A few months before The Human League released “Dare” I had been baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I had reached the age of accountability, eight years old. This is the point at which the Church teaches children are capable of discerning between right and wrong and so can be baptised. Baptism for members of that faith is about the remission of sins and of entering into a covenant with God, a covenant to live worthy of His blessings.
Over the intervening four decades I have often fallen short of the demands of that covenant and have, indeed, reached a point where I no longer believe such a covenant is possible…because the other party doesn’t exist.
I should have made a better decision about the thing I would pledge loyalty to.
At about the same time as I was descending the steps into the baptismal font in the Mormon Church in Kirkcaldy with my father, the Human League were preparing to release, unleash, “Dare” on an audience who had serious questions over what form the band would take following the departure of Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh. Ware and Marsh were central to the sound of the Human League crowd, their departures left a huge hole. That hole would be filled firstly with an invitation to Ian Burden to move from member of the tour band to full time member. Burden was crucial in bringing a professionalism to proceedings that would help make Ware and Marsh’s departures…manageable. Next was the presence of producer Martin Rushent who’s Genetic Sound Studios would prove to be the most fertile soil for the new sound of Human League.
Out of the ashes of severed ties and new bonds would come one of the most important British albums of the decade. “Dare” is, and there is no debate here, one of those rare moments in popular music when an album is flawless. It’s running time of just over forty minutes means it can be included on one side of a C90 cassette, with ten tracks each can be written on the same side of the cassette inlay, it contained five solid gold singles and the whole thing came packaged in a sleeve that was beautifully designed. I really don’t know what else you want.
I’ll tell you what, how about I throw in not one but two, too cool for school schoolgirls on vocals alongside Phil Oakey? Joanne and Susan were so young that when the band were recording at Rushent’s studio in Reading, they had to be bused to and from Sheffield to make recording sessions. Come on, that’s great. Just think about what you were doing in your final year at school, if you were anything like me you were staring at the back of Anna Wallace’s head and wondering why it hurt so much every time she floated past you in the corridor. I certainly wasn’t taking part in the production in one of the definitive albums of an era. I doubt you were either. I will concede though that you may have been doing something more productive than looking at the back of Anna Wallace’s head. To be clear though, she was really beautiful.
Almost a quarter of a century after its release, Britpop arrived and, while few of the Adidas boys will want to admit it, “Dare” has a clear influence on the period and some shared influences. Gasp! Gosh! Goodness! Gracious! I know. If you listen to some people, the boys and girls and girls and boys in Britpop owned only two records…something by The Beatles and something by Madness. And maybe something by Chas ’n’ Dave if they were really adventurous. That, of course, is utter rot. Take Louise Wener of Sleeper, in her autobiography “Just for One Day” she mentions not just one, but three, tracks from “Dare”; “Don’t You Want Me”, “Darkness” and “Seconds”. Blur were also drawing on similar influences to Oakey and co. The influence of “A Clockwork Orange” is written all over the League and Blur, of course, paid homage to that film in their video for “The Universal”. Then there is the fact that “Dare” includes a short ode to Roy Budd’s soundtrack for “Get Carter”…it doesn’t get any more Britpop than that.
It is difficult to imagine a band today who could release two albums as peculiar and avant garde as the Human League’s “Reproduction” and “Travelogue” and then release something as chart shatteringly pop-tastic as “Dare”. Both of those predecessors to “Dare” were big deals…each broke into the top 40 at a time when you had to sell more copies to get to number forty than certain indie bands today have to sell to bag a number one. Indeed both went Gold in the United Kingdom. That means that combined they shifted a million copies. Go and give them a listen and then tell me which similarly peculiar and defiantly art-house artists today could do anything close to that. I won’t wait.
“Dare” went triple platinum.
Platinum is one million units.
“Dare” sold three million units.
I’ll give you time to think about that.
It was a massive deal.
At the time the critics adored it. Steve Sutherland at the Melody Maker said “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.” He was right. No pop music should ever do anything other than upset some and when that upset comes because it is trampling over traditions, especially the traditions of “rock”…then it is even more deserving of your love and your praise. Paul Morley called it when he said “I that “Dare” is one of the GREAT popular music LPs”.
Now here we are, forty years on and everything about me has changed. I am no longer a child. I’ve been in love and I’ve been loved (although not by Anna Wallace). I’ve been married. I’ve been divorced. I’ve become a parent. I’ve been sick. I’ve lost the faith that pulled me down into the waters of baptism.
When I look back on the eight year old me I wish I could tell him that he should give his loyalty to something tangible like pop music. Throughout the highs and lows of my life, the presence of God has been felt only because of His absence. But in the depths of the despair I have often found comfort, joy and solace in “Dare”. It’s peculiar, icy, eccentric and delicious charms have soothed me, dragged me up off the floor and made me feel alive.