11 January 2011

The Human League - The Dare! Demos



















It remains one of the great mysteries of the age. Like who built the pyramids, or what was the purpose of Stonehenge. How did Phil Oakey come up with Dare!, one of the defining statements of eighties synthpop?

The odds were certainly against him. When the League Mark I split, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware took all the song writing and production skills with them. Oakey was left only with Adrian Wright, the guy who did the slide projections for their live shows, and his trademark hair cut. Neither Oakey nor Wright had any real experience playing an instrument, let alone knew much about writing a hit single. And Oakey's first move was hardly one to inspire any confidence: rather than hire some musicians to play the backing parts for a European tour that had been booked before the split, he recruited a couple of school girls he had spotted at the local disco to be dancers for the band.

So where did Dare! come from? Well, the simple answer, and the one most commonly advanced, is: Martin Rushent. Having cut his teeth producing first-wave punk and post-punk acts like The Buzzcocks, Generation X, and XTC, he had spent the better of a quarter million pounds setting up Genetic Sound Studio, the centre piece of which was a Linn Drum machine. Where earlier drum machines could only play a fixed number of preset rhythm patterns, typically associated with rather dated dance styles like the Cha Cha or Bossa Nova, the Linn could be programmed to play anything the programmer liked. What was more, the Linn could be synchronized with arpeggiators and sequencers, allowing each part to sound perfectly in time with every other part. Rushent's mastery of the Linn drum machine, together with an innovative production style that isolated each instrument, affording each its own precise place in the acoustic field, gave the album its air of sleek, cool modernism.

The other answer looks past Rushent's studio skills to credit Ian Burden and, especially, Jo Callis, the hired guns that Oakey belatedly brought on board to help work out the musical backing to his and Wright's early song sketches. What this two cd set shows, however, is that neither answer fully suffices. The demos present here show that even at a very early stage in the album's development, and certainly well before Rushent was to add his distinctive touches, Oakey and Wright had begun to forge a very different conception of the band's sound. Where the songs for Reproduction and Travelogue were audio collages, built up from tracks painstakingly pieced together from individual modular synth patches, the songs for Dare! began with simple chords, mostly picked out on on the new generation of cheap polyphonic synthesizers (such as the Casio M10), and plaintive one-finger melodies that express an aching romanticism that was new to their sound. The League Mark II wrote songs, in short, with memorable lead lines and a distinctive tone--the very limitations of their abilities seem to have kept them from becoming overly predictable or formulaic.

The story of how Oakey and Wright, together with Callis, Burden, and the school girl dancers, Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley, developed these songs from the most rudimentary sketches to dance floor classics that still inspire shrieks of recognition whenever they're played, is presented in wonderful archaeological detail in this two cd set. There's plenty to intrigue the dedicated League fan who doesn't already have this set: alternate lyrics to "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of," early versions of "Do or Die" and "Open Your Heart" (here titled "Letting It Show" and "Banjo Song," respectively), and songs that didn't make the album, such as "In The Park" (a variation on Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" I suspect), and "Boxing on TV." But to my mind, the real answer to the question with which we began can be found at the very end of the second set, a methodically worked out bass line for the Ike and Tina Turner classic, "River Deep, Mountain High." The League Mark I was keen on on sixties r'n b standards, and even included "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" on their first album. Clearly at some point there must must have been some thought of doing something similar for Dare!

In the end, however, there would be no Phil Spector covers on Dare! Instead of RDMH, they included the haunting, austere, vaguely sinister theme from the film "Get Carter." That choice, and I suspect it was Oakey's choice, speaks volumes about how clearly the vocalist understood what he wanted from this album: romantic but danceable, glamorous but minimal, modern but nostalgic. If the success of Dare! belongs to any one, my money's on the guy with the lopsided hair cut.

-- Crash the Driver

The two cd set posted here is identical to that which was posted over at Going Underground, the links for which have now been dead for some time. We're posting it here following repeated requests from the members of the Blind Youth list, the place to go for all things related to the League Mark I. Our thanks to Going Underground for making it available.

The Dare! Demos CD One

The Dare! Demos CD Two

18 comments:

  1. I can't extract the files. I'm on OSX and have tried keka, 7zX and the Unarchiver.

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  2. Ok it was Ace format on those files :-) Thank you very much for this! The track list is not the same as the backside of this CD.

    http://electronicallyyours.blogspot.com/2009/09/human-league-making-of-dare.html

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  3. I can't unzip either. I tried re-labelling as "ace", as suggested above, and that did not work either.

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  4. Sorry for the wonky zip file, everyone. The links are fixed and they should unzip fine. I've also double checked the track listing and it is identical to the one that had been posted at electronicallyyours.blogspot.com.

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  5. Thanks! Appreciate your work!

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  6. this is excellent! thank you very much!

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  7. Link to CD2 is not working :-(

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  8. valle björn13 January, 2011 21:21

    Could someone put CD2 up and post the link, please!!!!

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  9. Hi!!! Here from the Going Underground blog, and the original "compiler" of the "Making of Dare" 2CDR... Really pleased that your fantastic blog -one of my favourites- have enjoyed the work and spread the demos message...
    All the best.

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  10. Truly excellent. Thank you so much for uploading this.

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  11. This is without doubt, the best blog on the web. Fair, constructive and informative with personal taste in music...

    And as for 'The Making of Dare', personally I still prefer the album version :) as these tapes are interesting merely to jump and skip across, but besides being rough sketches, there isn't really much there to expect from.

    Still, interesting to hear where one of the 80s pop masterpieces came from. Thanks.

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  12. THANK YOU FOR THE NEW LINKS...!

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  13. Fantastic ! Never knew these existed ! More power to your blog elbow

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  14. Amazing. Can't wait to play this. Thanks! Just goes to show. I only went to google to search Dare 2012 to see if we are getting a much talked about new version and got led here. Neil

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  15. Thanks.

    Interesting post. Look forward to hearing this. I loved Human League at the time but I remember my grandmother wasn't impressed: "Is that a man or a woman? You can't tell! This isn't proper music!"

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  16. epic.cant wait to play this.thanks.

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  17. Hi Crash the Driver - I largely agree with you. Personally I wouldn't credit Callis or Burden - the second was an unknown quantity and it is not known how much experience he really had. With regard to Callis, I always thought he was overrated. He seems to regarded as above criticism and the most talented but if he was the most talented and had so much songwriting experience why didn't he have hits before or after the league? That proves that he was just in the right place at the right time where Dare was concerned. I don't deny he was a good guitarist although it is noteworthy that Susan mentioned that he couldn't play keyboards well and had to be given simple parts. As for Rushent, a huge influence admittedly but in order for him to add finishing touches and beef up tunes the foundations of the house had to be built first.
    I would give Adrian a lot of credit as he was there helping Philip and as the first was friendly with Jo Callis even in 1978 I think it's very likely he had musical ability. It is hard not to think that he did not know some guitar for example.
    There is the argument that Phil and Adrian could not play instruments but this is not true. They surely would have picked a lot up from Ware and Marsh along the way. And interestingly Travelogue is the league's first successful album when Adrian joins in the songwriting( #16) and it's noteworthy that Boys and Girls is the highest chart position post split. So while it is true that a lot of Callis's songs were released, pretty much any song on Dare would have made a hit and as I have just illustrated in the above paragraph, much of the groundwork had been laid for the chart success which had eluded Mk1. So I would put Adrian as responsible for the success of Dare to a big extent

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