“We recorded that song in a toilet with quite a cheap microphone, a Shure SM58”: Phil Oakey lifts the lid on the birth of The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me

The Human League
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It may be one of the most successful UK singles of all time, but it turns out that The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me was born in a rather inauspicious place: a toilet.

Speaking to WA Today, Phil Oakey, the band’s lead singer, says that the location was chosen because it had the best acoustics of any area of the Sheffield studio they were recording in.

“At one stage, while I was recording with the headphones on, our producer Martin Rushent sent the engineer to scare me by jumping down from above,” Oakey recalls. Someone kept flushing the toilet behind me as well. Martin had quite a lot of little jokes for the artists and we did record that song in a toilet with quite a cheap microphone, a Shure SM58. But I’m not complaining.”

Don’t You Want Me was released when The Human League were in their first flush (sorry) of commercial success, with its parent album, Dare, going on to sell huge numbers of copies.

The band are about to embark on an Australian tour that will see them playing the album in its entirety, which has necessitated them shipping out synths from Sheffield. “We can’t hire them in because then we’d sound like a cover band,” Oakey says.

Despite The Human League’s longevity, Oakey is modest about the band’s talent and achievements. “We’re not musicians. We never trained,” he says. “We’ve managed to continue as a band by always just feeling lucky about everything we’ve ever done. I have never been the greatest songwriter in this group. I’ve never been the best singer in this group. I’m not a very good frontman or anything, we just do our best and hope that the audience will fill in the rest.”

You can check out our guide to recreating Don’t You Want Me’s monster synth riff here, and the good news is that we won’t make you do it in a toilet.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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