The Human League – Hard Times / Love Action (I Believe In Love)

Just days before a tour of Europe and the UK, and unable to reconcile themselves with Phil Oakey’s views on the future direction of the band, songwriters and keyboard players Martin Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left to launch their own project, Heaven 17.

Amidst the turmoil, Oakey fought for The Human League name, and to win it, conceded to pay 1% of any future royalties earned by his reformed and restyled band to Ware and Marsh.

He also inherited all the band’s debts, and an obligation to fulfil the upcoming tour, which with only days remaining presented significant issues in itself, given he’d lost the band’s most skilled musicians.

Oakey quickly recruited Ian Burden of Sheffield synth band Graph, and perhaps more famously, spotted teenagers Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall dancing in a club in the same city, and invited them to join the tour too as dancers and backing singers. Philip Adrian Wright remained as Director of Visuals with the band to complete the line up.

With their overhaul underway, the Human League were able to embark on their planned tour dates, and whilst on the road, Oakey began writing new material for the more-pop less-Avant Garde style Oakey with new-recruit Burden.

The first fruits of the new songwriting partnership emerged in April 1981 when The Human League released ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’. This was also their first single with female backing vocals, and their first with new producer Martin Rushent, who record-label Virgin had recommended to polish the new band’s sound.

The single became the band’s biggest hit to date, reaching number 12 in the UK chart. But the label still viewed the Human League as high risk, as they had little new material, and the majority of the band were not even musicians.

Heavily in debt, the band were given the opportunity of one further single to prove themselves, and on that basis, they chose to record another new Oakey & Burden composition, ‘Love Action (I Believe In Love)’.

The track proved to be the catalyst for the band’s future success, peaking at number 3 in the UK chart, and as a result, persuading Virgin to sanction the release of a full album of new material from the new line up.

That album would become Dare, which would spawn two further top 10 hits in ‘Open Your Heart’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me?’, and which would go on to sell over a million copies.

Oakey’s vision for the band was having exactly the effect he had intended, and with each new release, the full extent of his blueprint became clearer.

For a while the band badged their singles with ‘Red’ or ‘Blue’ code words for fans – the former signifying a dance record, and the latter a pop record (this particular release fell into the ‘Red’ category).

Most single releases were coupled with 12” extended versions and remixes, but this 12” segues the single with its b-side ‘Hard Times’ to create a 10-minute plus piece from the two tracks.

‘Hard Times’ is a largely instrumental track built from a couple of samples from its a-side, and received club play in its own right upon its release, thanks largely to its bold, crunchy bassline.

Producer Martin Rushent was responsible for the band’s extended versions, and before long he would take them in an even more unique direction with the creation of semi-instrumental ‘dub’ versions of their tracks.

These were released in 1982 as a follow up companion album to Dare called Love And Dancing, which was a non-stop remix album, credited to the League Unlimited Orchestra.

12 years after its original release, ‘Love Action (I Believe In Love)’ was heavily sampled by another northern electronic act, Utah Saints, for their top 10 hit ‘Believe In Me’.

Oakey’s vision may have taken the band away from its avant-garde roots to a more commercial pop sound, but the band continued to innovate not just through their music, but also through their identity.

This 12” is significant not just because it earned The Human League the opportunity to record several more hugely successful singles, and a truly classic album.

But also because it pulled together many aspects of the vision Phil Oakey had when he reformed the band in 1980 for the first time – a vision which he was right to pursue with such vigour and determination.

Label: Virgin
Cat No: VS435-12
Year: 1981

Bassheads – Is There Anybody Out There? (Extended)

Bassheads originate from Birkenhead on the Wirral and are named after club night The Bassment which DJ and band member Desa started in 1988.

With the help of bandmate Nick Murphy, Desa used a reel-to-reel tape machine he’d bought (a Revox B77) to blend samples and loops into unique pieces to play at the club.

This was the height of the acid house and rave scene of course, and the genre was developing rapidly.

The underground nature of the scene meant independent and often anonymous acts were releasing white label 12” singles directly into radio and clubs, and new anthems were being born every week.

Bassheads were one such act, and had played out several of their cuts in their own sets before they released ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ as a 12” white label in 1991.

Their original version sampled Pink Floyd heavily in its intro, and also included uncleared samples by the Osmonds, Talking Heads, Afrika Bambaataa and Ruffneck featuring Cheri Williams.

It’s success on the rave scene quickly spread Bassheads name way beyond Birkenhead, and later in 1991 Deconstruction records signed the track, and a remade version became a top 5 hit in the UK.

The Pink Floyd sample was removed for the commercially released version, and other samples were recreated to reduce the need to obtain full permissions from the rights holders for each.

But the journey of this track is interesting not just because of the need to remake it for commercial release.

It’s also helps to illustrate the natural dynamic of any underground scene that grows sufficiently to cross over into the mainstream.

As the acid house scene grew, Deconstruction Records set themselves up, primarily to distribute and market house anthems.

Thanks to distribution deals with Parlophone and RCA, they were soon able to score top 10 hits not only with Bassheads, but also with K-Klass, Robert Miles, Felix and M-People, amongst others.

Just six years after its formation, the label was bought by BMG, and such was its growth in that period, both in terms of size and reputation, that shortly after the buy-out, the label was able to sign Kylie Minogue.

As for Bassheads, they soon release an album C.O.D.E.S. through Deconstruction and achieved several more top 40 hits in the early 1990s, most notably with ‘Back To The Old School’.

But this was their anthem, and whether in its original white-label version with original samples, or in this slightly more polished commercial release, it’s a track that still regularly rocks dancefloors in the UK and beyond.

On to the record itself then, and the sleeve is in the Deconstruction house style, designed by 3a.

Colours changed from one release to the next but the fonts and layout remained the same, keeping design costs down, and building a strong identity which contributed to the label’s success.

The 12” single contains the “extended” version of ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ and a version of b-side ‘Non Verbal Communication’ on the reverse.

Given that the extended a-side is virtually the same length and structure as the original white-label, it isn’t actually extended at all, and it would have been more appropriate for this to be called the original version, and the 7” to be called the truncated version, albeit that that would have defied convention.

Either way, this 12” is a superb product of a scene that had an energy and intensity that has rarely been matched since, and which saw many other dance anthems make the journey from the British provinces to a global stage.

Label: Deconstruction
Cat No: 12R 6303
Year: 1991


It’s a little surprising how many of the now classic records in this series were conceived in chaotic circumstances.

This track was nominated single of the year in 1981 by the UK’s three biggest music papers of the day (NME, Melody Maker and Sounds) and spent three weeks at number one.

Yet it was created in a fractious environment by a band that was in the process of self-destructing.

The Specials had followed their eponymous 1979 debut album with ‘More Specials’ a year later.

And whilst ‘More Specials’ had charted in the top 10, and delivered singles that had done the same, its more produced sound hadn’t met with unanimously positive reaction.

More importantly, several bandmates were skeptical of Jerry Dammers’ approach to production, and unhappy with the slightly different direction it took the band in.

Against this backdrop – and the backdrop of riots on the streets of Bristol and Brixton – Dammers had continued writing, and in particular, had been honing this new track for some months.

He and the rest of the band had witnessed the growing crisis in urban Britain first hand as they’d toured the ‘More Specials’ album around its provinces.

And whilst what they saw influenced this track, they couldn’t have foreseen the scale of unrest that would exist by the time of its release in June 1981, by which time unrest had been reported in no less than 35 towns and cities across the UK.

‘Ghost Town’ would provide a suitable soundtrack for broadcasters, and instant social commentary for its listeners, adding interest even beyond the sheer quality of the track itself.

So what of the almost equally riotous recording?

Whilst writing and refining ‘Ghost Town’, Dammers had been enjoying a reggae track called ‘At The Club’ by Victor Romero Evans, and had decided he would like its producer and co-writer, John Collins, to take over production duties for this single.

Dammers first called Collins in the middle of the night with the offer, but Collins believed the request a joke and put the phone down. But Dammers persevered and eventually Collins travelled to Coventry to meet Dammers before agreeing to produce the track.

Dammers had used a 24-track studio for the ‘More Specials’ sessions, but it was agreed they would ditch this in favour of a modest 8-track studio in a house in Leamington Spa for ‘Ghost Town’.

Collins would also insist the band recorded in mono, with reverb and delay used to add width to the sound, to give a more authentic reggae/ska feel.

The limited space available in the house meant the band had to record their parts independently, providing another departure from the band’s previous sessions.

In an attempt to encourage a common approach in this environment, Collins played band members records whose style he wanted to inspire the recording.

Drummer John Bradbury for example was played ‘What a Feeling’ by Gregory Isaacs (a Sly & Robbie production) before being invited to mimic its drumming style.

But not all of the band were behind ‘Ghost Town’ as it developed in the studio.

Dammers remembers guitarist Lyndal Golding rushing into the control room at one point shouting about how wrong it sounded, and recalls vocalist Neville Staple being reluctant to try out some of the proposed ideas.

Collins eventually got sufficient material work with, and took the mono recordings back to his Tottenham home for mixing, during which band members visited individually to pass comment on the developing track.

We now know the end result as a classic of course, but that was far from the feel at the time the record was completed, and given the troubled recording, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this would become the band’s final release before they split.

Interestingly, critical reaction was also not instantly positive. This at the time was a very unusual single, with very unusual sound and subject matter. But it gathered momentum and respect during the second half of 1981 in good time for the end of year polls it topped.

As for the 12” single, it features an extended mix which clocks at 6’02” compared with the 7” single version at 3’40”.

The package is completed neatly with two additional tracks, both written by different band members, and both with nightclub connections as per the a-side.

‘Why?’ is Lynval Golding’s plea for progress following a racist attack he suffered outside a nightclub, whilst ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ is Terry Hall’s epithet to a mundane night out in Coventry.

Quality and history in roughly equal measures then in this particular record, and yet another classic track which surely can’t be enjoyed more than when in its 12” format.

Label: 2 Tone Records
Cat No: CHS TT 1217
Year: 1981

Flowered Up – Weekender

Flowered Up emerged at the height of ‘Madchester’ and the legendary acid house movement in 1990, and were frequently pigeon-holed as north London’s answer to the Happy Mondays.

In a scene dominated by northern bands such as the Mondays, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans, it wasn’t the height of cool to hail from London’s King’s Cross.

Nevertheless, the band were sufficiently hyped by the British music press that they made the cover of the NME and Melody Maker before they’d even released a record.

London Records were the label that bit, with a £250,000 6-album deal, which singer Liam Maher would later feel was the band’s downfall, with the intense pressure it put on sales.

The label were naturally keen to market their act heavily, but Maher was unhappy with their debut album, and didn’t feel the production adequately reflected what the band were about.

With expectations sky-high, and a slightly cynical, baggy bandwagon sound, the album was met with skepticism, and the seeds of the Flowered Up backlash were sown.

The band’s response was to work with a different production team to record this 13-minute epic in 1992, which saw the band’s credibility significantly restored, winning praise from fans and critics alike.

‘Weekender’ sees the band divert focus to the mundanity of the popular live-for-the-weekend lifestyle adopted by many of their working and lower-middle class north London compatriots.

This was a true crossover track, appealing to indie and dance sensibilities, and it was played out heavily by DJs in both types of club.

Despite the unavailability of a 7” single, and a radio edit, ‘Weekender’ became the band’s biggest hit, reach number 20 in the UK charts despite these obstacles.

In keeping with this refusal to conform, rather than a regular video, an 18-minute short film was released to accompany the track, which bears some retrospective comparison with Shane Meadows’ style, and with Danny Boyle’s classic film Trainspotting.

But Flowered Up seemed somehow destined not to play to the script, and the achievement of their biggest hit had followed their being dropped by their label, hence the track being released on Heavenly rather than London Records.

Just months later, the south would become cool again on the indie scene, when Blur scored a hit with their ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ album, and Suede released their debut long player.

The band soon split, but the tragic endgame would come much later, with Maher’s death from a heroin overdose in 2009, and his brother, guitarist Joe Maher, from the same cause in 2012.

One wonders if a different set of choices between 1990 and 1992 by both band and label might have seen the brothers still alive today, and who knows, perhaps performing more classics in the mould of this epic 12” single.

Label: Heavenly
Cat No: HVN16
Year: 1992

Doug E Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew – The Show (Full Version)

Like many of the examples in this collection, it’s difficult to appreciate just how arresting this track was upon its release.

Back in 1985, there hadn’t been too many human beatbox / sample heavy hip-hop tracks in mainstream charts around the world.

Doug E Fresh and MC Rick D (a.k.a. Slick Rick) broke new ground when they combined to change that with a release that yielded classic cuts on both sides of the vinyl.

The lead track ‘The Show’ samples the Beatles and the Inspector Gadget theme tune, as it leads us through the twists of turns of the countdown to a live performance.

The flip-side ‘La-Di-Da-Di’ comprises Fresh’s human beat box underneath Rick’s storytelling, as he takes us through an example day in his life.

Perhaps due to its acapella presentation, ‘La-Di-Da-Di’ has become one of the most sampled records in history – to name but a few, Biggie Small’s ‘Hypnotize’ (1997), Snoop Dogg’s ‘Lodi Dodi’ (1993) and more recently Miley Cyrus’ ‘We Can’t Stop’ (2013 are just three examples that lift from it.

Soon after this release, MC Rick D would rebrand himself and sign to Def Jam as a solo artist, where he’d later release The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which would hit top spot on the US Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

Sadly he would later spend several years in prison for the attempted murder of his cousin, and for run-ins with the Immigration and Naturalisation Service over his residency in the US.

Although a New Yorker, Slick Rick was actually born in London in 1965, and actually, his unique style owes something to this heritage.

Often referred to as hip-hop’s greatest storyteller, Rick was unique in delivering detailed pre-prepared narratives in a clearly enunciated semi-English style, rather than the more freestyle flow of themed consciousness of contemporaries such as the Sugarhill Gang.

Doug E Fresh, a New Yorker originating from Barbados, recorded for various labels and with various collaborators in the following years, achieving major success with a collaboration called ‘Freaks’, recorded with Jamaican rapper Vicious in 1993.

Between 2007 and 2011, Fresh would enjoy a different kind of fame, thanks to the popularisation by rapper Lil’ Will of the ‘Dougie’ dance, featuring a shimmy and a hand passing through the hair.

The dance was performed by celebrities and athletes in public across the US and Fresh would later appear on ESPN to explain the mid-1980s origins of the phenomenon.

As for the duo, they’d reunite to record a critically acclaimed album together in 1995, but ‘The Show’ and ‘La-Di-Da-Di’ remain by some distance the duo’s best known and best loved tracks.

Label: Cooltempo
Cat No: COOLX116
Year: 1985

Kirsty MacColl – Walking Down Madison (6AM Ambient Mix)

This 1991 track started life as a Johnny Marr demo before Kirsty MacColl volunteered to take the backing track and add her own lyrics and vocal melody.

Having done so she offered the track to Alison Moyet, who declined to record it, and MacColl went on to release her own version.

As luck would have it the track would become MacColl’s most successful US single, peaking at number 4, and did well in the UK too, returning her to the top 30 after a two-year absence.

MacColl had enjoyed hits in both countries over a 10 year period prior to the release of Walking Down Madison, all of which were also collaborations or covers.

Her version of Billy Bragg’s ‘A New England’ and her duet with The Pogues for ‘Fairytale Of New York’ were both top 10 singles in the UK, and at the time of this release she’d recently dueted with the Happy Monday’s on their ‘Hallelujah’ single too.

All of these tracks were produced by her husband Steve Lilywhite, whose suggestion it was whilst producing their album that MacColl should duet with Shane MacGowan on ‘Fairytale Of New York’.

Production on Walking Down Madison marked a new direction for MacColl, it being her first hit with an electronic backing track, made up of hip-hop inspired beats that were so popular in 1991.

In keeping with the hip-hop feel the track also features a rap by Aniff Cousins, who’d enjoyed top 20 success two years earlier as co-writer of A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’.

The Walking Down Madison 12” single features the single mix, and extended club mix, and the 6am ambient mix which is featured here.

The beauty of this stripped down version is that more than any Kirsty MacColl hit her unique voice and harmonies are almost entirely exposed at the front of the mix.

Aside from being a pleasurable listen, this also allows more focus on the lyrics, which offer a vivid snapshot of MacColl’s observations on homelessness in New York in the 1980s.

One of the finest moments in the career of a fine vocalist and lyricist then, and a not insignificant chapter in the remarkable career of Johnny Marr too.

Label: Virgin Records
Cat No: VST1348
Year: 1991

Gary Byrd and the G.B. Experience – The Crown (Vocal)

Outside of the US Gary Byrd is best known for this 1983 track.

But Byrd’s records – including this and other Stevie Wonder co-writes – make up a relatively small part of his career.

Byrd started out in the 1960s as a teenage radio DJ in his home town of Buffalo, and after several successful years, and still a teenager, he moved to New York’s foremost black radio station, WWRL-AM, in 1969.

It was at WWRL-AM that Byrd created his G.B.E. (Gary Byrd Experience) show, whose influence is perhaps best illustrated by it being referenced in the lyrics of the 1973 James Brown track ‘Mind Power’.

Stevie Wonder was also a fan of Byrd’s show and it was Wonder’s interest that would lead to the creation of this track.

After hearing Byrd delivering spoken word pieces over music in the mid-1970s, Wonder invited Byrd to collaborate on lyrics for his now-classic 1976 album, Songs In The Key Of Life.

Their friendship would continue until a chance call in 1981 where Byrd revealed he was working on a project to create an extended-length track which would preach equality whilst teaching the a more balanced social history than was taught in most US schools.

Wonder was keen to collaborate and the pair spent almost three years developing the track between their other projects – Wonder eventually produced the track and sings a verse midway through.

The end result is a first in so many ways.

It sees the Motown label moving into the rap market, it sees Stevie Wonder collaborating on a rap record, it’s simultaneously delivers a disco classic, and it has a staged glossy picture sleeve was was unusual on rap records in 1983.

The single was released on 12″ only due to its length (just short of 11 minutes) and whilst it flopped initially in the US, it was a success in the UK where it spent 9 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 6.

It would be almost a decade before Public Enemy promoted similar messages (compare “I used to hurry home from school/I used to always feel so blue/Because there was no mention in the books we read about my heritage” from The Crown with “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps/Sample a look back and you’ll find/Nothing but rednecks for 400 years” from Fight The Power) – albeit that P.E. delivered their rhymes with much greater ferocity of course.

As for Byrd, he would go on to carve out the most remarkable career, releasing his own records and spoken word pieces, continuing to broadcast radio in his own unique style, presenting TV shows and delivering inspirational lectures along the way.

Yet despite the variety of Byrd’s output, there is probably no more fitting artefact than this pioneering 12-inch single to illustrate the quality and richness that exists in Byrd’s work across several media, over six decades.

That it happens to also be Stevie Wonder’s best ever 12″ single adds further to this record’s prestige.

Label: Motown
Cat No: TMGT1312
Year: 1983