The Human League have released three singles compilations (to date): initally Greatest Hits (1988), then a reissued and rejigged Greatest Hits in 1995, and then The Very Best Of, ten years ago this week in 2003. The first two fell a little flat in places due to the omission of anything from their early years apart from Being Boiled and the inclusion of tracks like Love is All That Matters and the awful 1995 remix of Don’t You Want Me (more about that here). The third, on the other hand, is entirely essential and largely faultless.
The Very Best Of is, for the most part, chronological, although it opens with Don’t You Want Me, presumably trying to grab you from the start with the hit that everybody knows. Of course it’s a work of genius; you don’t need me to tell you that; and so I’m not going to wax lyrical about it again here – go and read my review of Dare if that’s of interest to you.
Then we take a jump back to about six months earlier for Love Action (I Believe in Love), a top three hit single, and at the time The Human League‘s biggest hit to date. Between Love Action and Don’t You Want Me came Open Your Heart, which peaked at number six, and is excellent too. There’s not been a bad moment on this album so far.
In fact, there really isn’t a bad moment on the whole release – there are weaker tracks such as “the dubious” Heart Like a Wheel, but even that represents a key era in the band’s history – the era when they had lost it a little bit.
The Sound of the Crowd is perhaps the weakest of the Dare singles (in fairness, none of them are particularly weak), and was also the first release from the album, peaking at number 12 in May 1981. There’s a bit of a blip here, as non-album follow-up singles Mirror Man and (Keep Feeling) Fascination turn up. Both were number two singles, I’m not convinced either is really up to the quality of the singles from Dare or even Hysteria.
By the time The Lebanon turns up you realise you’re firmly into the mid-1980s. Not because of the sentiment of the song, which sadly seems to be destined to be continually contemporary, but just the sound – there are points when it feels as though you’re watching some kind of I Love 1984 TV show.
Neither The Lebanon nor Life on Your Own were huge hits, but both are great examples of the more mature League sound which they introduced on their second “pop” album Hysteria. The latter is a brilliantly subdued pop song which somehow breathes “Sheffield” in a way that Dare doesn’t (perhaps it’s the line about “up here the summer’s shorter,” or maybe I’m just imagining it).
Together in Electric Dreams is, of course, not a Human League song, although it has been popularly adopted by them in their live shows in recent years. The original, a number three hit for Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder and taken from their subsequent album Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder, is entirely amazing and unforgettable, and a worthy inclusion on this album.
Then comes the last single from Hysteria, and also the last single of what you might consider The Human League‘s “mid-period pop phase” if you were of a mind to do so. Louise is an odd single, although its chart performance was acceptable (it peaked at number thirteen). It’s perhaps not up to the standard of Don’t You Want Me, but it’s still a beautifully bitter song.
From this point onwards we start skipping the lousier singles of The Human League‘s later years, including generally just one per album. This is, in some cases, a bit of a shame, but in others it’s entirely justified. Crash is a good example, represented here by the one decent track on the album, Human. There were two further singles, but both were flops, and neither is actually any good. Human, though, may be a bit of an oddity, but it’s a good slice of mid-1980s R&B nonetheless.
This isn’t really true of Heart Like a Wheel, one of the more average tracks on the largely average 1990 album Romantic? Follow-up single Soundtrack to a Generation has, at least, a passable 7″ mix, but neither is really up to much.
Their 1995 comeback Octopus, on the other hand, yielded a significant pile of hits (hopefully you read that correctly). Of those, just the two top 20 ones are included here, the brilliant Tell Me When and the lovely One Man in My Heart, a bit of an oddity in The Human League‘s oeuvre, as Phil Oakey takes a back seat and allows the girls to lead the singing.
Not such a big hit, but here to represent their excellent 2001 album Secrets, is All I Ever Wanted. The album was sadly a total flop due to record company issues, but that was entirely undeserved. In 2003, this was their most recent single, and its inclusion on this album is very welcome.
But that’s not it – there’s even a little space on the end to represent their first couple of albums, which might seem a little odd, but actually Being Boiled (1978) sits alongside All I Ever Wanted (2001) extremely well, and the compilation’s closer Empire State Human (1979) may have only been a number 62 single, but it really does end the release on a high.
The Very Best Of is pretty comprehensive – most of the omissions are understandable, and none of the few singles which have surfaced since 2003 would really add much to this album. If that weren’t enough, you even get an excellent bonus disc of remixes. Essential listening.
You can find The Very Best Of through all the standard places, such as this one.