Human League – Don’t You Want Me

 

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 pickedĀ  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.

 

poem – Ghosts

You never know what kind of ghosts you are going to meet. Some only come out at night. Some are less discreet. Some fade into the background. Some feed on our fear. Some are like objects in the mirror. They are closer than they appear. Some mess with the temperature. Some rearrange the shelves. Some of them get so bored they start to haunt themselves. Some of them keep their distance. Some try to earn our trust. After a while some of them start to look like us.

Poem

The cage is small, but I can move around. All the windows greet me. All the walls keep their distance. Only time is talking, but I am not listening. I an sparking what I can and avoiding the chaos to the best of my ability, remembering what it was like to live without thinking of living at all.

Keep or Cull – Jonah Jones’ Along Came Jonah

Born in 1909, Jonah was nearly sixty when he landed at Motown for a couple of LPs in the late 60s, starting with this one.

IMG_20200318_130341You might think, based on that title, that he does Along Comes Mary, a top ten hit for The Association.

He does not.

Instead, the jazz trumpeter does a mix of then-contemporary pop hits, jazz standards, and a couple of Motown songs.

And the results are… well, pleasant enough.

For example, here’s his take on My Girl.

 

Nice, but not revelatory.

The same is true for the rest of the songs.

IMG_20200318_130405On For Once in My Life, Jonah (who sings it) and the backing musicians slow the tempo down a bit, leaning more into the reflective nature of the lyric, and thus giving it more of a lounge sound.

On Love is Blue, Jonah does his best impersonation of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass.

On I Say a Little Prayer, the band starts with a little allusion to Walk on By before he comes in for a measured take on the Bacharach classic.

And on The End of Our Road, he and the backing musicians, likely the Funk Brothers, very nearly veer into the kind of funk that Jr. Walker traded in, although the results here are cleaner and brighter.

In many ways, it is the epitome of a sixties album in that it gives you a survey of the current scene in a way that is clearly meant to appeal to nearly anyone.

But despite the sweetness of Jones’ tone, which does hearken back to the swing era, and the 60s arrangements, not much really stands out.

And what does is more for novelty sake, such as the string laden stroll through the Beatles Michelle, which closes out the set.

You get the sense that someone wanted Jones to be hip, but not too hip, and faithful to his legacy, but not really draw on it to his benefit.

So it never really comes on.

And that makes it a cull for me.