under the name of the League Unlimited Orchestra in 1982.

To the amazement of the band (and especially Oakey), the song entered the UK Singles Chart at #9 and shot to #1 the following week, remaining there over the Christmas period for a total of five weeks. It ultimately became the biggest-selling single to be released in 1981, and the fifth biggest-selling single of the entire decade. Its success was repeated six months later in the US, with “Don’t You Want Me” hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks. Billboard magazine ranked it as the sixth-biggest hit of 1982. The single was certified Gold by the RIAA the same year for sales of a million copies. “Don’t You Want Me” is notable as the first song featuring the revolutionary Linn LM-1 drum machine to hit #1 on the UK charts and also the first LM-1 track to top the Billboard Hot 100.

The song was re-released in October 1995 as a CD, cassette and 12″ single featuring new remixes by Snap! and Red Jerry, peaking at #16 on the UK chart. The release coincided with the issue of the group’s second “Greatest Hits” compilation album shortly afterwards, which featured the Snap 7″ remix.

As of November 2012, “Don’t You Want Me” is the 23rd best-selling single in the UK, with 1.55 million copies sold. On 23 March 2014, the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart at #19 and debuted at #1 in the Scottish singles charts thanks to a social media campaign by fans of Aberdeen Football Club.

Music video

In 1981, record company Virgin were becoming aware that the promotional music video was evolving into an important marketing tool, with MTV being launched that year. Because it was agreed that the video for “Open Your Heart” had looked “cheap and nasty”, Virgin commissioned a much more elaborate and expensive promotional video for “Don’t You Want Me”.

The video for the song was filmed near Slough, Berkshire, during November 1981 and has the theme of the filming and editing of a murder-mystery film, featuring the band members as characters and production staff. Because it is a “making-of” video, both crew and camera apparatus appear throughout. The video was conceived and directed by filmmaker Steve Barron, and has at its core the interaction between a successful actress (also a second negative cutter) played by Susan Ann Sulley walking out on “film director” Philip Oakey on a film set. It is loosely based on the film A Star Is Born. Near the end of the video, Wright, who also plays a film editor, has an expression on his face while the camera pulls back to reveal that the negative room where Oakey, Wright and Sulley were working is yet another set (the camera can be seen in the mirror’s reflection).

Filmed on a cold, wet winter night, the video was shot on 35mm film instead of the cheaper videotape prevalent at the time. Sulley claims that Barron was heavily influenced by the cinematography in Ultravox’s video for “Vienna” (directed by Russell Mulcahy earlier that year). Barron was also influenced by François Truffaut and his film Day for Night, and, because of that, the clapperboard seen in the video bears the inscription “Le League Humaine” as a tribute to Truffaut.

The video is credited[by whom?] for making Oakey, Sulley and Catherall visual icons of the early 1980s, but it became controversial later[citation needed] for a scene involving the murder-mystery film subplot in which Jo Callis appears to shoot Catherall (and later in the video repeated with Oakey shooting Sulley) with a pistol from a car window (a Saab 99 turbo). The scene is cut out of the DVD version and usually when shown on music television, replaced with a montage of other shots from the video edited in slow motion. The other car used in the video is a gold W-reg (1981–82) Rover SD1. In a 1995 interview, Catherall mentioned that the car Callis was driving had to be pushed into shot as he could not drive at the time, to which Sulley added “he still can’t!”

The video was released in December 1981.