The first thing to know about Don’t You Want Me is Phil Oakey hated it.
So much so, he fought with the producer over it, had it slotted as the last song on side two of Dare! (or Dare, depending where you live) to essentially bury it, and tried to stop it from being released as the fourth UK single from that album.
The sticking point for Oakey, who cowrote the song, was the mix, which he thought lost the allure of the original version.
But then, the song had evolved considerably from how he originally envisioned it.
It was not intended to be a duet.
Inspired by A Star is Born, Don’t You Want Me became a Svengali-protege song with Susan Ann Sulley playing off of Oakey’s stentorian self-importance.
A kind of he-said-she-said that cracked open how men see women as objects to possess and groom and then destroy.
But it is clear that Oakey is being destroyed by his own obsession.
Ironically, Oakey had picked Sulley (and the band’s other backing vocalist Joanne Catherall) out of a crowd at a club, which makes the song’s lyrics almost meta.
I have always thought it fascinating how dizzying the song’s phalanx of synths sound, much like being on a carousel at a carnival.
There’s a certain splashy iridescence to it that approximates flashbulbs and spotlights that strafe celebrities on the red carpet.
Although Oakey thought UK audiences were likely soured on the band after three back-to-back hit singles, Don’t You Want Me was the Christmas #1 there in 1981 – a highly coveted prize – and it stayed for five weeks at the top of the charts before hitting number one on Billboard in July 1982.
Oakey still has reservations about the song, but he seems to have warmed to it over the years.
It’s kind of hard not to enjoy it not just as a relic of its time but also for how perceptive it remains about sexual politics.
Even so, every time I hear it, that opening line makes me think Oakey is talking about a missed connection on Craiglist.