The Human League, “Louise” and Songs About Lost Love

I don’t know if anyone has ever conducted a study on this, but looking at any long list of songs, they do in an awful lot of cases include the word love in the title. Even if the word is not in the title it’s included in the lyrics and I would guess that about 80 per cent of songs are either about new-found love, unrequited love or lost love. The rest will be dance tracks, novelty songs or ones that deal with meatier topics, but where would we be without the love song?

Writing last time about Carole King’s It’s Too Late made me think about “songs about lost love“. Until you go through an emotionally draining parting of the ways, as I did in the autumn of 1984, you don’t realise just how many songs out there are about this very subject. Lyrics, hitherto not really listened to, suddenly play out exactly what you are going through and cut like a knife whenever they come on the radio. I don’t know if I was unlucky but during that period the charts seemed to be full of such songs. It all started off with John Waite and his heart-wrenching song Missing You and then led on to Jim Diamond‘s I Should Have Known Better.

For me however, the one that caused the most distress was Louise by The Human League. I have always loved The Human League, not least because of their sheer “Northern-ness”. Phil Oakey, their lead singer, sported the androgynous look favoured by the synthpop bands of the day and his asymmetrical hairstyle must have cut a dash in the nightclubs of Sheffield before he joined the band, but when you heard him speak he came across as a “reight” good northern bloke and not the artsy model you would expect. When the girls, Joanne and Susan, were “emergency-recruited” to fulfill the band’s touring commitments, the line-up we are most familiar with was complete. (Of course it has become part of pop folklore that the girls were at the time still at school and on a night out when they were spotted by Phil. After having a discussion with their parents they were allowed to join the band and go on tour, but had to return to school afterwards!)

Louise by The Human League:

But back to the song Louise – It was the third and last single to be released from their 1984 album “Hysteria” and only reached No. 13 in the UK Singles Chart but trust me, it received blanket airplay at the time I was at my most vulnerable, and I will always associate it with that period. It turns out that the lyrics had a darker subtext but most people would have taken them at face value and for someone like myself, going through a break-up, the song made for painful listening – Hard to reconcile that the person who had been your closest friend for years, would in the future be someone you might have a chance encounter with whilst getting off a bus. As it turned out I moved to another town soon after and didn’t tend to use buses very often but it still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it. Thanks Phil for a beautiful song.

Louise Lyrics
(Song by Phil Oakey/Jo Callis/Philip Adrian Wright)

When he saw her getting off the bus
It seemed to wipe away the years
Her face was older just a little rough
But her eyes were still so clear
He drank his coffee and he hurried out
Across, before she walked away
Then he approached her like a little child
Too scared for what he had to say

“Hello Louise
Remember me?
Now should we part
Or stay awhile
As if we were still lovers?”

She took a moment just to recognise the man she’d known so well before
And as he started to apologise
Lose any bitterness she bore
She gently put her finger on his lips
To let him know she understood
And, with her suitcase standing on the floor
Embraced him like a lover would

He told Louise
“You look so good
It’s just you see
You make me feel
As if we were still lovers”

It’s not always true that time heals all wounds
There are wounds that you don’t wanna heal
The memories of something really good
Something truly real, that you never found again

And though they talked for just a little time
Before she said she had to go
He saw the meeting as a tiny sign
That told him all he had to know

And so Louise
Waved from the bus
And as she left
She gave that smile
As if they were still lovers

Postscript:

I feel I can’t quite move on until I mention that The Human League were by no means the only successful act to emerge from Sheffield in the early ’80s – At around the same time Heaven 17 and ABC were also producing excellent albums and doing really well in the charts.

Since then there have been numerous other success stories including Pulp, Babybird, Moloko and currently The Arctic Monkeys. There are apparently twice the percentage of people in Sheffield engaged in the creative industries compared to the national average and I know I will want to investigate this further down the line. The city suffered the collapse of the steel and coal industries in the 70s and 80s and there does seem to be a correlation here – When work is no longer plentiful, young people have the time and energy to exercise their creativity and for Sheffield it has led to an economy now very much on the up.

This of course can be said of many other cities with a similar industrial background such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester all of whom, have at some point in the last 50 years, been at the epicentre of a music revolution. Interesting stuff and a real piece of luck if you happened to be in the right place at the right time. In the early 80s, if you weren’t one of the Blitz Kids from London’s Covent Garden, the next best place to emerge from was obviously, Sheffield.

Madonna, Desperately Seeking Susan and “Crazy For You”

Realised after ten days of randomly (or not so randomly as it turned out) choosing songs to write about, that none (other than Jacky’s “White Horses” theme song) were by women. How could this have happened I wondered? I then looked back at lists of No. 1 hits over the decades and in 1968, only 2 out of a total of 21 featured women (Mary Hopkin, and Esther Ofarim of Cinderella Rockefella fame) but by 1998, 17 out of a total of 29 featured women (mainly girl bands like The Spice Girls, Aqua, All Saints and B*Witched) – How things had changed.

Right in the middle of that 30 year period, a young lady from Michigan really started to make her mark, and it got me wondering how much of it was down to her? Probably lots of factors contributed, but the incredibly driven and self-confident Madonna Louise Ciccone burst onto the scene in 1984 and immediately had a string of great dance-floor hit records. Nile Rodgers again got on board (his name keeps popping up) and produced her first album – The rest is history. She is the most successful female chart act of all time. Like Bowie she continually reinvents herself so hard to work out who the real Madonna is. We will probably never know but I tend to think that the real Madonna was probably not unlike her streetwise character in the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan. Breezing through Manhattan’s East Village (pre-gentrification), pulling off that quirky look, getting into scrapes! Great film and because she essentially played herself, the only one where she received critical acclaim (sorry Madge).

Anyway, she released some great songs that year and my favourite is Crazy For You. It was actually from another film, which I have never seen and didn’t stand the test of time, but there is something about that song that gives me goosebumps. Not from hearing it in 1985 but after watching the film 13 Going On 30 with my daughter much, much later (key song on the soundtrack). The lyrics and “feel” of the song took me back to that coming-of-age time in your life when the most important thing in the world, at the end of a night out, was to find yourself in the arms of the boy you adored from afar, hoping he adored you back. The ’70s dance halls where we converged were very smokey and very dark so really conjured up those memories. All too often we went home full of despair having witnessed the boy of our dreams in the arms of another girl. We would however always return the following week, in the hope he would again be there, and that this time it would end differently….

Crazy For You by Madonna:

Crazy For You Lyrics
(Song by John Bettis/Jon Lind)

Swaying room as the music starts
Strangers making the most of the dark
Two by two their bodies become one

I see you through the smokey air
Can’t you feel the weight of my stare
You’re so close but still a world away
What I’m dying to say, is that

I’m crazy for you
Touch me once and you’ll know it’s true
I never wanted anyone like this
It’s all brand new, you’ll feel it in my kiss
I’m crazy for you, crazy for you

Trying hard to control my heart
I walk over to where you are
Eye to eye we need no words at all

Slowly now we begin to move
Every breath I’m deeper into you
Soon we two are standing still in time
If you read my mind, you’ll see

It’s all brand new, I’m crazy for you
And you know it’s true
I’m crazy, crazy for you

madonna

George Michael, “Careless Whisper” and the Summer of 1984

The original premise of this blog was to write about a random piece of music heard on the radio, and in my case that is usually BBC Radio 2 nowadays. So many musical memories by the time you get to your mid-fifties that just about everything played on that station conjures up something, so it made sense. The Soundtrack of My Life would end up becoming The Story of My Life.

What appears to have happened is that this has been an exceptional week – David Bowie and Alan Rickman both died.  This kind of threw me and instead of writing randomly, a lot of the week was spent looking back at songs associated with both of those people. Occurred to me that this is highly likely to become a feature of this blog as the music I remember from the 1960s onwards, would have been made by people if not a generation older than myself, certainly a good few years and sadly they will be approaching an advanced age by now. Enough of this maudlin talk however – Hoping there will be no more shock news this coming week or indeed for quite some time. Too much to take in.

So today I did try to stick to my original premise and when I turned on the radio this morning it was Steve Wright with his Sunday Love Songs. Not a fan but decided to stick with it. The first song was Love is All Around by The Troggs but ironically I have already written about that one this week so passed on it. The next was Careless Whisper by George Michael. Perfect, as this is one of my all-time favourite songs. It was released in the summer of 1984 and was George’s first solo effort, his work to date always having been with his best friend Andew Ridgeley, the other half of Wham!. Although they had started out as a duo it had become apparent that Ridgeley was mainly there for moral support as he didn’t sing, play an instrument or write the songs. To be fair, George has always said that he wouldn’t have had the confidence to start out in music if Andrew hadn’t been by his side so just as well it happened that way, but by 1984, it seems he needed a few solo projects.

Careless Whisper by George Michael:

It was summertime and George had yet again come up with an amazing-sounding song. The video was shot in Miami which added the necessary glamour, and the saxophone-playing gave it a sultry, jazzy sound. Sad lyrics but George was looking good and his teen-idol status went through the roof. Yes, lots of girls with his picture on their walls that summer!

As for me, I was still in the midst of my big hair, tanned skin, and pastel-coloured clothes and lipstick period – Unusual not to have been in the mid ’80s. I was living in a really nice flat with my best friends and had, for the first time in eight years, no exams to sit that summer. I know there was a lot of unemployment and social unrest at the time but if you were 24 and in work, life was not too shabby. In London, the term “yuppie” had been coined and although we weren’t earning “loadsamoney” (like the Harry Enfield character of the time) we were definitely young, urban and professional. A lot of partying was done that year and not a lot of saving for the future. The music in the background was a mixture of all that was popular at the time and it most definitely included George Michael with his big ballad – A slow dance number if ever there was one.

ge
A slight downside to the year of partying in 1984 was that we all split up with our long-term University boyfriends. Still not sure if that would have happened if we hadn’t been having such a great social life but as careers took off, more time was being spent with new colleagues and that ended up being the result. Or, could it have been that 1984 was the year we all decided to knit them a jumper? Months of hard work (fortunately I opted for a fairly simple pattern) and at the end of the year, no boyfriend. I for one even ended up at the doctors with a worryingly mysterious ailment – Turned out it was muscle strain from all the knitting (these were big, sporty lads and by the time you reached row 300 there was a lot of wool to support). Who knows, but at least in the midst of all the trauma and health scares, we had George Michael and Careless Whisper for solace.

Careless Whisper Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

I feel so unsure
As I take your hand
And lead you to the dance floor
As the music dies
Something in your eyes
Calls to mind a silver screen
And all it’s sad goodbyes

I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend
I know you’re not a fool
I should have known better than to cheat a friend
And waste a chance that I’ve been given
So I’m never gonna dance again
The way I danced with you

Time can never mend
The careless whisper of a good friend
To the heart and mind
Ignorance is kind
There’s no comfort in the truth
Pain is all you’ll find

Tonight the music seems so loud
I wish that we could lose this crowd
Maybe it’s better this way
We’d hurt each other with the things we want to say
We could have been so good together
We could have lived this dance forever
But now who’s gonna dance with me
Please stay

Eighties Bowie, David Sylvian and “Forbidden Colours”

Inevitably I got to thinking a lot about David Bowie this week and like many of us, have ended up spending a fair bit on time online looking back at his many guises. One that has thrown me a bit is the early ’80s “Let’s Dance” phase. Early ’70s David Bowie hid behind bizarre “spaceman” characters but by 1983 he had gone seriously mainstream – Or was he playing another character? I heard him say in an interview that he felt far more confident on stage playing a character such as Ziggy but by 36, as he would have been by this time, it looks as if he was confident enough to be himself. Amazingly, after looking pale, thin, malnourished and let’s be honest, a tad weird a decade earlier, he had turned into one of the best-looking guys in the industry (we’ll ignore the teeth). This was the post-New Romantic period and he was very much adopting the sharp, elegant look that bands such as Duran Duran, ABC and Japan favoured.

b2

I am still unsure who copied who, but in 1983 there were a series of events that seemed to tie in and feed off each other. He released the “Let’s Dance” album that year and a string of hits came from it starting off with the title track in March. He had approached Nile Rodgers to act as producer on it, and his brief was to “give him hit singles“, which is exactly what he did. A massive world tour followed and I remember my flatmate of the time heading downtown with her sleeping bag in order to queue all night for tickets (no computers or Ticketmaster in those days, we were old school).

We knew that Bowie had a film coming out later that summer, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and leading the advance party were David Sylvian (ex of the band Japan) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (also an actor in the film), who had produced the soundtrack album. The beautiful song Forbidden Colours was released in July 1983 and looking at a picture of David Sylvian now, there is more than a passing resemblance to Bowie at that time although not as suntanned (as he hadn’t been on location in a tropical rainforest).

d syl

The lyrics again are a bit bizarre but the theme is a forbidden love, which is also reflected in the storyline of the film. I do remember going to see it when it came out the following month and Bowie turned in a really good performance. A male colleague from that era had also been to see it and when I asked his opinion he decided that there had been something lacking, in that there were no women in it. That would of course have been because it was set in a male prisoner of war camp!

Forbidden Colours by David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto:

So, unlike with his earlier creations, David Bowie in 1983 was very much part of the zeitgeist making highly commercial pop music and looking and dressing very much like his younger counterparts. He was back acting, and feeding off the people he worked with. Happy memories of those days – The real start of big ’80s hair (perms and bleaching were de rigueur), bold bright earrings, tanned skin, and lots of white shoes and clothing. Those of us who got on board with the whole look have probably ruined our hair and skin in the process but boy did we feel good when stepping out for a “night on the town”!

Forbidden Colours Lyrics
(Song by David Sylvian/Ryuichi Sakamoto)

The wounds on your hands never seem to heal
I thought all I needed was to believe
Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or the beat of my heart
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes

Senseless years thunder by
Millions are willing to give their lives for you
Does nothing live on?

Learning to cope with feelings aroused in me
My hands in the soil, buried inside of myself
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes in you once again

I`ll go walking in circles
While doubting the very ground beneath me
Trying to show unquestioning faith in everything
Here am I, a lifetime away from you
The blood of Christ, or a change of heart

My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes
My love wears forbidden colours
My life believes in you once again