Record Review: The Human League – The Sound Of The Crowd EP

Virgin Records | CAN | EP | 1981 | VEP 304

Virgin Records | CAN | EP | 1981 | VEP 304

The Human League: The Sound Of The Crowd CANADA EP [1981]

  1. The Sound Of The Crowd [ext. ver]
  2. Tom Baker
  3. Boys And Girls
  4. Dancevision
  5. The Sound Of The Crowd (Add Your Voice)

I had heard The Human League on the Virgin “Cash Cows” compilation, but did not act on purchasing any vinyl until I happened across this Canadian EP courtesy of our friends at Virgin Canada. Around the ’80-’81 time period, Virgin Canada were issuing EPs that consolidated singles by their UK signings in the smaller Commonwealth market. I may have heard the first fruit of the post-split Human League on WPRK-FM, who I seem to recall, were playing the “Love Action” single in 1981. I found this EP in the import bins at Record City and took the bait. After reading about The League in Omni magazine in 1979, I was definitely interested, and hearing them with “The Black Hit Of Space” earlier that year on “Cash Cows” confirmed that I needed The Human League in my future. This EP was a solid entry into their world.

It marked the transition from the Classic League to the New League with two of their singles from 1981 combined with an older album track. “The Sound Of The Crowd” was the first single with Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall adding their vocals to the now poppier mix. As I recall, this was the first single that the band with Martin Rushent in the producer’s chair worked on, and it managed to sneak into the UK top 20, peaking at #12. This was the breakthrough that the band and Virgin had been pushing for and manager Bob Last was probably clicking his heels at his cleverness at engineering the Human League schism into The League on one side and Heaven 17/B.E.F. on the other. He was now looking at doubling his take.

The 12″ single version is unique among the “Dare” recordings in that it was made just prior to Rushent getting his paws on the Linn Drum machine that helped to make “Dare” the breakthrough album it eventually was. Percussion here is redolent of the earlier, pre-split Human League sound with more synthetic sounding percussive patches. While the programmability of the Linn Drum made for some exciting beats, the fact that the results were achieved with sampled acoustic percussive sounds was terribly retrogressive. In 1981 we may have been naive, but using machines to replicate acoustic instrumentation in 2012 is dreadfully stupid.

What I wouldn’t give for the thought of a remixed “Dare” album, with the Linn stripped from the master tape and replaced with delightful, more synthetic, primitive synth percussion ala the first two Human League albums. For that reason alone, “The Sound Of The Crowd” is a poignant Human League recording for me. The 12″ version manages to work up a bit of a sweat with the slamming, primitive beats dominating while the song was extended outward with some dubspace mixing after the point where the LP version would have faded out. The inclusion of the original UK 7″/12″ B-side in instrumental form meant that buyers of this EP need not bother with any UK issues of the single.

This EP also features the previous Human League single that was in the cans immediately after the schism and was issued in the dawning weeks of 1981. “Boys + Girls” was made without the efforts of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, but you wouldn’t know it from hearing this single. John Leckie produced and while the result doesn’t scale the lofty heights of his production of “Being Boiled,” it nonetheless sits comfortably on the classic Human League shelf, next to “Travelogue” and “Reproduction.” The stuttering synth patches imply forward momentum while standing, locked in place. Ensuring that a sense of anxiety is fostered, as did most early Human League music.

The B-side to this single is a corker. “Tom Baker” was a very Radiophonic instro dedicated to the recently departed fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. This was very symmetrical, because the forward aiming Doctor Who theme was the first synthetic music that a whole generation of musicians were first exposed to and therefore a huge influence on the likes of Philip Adrian Wright, Ian Craig Marsh, and Martyn Ware. On this track, the debt was paid back in full. It actually manages to echo the lurid BBC Radiophonic workshop sound rather well. In a perfect world, this would have been used as actual Doctor Who soundtrack music at some point prior to 1982.

Finally, the instro “Dancevision” from the band’s killer “Holiday ’80” 2×7″ was actually an ancient track by Ware + Wright [as the Human League precursor, The Future] that got a much belated Canadiann release on this EP. I’m shocked that this cut was picked, rather than the amazing non-LP B-side “Marianne,” which is on my list of best Human League songs ever. Even the medley of “Rock N’ Roll [part 1]” and “Nightclubbing” would have made more commercial sense. This EP was a great entry point to an intense year of Human League obsession that coincided with the release of their breakthrough “Dare” album. That led me backward with due haste soon afterward, and as with Ultravox a year earlier, the material that preceded the commercial breakthrough, I took to in an even stronger fashion than the more popular gateway music that hooked me initially.

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7 Responses to Record Review: The Human League – The Sound Of The Crowd EP

  1. Echorich says:

    I love this version of Sound Of The Crowd! This EP is certainly precious in my HL/H17 collection. I thoroughly agree with your allusion to Bob Last rubbing his hands together in glee for splitting his own fortunes…Sevengali, corrupt Sevengali. Martin Rushent get’s his due here as he produced a bridge between HL mk.1 and HL mk.2. I do wonder if this is one of the songs worked on in their shared studio space prior to Rushent whisking Oakey and Co. away from the influence of Ware and Marsh.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – To these ears, it sounds like it may have been recorded in Monumental Pictures but scuttlebutt sez’ that the demos were recorded in Monumental and the final product in Genetic Sound.

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      • Echorich says:

        Yes I’ve heard over and over in recent years, since all parties seem to have buried the hatchet, that there was no influencing or covert action surrounding the making of Dare and Penthouse and Pavement, but I tend to believe that history was a bit whitewashed on this and will always believe that there is a stamp of Ware and Marsh on Dare.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Well, Jo Callis is on record that Ware was more than helpful in teaching him how to program a synth at Monumental Pictures studio! By the way, Callis is allegedly writing his memoirs!

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          • Echorich says:

            Stands to reason with them sharing the space and obviously much of the equipment that there had to be some cross over. Who knows how far into the funk vein H17 would have gone on P+P if they weren’t feeling the competitive edge.

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  2. jsd says:

    Interesting EP, I didn’t know it existed. I guess the label didn’t care that they were merging two essentially different bands onto one compilation. Good track list though.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      jsd – One wonders why they didn’t throw all of the “Holiday ’80” tracks on there while they were at it. Why not unite three different Human League lineups in this catch-all? What’s surprising to me is that Wright + Oakey did such a good job writing the “Boys + Girls” single all by themselves. It sounds like it faithfully carries on in the classic [pre-Dare] Human League tradition to me. Word has it they wasted no time in getting it out to begin working off their debt load.

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