Dare (album)

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Studio album by
Released16 October 1981 (1981-10-16)
RecordedMarch–September 1981
StudioGenetic Sound, Streatley, Berkshire
The Human League chronology
Love and Dancing
Singles from Dare
  1. "The Sound of the Crowd"
    Released: 20 April 1981
  2. "Love Action (I Believe in Love)"
    Released: 27 July 1981
  3. "Open Your Heart"
    Released: 28 September 1981
  4. "Don't You Want Me"
    Released: 27 November 1981
  5. "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of"
    Released: 21 January 2008

Dare (released as Dare! in the US) is the third studio album by British synthpop band The Human League, first released in the UK on 16 October 1981[1] then subsequently in the US in mid-1982. The album was recorded between March and September 1981 following the departure of founding members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, and saw the band shift direction from their prior avant-garde electronic style toward a more pop-friendly, commercial sound led by frontman Philip Oakey.

Dare became critically acclaimed and has proved to be a genre-defining album, whose influence can be felt in many areas of pop music.[2] The album and its four singles were large successes, particularly the international hit "Don't You Want Me". The album reached #1 in the UK and was certified Triple Platinum by the BPI.

A remix album based on Dare, Love and Dancing, was released in 1982.


Dare is the third studio album from the Human League but differs greatly from their previous two, Reproduction and Travelogue. This is due to a split in the original line up, the subsequent reformation of the band with new personnel and the difference in musical style under Philip Oakey's direction.

In January 1981 the Human League consisted of just Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright with newly recruited teenage dancers/backing vocalists Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley. After the acrimonious split of the original band in October 1980 and the subsequent recruitment of Sulley and Catherall, the new band had only just survived a European tour by bringing in session keyboardist Ian Burden to temporarily assist. The band were deeply in debt and only barely commercially viable. Under pressure to produce results from Virgin Records, original members Oakey and Wright returned to Monumental Studios in Sheffield to start recording demo tracks. They recorded the track "Boys and Girls" from the 1980 tour, which Virgin then quickly released as a single. The style of "Boys and Girls" belonged to the original, now defunct Human League. Sulley and Catherall who were busy with school, were not used other than for publicity. The synthesiser work was basic as Oakey and Wright admitted they lacked the skill of Marsh and Ware. When "Boys and Girls" peaked at number 47 in the UK, Oakey realised that he would need to bring in professional help to take the band in the more pop and commercial sounding direction he wished.

Oakey's first move was to invite guitarist and keyboard player Ian Burden from the tour back to join the band full-time. As a trained musician, not only were Burden's keyboard skills vastly superior to Oakey and Wright's but he instantly proved to be an adept songwriter and composer as well. Virgin had suggested that Oakey needed professional production and paired him with veteran producer Martin Rushent, an expert on emerging music technologies of the time. Because of the "unhealthy" atmosphere at Monumental Studios in Sheffield caused by the Human League sharing it with new band Heaven 17 (containing ex-Human League members Ware and Marsh), Rushent moved the band to his Genetic Sound Studios in Reading. In addition Rushent's studios were better-equipped for the type of music the band was making. A downside would be that the distance would cause problems for Sulley and Catherall who were taking their final school exams and had to be bussed down from Sheffield regularly.[3]

The first result of their recording sessions was released in April 1981 entitled "The Sound of the Crowd"; it would be a defining moment for the band. With the sophisticated synthesiser work of Burden aided by Wright, Oakey's deep baritone lead vocal and for the first time female backing vocals from teenage dancers (now full vocalists) Sulley and Catherall it would prove to be the band's keystone sound. The final addition to the band would be the experienced guitarist and songwriter Jo Callis formerly of punk rock band The Rezillos, who quickly had to learn the synthesiser.

Oakey accepts that Martin Rushent's adept sequencing and programming skills brought a professional edge to the band's sound, and added many new elements and techniques. Oakey, Burden, Wright and Callis set about writing new material, bringing in Sulley and Catherall from Sheffield as often as they were available. The aim was another album for the Human League within a year. Virgin were at this point lukewarm but keen that the band released another single as soon as possible.

The first release from the now complete new team came in August 1981, "Love Action (I Believe in Love)" was the band's first major critical and commercial success and peaked at number three in the UK. It brought the band to the forefront of public attention and would also see Virgin give the green light for an album release with a 6–12 month timescale. The band now had much new material to work with and set about arranging it into a viable album. By September 1981 the prototype album was ready to go and provisionally entitled Dare, after a Vogue magazine cover (U.K., April 1979, Gia Carangi). Oakey explained the story behind the album name at the time:

To set the scene for the album's release Virgin released one of the album tracks immediately in advance of the album. "Open Your Heart" went to number six in the UK singles chart, confirming the band's popularity. Virgin began heavily advertising the release of the new album, set for the end of October 1981. "Open Your Heart" was accompanied by a futuristic looking promotional video, a rarity at the time. Whilst it was still in the charts, Dare premiered to critical acclaim. It was also condemned by the Musicians' Union, who believed the new technology employed by the Human League was making traditional musicians redundant and a threat to their monopoly. Soon they would begin a "Keep It Live" campaign believing that bands like the Human League would be able to perform concerts at the touch of a button.[3]

Virgin executive Simon Draper's next choice would be the track "Don't You Want Me", the conflicting male/female duet about jealousy and romantic obsession that Oakey had recorded with teenage backing singer Susanne Sulley. Oakey was unhappy with the decision and originally fought it, believing it to be the weakest track on Dare; for that reason it had been relegated to the last track on the B-side of the vinyl album. Oakey was eventually overruled by Virgin.[3] It would go on to become the band's greatest ever hit, selling millions of copies worldwide and becoming the 25th highest ever selling single in the UK (as of 2007).[5] It was also the Christmas number one for 1981.


In 1981 the Human League considered themselves a "song based group"; this was a deliberate distinction differentiating the band from other electronic artists who specialised in principally instrumental work.[6] The writing style of the lyrics is deliberately obscure; Oakey says this is because he wanted the band's lyrics to provoke thought and get people talking about their songs. Often the meanings behind the songs have only been disclosed by Oakey in various interviews given since the album's release. An important point is that the album essentially evolved during 1981 and wasn't written from a single conceptual starting point.[7]

The original album comprised ten tracks (others were added on re-releases):

Side 1[edit]

"The Things That Dreams Are Made Of"[edit]

Often informally abbreviated TTDAMO, the song is a tribute to the simple pleasures in life which is then juxtaposed against a greater ambition. Oakey namechecks some of his (and Wright's) favourite things, an eclectic list from ice cream to the Ramones to Norman Wisdom. The song contains the album title lyric "... do all the things you never dared!" (although the album is actually named after a Vogue magazine cover). Philip Adrian Wright called the song a metaphor for the band's ambition in 1981.[citation needed] The song was remixed and released as a single in 2008 on Hooj Choons label; reaching number 2 on the UK Dance Charts.

"Open Your Heart"[edit]

"Open Your Heart" is the only one of the pre-releases specifically written for the album. The song is about the pain caused by an infidelity and the subsequent relationship breakdown. Technically it was Rushent's most complex track of the album with multiple synthesiser and drum machine layers, bound by complex sequences.[8] The vocals are also correspondingly complex. Oakey sings in a higher key than usual, but still leads with Sulley and Catherall's backing now mixed as a separate layer. Susan Sulley said (in 1989) "it is one of the most difficult to sing. So we don't do it live very often.".[8] It was to be the only track classified as 'Blue' on the Human League's self-imposed 'Red' or 'Blue' labelling system ('Red' was for dance tracks and 'Blue' for pop songs). It was released as a single October 1981 (intentionally two weeks before Dare).

"The Sound of the Crowd"[edit]

Originally it was the first "new Human League-style" track created under Rushent's production. It is an electropop anthem, pre-Jo Callis, heavily featuring Burden's single-voice keyboard with incidental bass keyboards by Philip Adrian Wright. The vocal style is the band's keystone sound of Oakey's baritone lead and for the first time, the girlish female interaction from Sulley and Catherall (in their first vocal role). It was released as a single in April 1981. The album version is a re-recording and not the version that was released as the original single.


In keeping with the title, the song is about the subconscious fears from deep within the soul which manifest themselves when the singer is alone at night. Written mainly by Philip Adrian Wright, it is based on his experience in trying to sleep after reading a horror novel.[9] The low synthesiser tones are designed to be haunting, are slow at the beginning, deliberately dark and melancholy. The instrumental increases tempo to a frenzy of pitch blending as the song reaches its culmination. It is a track that still contains the obvious influences of the original Human League of Oakey, Ware, Marsh and Wright.

"Do or Die"[edit]

"Do or Die" is a chorus-heavy song about a troublesome girlfriend. Opening to deep synthesised African drums from the LM-1, Oakey's intentionally sneering delivery of the lyrics is overshadowed by the deliberately heavy multi-voice synthesisers of Callis, Burden and Wright and an escalating high drum beat, giving the track a slight reggae/South American touch. The chorus is repeated several times in succession with Oakey now joined by a chanting Sulley and Catherall. Oakey (speaking in 1981) described it as "a song about being in love with a girl who has been taken over by a poltergeist. Like the film Carrie." whether or not this was a serious comment or Oakey being typically "tongue in cheek" is not apparent. Joanne Catherall in the same interview says it "has a latiny (sic) feel." [10]

Side 2[edit]

"Get Carter"[edit]

Included as a short interlude, the track is a minimalist instrumental cover version of Roy Budd's theme for the film Get Carter. It is played on a single voice on a Casio VL-1, using the preset 'Fantasy' with a digital 'reverb' effect. On its second repeat, additionally to the reverb a stereo 'chorus' is further added making the sound 'bigger', on the third repeat heavier 'Ensemble Chorus' is added making the single VL-1 sound like a dozen. Arranged by Oakey, Callis and Rushent.

"I Am the Law"[edit]

A song with a brassy synthesised instrumental, the title and lyrics were inspired by the character Judge Dredd from the British comic book 2000 AD.[11] The song's subject matter included sympathy and authority, and inspiration also came from an experience where Oakey was working as a hospital porter and encountered an injured bouncer.[12] Wright states that it was the first song that the band wrote after the 1980 split, and was played live on the October 1980 tour. He goes on to say, "It's specifically written from a policeman's point of view. It's very easy to run the police down until you need them. There's very often a change of heart when you get your car stolen."[13]


"Seconds" is a serious, sombre mood piece on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, and its impact on the wider world. Where Oakey berates (the unnamed) Lee Harvey Oswald, characterised by the lyrics "it took seconds of your time to take his life" and "a shot that was heard around the world". When played live the song is often accompanied by background slides of Kennedy.[14] The song makes a feature of the voice assignment modes on the Roland Jupiter-4 synthesiser, alternating between strident two-note chords, with 2 VCOs per note, and thinner three note chords with 1 VCO per voice.

"Love Action (I Believe in Love)"[edit]

"Love Action" is a semi-autobiographical song by Oakey about good and bad relationships. It includes references to his own various relationships, their problems and successes; with Oakey often referring to himself. Complete with the famous lyric "This is Phil talking!" (a line inspired by a similar reference by Iggy Pop),[8] it also contains two cryptic references to one of Oakey's influences, Lou Reed.[15] It was released as a single in August 1981.

"Don't You Want Me"[edit]

"Don't You Want Me" is a conflicting male/female duet on the subject of jealousy and romantic obsession. The male protagonist of the song (Oakey) is a svengali figure who turns a female waitress (sung by Susan Ann Sulley) into a 'star', who then subsequently leaves him once she has obtained fame. It is underscored by two backing synthesiser lines programmed by Rushent on the arcane Roland MC-8 sequencer together with his Linn LM-1 drum programming and Burden's keyboard work. It is the only track on the album Dare to feature Callis on Guitar (but the guitar is not heard as it triggered the Roland System 700 synthesiser). Rushent and Callis would be responsible for the final mix which was disliked by the rest of the band as it was not the dark and brooding track they had envisaged. The track is different from the rest of Dare, not only for its pop sound but also because it features a female joint lead vocal. Against Oakey's wishes, it was released as a single in November 1981; the song then became the band's biggest hit and one of the highest selling singles of all time in the UK.


The album was a massive commercial success, selling in large numbers, taking it quickly to number one in the UK Albums Chart in early November 1981. It was expected to be the finish to an enormously successful year for the band, but because of its extraordinary commercial success Virgin's Draper decided he wanted yet another single from the album before the end of 1981.[3] By Christmas 1981 Dare had gone platinum in the UK, and the Human League had a number-one album and number-one single concurrently in the UK charts. Dare would eventually remain in the UK Albums Chart for an enduring 71 weeks.[5] A remix album based on Dare, called Love and Dancing, was released a year later in 1982.

International releases[edit]

The single "Don't You Want Me" had been released with a very expensive and elaborate promotional video created by film maker Steve Barron. Music video was a very new phenomenon and cable TV station MTV had only just started up to capitalise on this new media but had very little material to work with. Virgin Records syndicated the video to MTV which was played around the clock. Because of the interest the video generated in "Don't You Want Me", Virgin licensed the release in the US of the single and the album. The licensee for the US was A&M Records who renamed the album Dare! The addition of the exclamation mark was because A&M wanted to differentiate their (US) release from the Virgin's original release in the UK. The release of Dare! immediately mirrored the success of the UK; and in mid 1982 it reached number three in the US Billboard 200 and the single "Don't You Want Me" was at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Although critics were not as universally applauding as in the UK, the commercial success of Dare! would set the scene for the band's return to the US charts a number of times in later years.

Dare earned considerable income for record labels Virgin and A&M; in Virgin's case, it gave the label the first chart-topping album since Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells in 1973. "Don't You Want Me" was the label's first ever chart-topping single. The success of Dare was responsible for saving the label from impending bankruptcy. A very grateful Richard Branson sent Philip Oakey a motorcycle as a thank you present, but Oakey had to return it as he couldn't ride it.[3]

As well as the commercial success in the US under A&M, in 1982 Dare was also highly successful in Australia, Japan, France and Germany. Dare has been re-released a number of times since its original creation. Later releases of the album included the additional tracks "Hard Times" and "Non Stop".[16]


Dare internal gatefold artwork 1981 – Sulley and Catherall

The cover art and other album artwork is based on a concept that Oakey wanted, that the album should look like an edition of Vogue magazine. The final design is a joint effort between Philip Adrian Wright (also the band's director of visuals) and graphic designer Ken Ansell. Its typography closely resembles the cover of Vogue's April 1979 issue, which inspired the album's title. Oakey is solo on the front cover with Sulley and Catherall on the internal gatefold, and the whole band on the reverse. The artwork has been reproduced in numerous forms for the various re-releases and sold as posters.[16]

Explaining why the band's portraits are close cropped and the girls had their hair tied back for their photographs, Susan Ann Sulley explains, "we wanted people to still be able to buy the album in five years, we thought that hair styles would be the first thing to date. We had no idea people would still be buying it 25 years later."

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[17]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[18]
Mojo4/5 stars[19]
Q5/5 stars[20]
Record Collector5/5 stars[21]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[22]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide3/5 stars[23]
Spin Alternative Record Guide9/10[24]
Uncut4/5 stars[25]
The Village VoiceB−[26]

Dare was almost universally critically acclaimed in the UK, and featured strongly in the year end polls for 1981.[27] In Melody Maker Steve Sutherland celebrated the fact the album would irritate the guitar-rock traditionalists, saying, "All let's-pretend-pompous it's cornily consistent, cultured, crude, elegant, cheap ... anything you want it to be. Me? I think it's a masterpiece. Sure to upset some, sell to millions more and so it should the way it tramps all over rock traditions. A trite sound, a retarded glam image and a mock respect. All the appeal in the world ... Dare should show up the pathetic farce of pop mythology once and for all."[28] Smash Hits critic David Hepworth called it "chock-full of precise, memorable melodies delivered with style and humour".[29] Noted music critic Paul Morley wrote in the NME, "Dare is the second intoxicating intervention to be produced out of the great split [referring to Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware leaving the first incarnation of the Human League, and their album Penthouse and Pavement released with their new band Heaven 17], and already it's the first Human League greatest hits collection ... Much more than ABBA or whoever you like, The Human League signify that deliciously serious, sincerely disposable MOR music can possess style, quality and sophistication ... I think that Dare is one of the GREAT popular music LPs."[30]


Martin Rushent received the 'Best Producer Award' at the 1982 Brit Awards for the production on Dare and the success of Dare led to the band winning the award for 'Best British Newcomer'.[31] The album was ranked at #6 among the top ten "Albums of the Year" for 1981 by NME[32] and was voted Album of the Year in the Smash Hits 1981 Readers' Poll.[33]


Dare Tour 2007 artwork – Sulley, Oakey, Catherall

In 2006, British Hit Singles & Albums and NME organised a poll in which 40,000 people worldwide voted for the 100 best albums ever; Dare was placed at #77 on the list.[34] The same year, Q magazine placed the album at #19 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s".[35] In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at #86 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".[36]

According to the book Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, renowned music critic Lester Bangs died of an accidental drug overdose while listening to Dare.[37]

25th anniversary[edit]

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of Dare (and the 30th anniversary of the formation of the band), the modern day Human League (Oakey, Sulley and Catherall from the original 1981 band line up) conducted a special Dare 2007 tour of the UK and Europe playing the original album live in full during November and December 2007.

An updated version of the original artwork, now with recent photographs of Sulley, Oakey and Catherall in the style of the original artwork, accompanied the advertising for the band's 2007 'Dare tour'.[38]

The UK's Daily Mail provided a free CD version of the album with the 11 September 2008 edition of the newspaper as part of a promotion celebrating classic 1980s albums.[39]

Martin Rushent, interviewed in the July 2010 issue of Sound on Sound magazine, confirmed he was working on a remastered 30th Anniversary Edition of the album which would include new mixes of its tracks which would involve using real instruments rather than synthesisers.[40] However, Rushent died in June 2011 with the project remaining unreleased.


Dare was one of the Virgin albums selected for special picture disc release to mark the 40th anniversary of the group's erstwhile record label.[41]

Track listing[edit]

Side 1[42]
1."The Things That Dreams Are Made Of"Oakey, Wright4:14
2."Open Your Heart"Callis, Oakey3:53
3."The Sound of the Crowd"Burden, Oakey3:56
4."Darkness"Callis, Wright3:56
5."Do or Die"Burden, Oakey5:25
Side 2
6."Get Carter" (Instrumental)Roy Budd1:02
7."I Am the Law"Oakey, Wright4:09
8."Seconds"Callis, Oakey, Wright4:58
9."Love Action (I Believe in Love)"Burden, Oakey4:58
10."Don't You Want Me"Callis, Oakey, Wright3:56


The Human League

Additional personnel

  • Martin Rushent – programming
  • Dave Allen – programming, assistant engineer
  • Recorded at – Genetic Sound Studios, Reading, Berkshire, UK
  • Cover design – by Philip Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright, Ken Ansell[43]

Studio equipment used[edit]

The following studio equipment was used in the recording of the album:[6]

Chart performance[edit]

Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[58] 1× Platinum 100,000^
France (SNEP)[60] Gold 448,600 [59]*
United States (RIAA)[61] Gold 500,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[62] 2× Platinum 600,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


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  2. ^ Q Magazine Special edition January 2005 – Article Johnny Dee
  3. ^ a b c d e Windle, Robert (2010) [2001]. "The Human League Biography Part 2: 'Our music beats the best ...'". Electronically Yours. Opium Visuals. Archived from the original on 9 August 2007. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
  4. ^ Interview: Philip Oakey by Ian Birch, Record Mirror magazine Oct 1981
  5. ^ a b British Hit Singles and Albums (Guinness 19th Edition) Guinness World Records Limited; 20Rev Ed edition ISBN 978-1-904994-10-7 (2 June 2007)
  6. ^ a b Keyboard Magazine December 1982[dead link]
  7. ^ Keyboard Magazine December 1982[dead link]
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  9. ^ Human League Interview – Smash Hits magazine November 1981
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  12. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. p. 411. ISBN 9781101201053. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  13. ^ Smash Hits. November 1981. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ Pemberton, Pat (19 November 2013). "16 Inspiring Songs That Honor JFK: The Human League, 'Seconds'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
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  18. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  19. ^ "The Human League: Dare". Mojo: 102. Urbane, futuristic, and just a bit silly, it still sounds fantastic.
  20. ^ "The Human League: Dare". Q: 111. [A] record that nonchalantly pulls off the rare trick of capturing its moment while never seeing to age.
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  33. ^ "Best album: "Dare" The Human League". Smash Hits. EMAP Metro. 3 (26): 23. 24 December 1981.
  34. ^ "Oasis album voted greatest of all time". The Times. 1 June 2006
  35. ^ Q August 2006, Issue 241
  36. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1980s - Feature - Slant Magazine".
  37. ^ Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, Americas Greatest Rock Critic by Jim Derogatis 2000 (ISBN 0-7679-0509-1)
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External links[edit]