Song Of The Day: The Human League – Seconds

Virgin Records | UK | 12″ | 1981 | VS 466-12

Last week I had a yen to pull out The Human League’s “Dare” and give it a good couple of spins. Credit having my head in the Jo Callis bucket lately [more on that later] and that ultimately took me back to Callis’ retirement fund ca$h cow, “Dare.” It was the first Human League album I owned, but not the first that I’d heard. I had already bought singles from it when I received it as an xmas gift in 1981,  [like hundreds of thousands of others, really]. Hearing “Don’t You Want Me” as an import on WPRK-FM college radio in December of 1981 completely rocked my world. It’s a safe bet to say that The Uuman League dominated the first half of 1982 listening for these ears. I wasted no time at buying the even more amazing first two albums, which I still prefer to this day, but you can’t argue too much with the success of “Dare.” It’s the last classic Human League album to these ears. It sold like hotcakes for a good reason.

If people who had bought the “Don’t You Want Me” single ever flipped it over and played the B-side, they would have heard an LP track. By the fourth single from “Dare,” the band had run out of non-LP B-sides. They pulled the brilliant “Seconds” for B-side duty and although it’s an LP track, it gave considerable value to anyone who sat out the album and only bought the single.  The song began impressively, with a drum track which was Monolithic Motorik. This cut started …and you paid attention. The Linn programming was deliberately paced and unwavering; exactly what drum machines were made for. Ominous synth bass chords were minimal but powerful. This was actually a simple, direct track that explored Krautrock’s propulsive energy coupled with the provocative lyrics, jointly written by Philip Adrian Wright and Phil Oakey. Wright was known to be fascinated by the JFK life and legacy, and the conceit of writing a pop song upbraiding Lee Harvey Oswald in the most poetic fashion imaginable was the clearest link between the 1980 Human League, who penned the harrowing “Dreams Of Leaving” about black Africans escaping apartheid in South Africa – and the new Human League a year later. The one who aspired to be the electronic ABBA®. Yet this song said otherwise.

The intro was almost a minute of gradual instrumental buildup before Phil Oakey sang two verses without the benefit of a chorus. The song climaxed midway with a horrific explosion of white noise mirroring a gunshot that never fails to send chills when I hear it for the first time in a while. Then, the last half of the song was nothing but the repeated chorus for another 2:30.

“It took seconds of your time to take his life
It took seconds” – “Seconds”

That lyric is so brilliant, simple and direct; it fascinates me with its obviousness. It manages to encapsulate the horror of murdering another person [even a President] by contrasting the value of that fleeting action against the gravity of another person’s entire life. I think it’s one of the great lyrics. It could not be reduced or simplified any further, yet it still conveys the horror and grievous waste of murder and assassination. I listened to this one for over an hour on Saturday morning and it made for compulsive listening. I can’t say that The Human League ever lived up to this promise ever again following it, though they did managed to turn in some good songs here and there.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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4 Responses to Song Of The Day: The Human League – Seconds

  1. Gavin says:

    Superb choice,Monk.
    One of my absolute fave songs OF ALL TIME by ANYONE.
    Has been a staple in my DJ sets since time began and nothing sounds better than that shot and those drums,loud in a club.
    i have long been a fan of The Mighty League’s B-sides,especially “You remind me of Gold”,”Hard Times” and of course “Seconds”

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – Ooof! You forget the best one of all… “Marianne!” But I agree that “Seconds” definitely has the right stuff to work in a club. Oddly enough, the only Human League song I ever got to dance to in a club was “The Things That Dreams Were Made Of” sometime about 1990 in Atlanta’s delightful Masquerade. I can’t recall ever hearing anything but maybe DYWM on Old Wave nights ever getting a [rare] spin in Orlando clubs.

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  2. Echorich says:

    Sorry I’m a bit late to this party…is the music still playing…yes, it seems it is. When Dare came out there was one song that just knocked my socks off and at the same time felt like it belonged to the band that made Reproduction and Travelogue…that song was Seconds. What set’s Seconds apart from the rest of Dare and also moves the needle forward from the first two HL albums is the rawness. Oakey may sound automatic in his vocalization, but he doesn’t sound emotionless. When he sings “…for a second” in the final coda, the delivery belies the real emotion of the song.
    Seconds is HL embracing Post Punk as much as it is a Synth Opus, in my humble opinion.
    One last thing on Dare…There is lots of legend surrounding the splintering of HL into HL Mk.II and B.E.F./Heaven 17. But what has always stood out is the massive outpouring of creativity that drove both camps in their rivalry. Bob Last may have been a bastard in a Svengali sort of way, but I think that he knew the potential for success required a kick in the ass. Stories of each band cribbing from the other is the thing of legend, but maybe a bit more true than not. Dare took the knowledge gained from the progression of the first two HL albums and with the help of Jo Callis, honed that sound into pretty spectacular synth pop when that was yet to really be a thing. Heaven 17’s Penthouse And Pavement went in a Funk Disco direction with that same electronic background. Listened to as a single playlist of songs, shuffled, thanks to my Apple device of choice, there is more cohesion than one might have been ready to have admitted in 1981.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Welcome back after your vacation. I trust you are refreshed, since your playlist suggestion was a good one! I may have to try that myself… once I am back from my vacation.

      Like

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