"Sound of the Crowd" was the first fruit of Phil Oakey's songwriting partnership with Ian Burden, formerly the bassist in Graph, an experimental Sheffield band. 'I still reckon that song is one of the maddest records that's ever got in the Top 20', says Oakey. 'The whole thing runs on tom-toms, but they're synth toms, and it's got very odd screaming sounds'. There's also a foreboding dub feel of bass pressure and cold, cavernous space (Burden was a reggae fiend). "Sound of the Crowd" also featured backing vocals from tow other new recruits, Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley.
"Love Action" and "Open Your Heart", the rejuvenated League's next two chartbusting singles, were practically manifestos for a new humanized-not-Numanized direction in electropop. In a weird way, "Love Action" sounds like its title: pulsing and glistening, an iridescent affirmation. Yet, for all its warmth and wetness, "Love Action" still retains something of the aberrant quality of "Sound of the Crowd", making it an unlikely candidate for a number 3 hit. 'It's not got a proper chorus', admits Oakey. It's basically two different songs bolted together: the verses, from a song called "I Believe in Love" are 'confessional nonsense, what I was feeling at the time', says Oakey, while the angular not-quite-a-chorus section is from another songs about watching Sylvia Kristel in the softcore erotic movie Emmanuelle.
Released in October 1981, Dare presented a perfect meld of tradition and innovation. "The Things that Dreams Are Made of" saw Oakey reeling off a list of life-enhancing stuff over electronicized Glitterbeat: 'Everybody needs love and adventure/Everybody needs cash to spend...Everybody needs two or three friends'.
"I Am the Law" turned The Clash's "I Fought the Law" inside out - it was a sympathetic song about authority and the police inspired by Oakey's encounter with an injured bouncer back when he was working as a hospital porter.
"Don't You Want Me", the fourth single off Dare and the Christmas number 1 for 1981, was their most sonically conventional single yet, from its perky groove to its trim verse/chorus structure. "Don't You Want Me" further underlined the importance of Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley to The Human League: their biggest hit was the one that gave the greatest prominence to their modest vocals. A duet between Oakey and Sulley, it deliciously rewrites the story of how 'the girls' were discovered and projects five years into the future. Oakey sings as the Svengali who plucks a girl from obscurity ('You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar') and turns her into 'someone new', only to be abandoned by his protégé-lover now she has the world at her feet. Defiant (if ever so slightly off key), Sulley sings the part of the provincial dreamer who always knew deep down she was destined for better things, and is now determined to make her own path in life. (In reality, it was Catherall who became Oakey's girlfriend).
The "Don't You Want Me" video added further layers of artifice. A Brechtian conundrum, it depicted the band making a promo, cutting between scenes from the video-within-a-video and action off-set or in the editing suite (the band watching their own rushes). 'I don't know where that idea came from originally, whether it was Phil's or the director Steve Barron's', says Bob Last. 'But from the band's point of view, a great deal of the appeal was that it was a film, shot on 35mm - something that was extremely unusual in those very early days of the video industry. And that was a straightforwardly aspirational thing: the idea of doing a video with high production values. If you look at the promo, there's a big film camera prominent in it. And from a marketing standpoint, it was very smart, because here were these girls in the band who really were "regular girls" now appearing in a movie. It just made perfect sense'.