ON THIS DAY: 1981 - Sheffield legends The Human League release Don't You Want Me - here's the story of the song 35 years on

Exactly 35 years ago today, a single hit record shop shelves across Britain to little fanfare.

Friday, 25th November 2016, 10:15 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 11:44 am
The Human League at the height of their fame.

That song was Don't You Want Me - and it was a song that propelled Sheffield legends The Human League to worldwide fame and became a career defining classic which still stands the test of time today.

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of its release, here's the story behind one of the greatest singles of all time.

Believe it or not, despite its huge commercial success, Don't You Want Me was not the first single to be released from the group's 1981 album Dare.

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It was the fourth cut from the classic album and it first hit the shops on November 27, 1981 - and one that lead singer Phil Oakey didn't want to release.

Entering the charts at number nine and then climbing to the top the following week, it became the Christmas number one of that year and later topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the USA the following year.

Selling over 1,560,000 copies in the UK, it is the 23rd most successful single in UK Singles Chart history and stayed at the top of the US charts for three weeks in July 1982.

The lyrics were originally inspired after lead singer Phil Oakey read a photo-story in a teen-girl's magazine.

Originally conceived and recorded in the studio as a male solo, Oakey was inspired by the film A Star Is Born and decided to turn the song into a conflicting duet with one of the band's two teenage female vocalists - and Susan Sulley was asked to take on the role.

Up until then, she and the other female vocalist Joanne Catherall had only been assigned backing vocals.

Sulley says she was chosen only through "luck of the draw."

Musicians Jo Callis and Philip Adrian Wright created a synthesizer score to accompany the lyrics which was much harsher than the version that was actually released.

Initial versions of the song were recorded but Virgin Records-appointed producer Martin Rushent was unhappy with them. He and Callis remixed the track, giving it a softer, and in Oakey's opinion, "poppy" sound.

Oakey hated the new version and thought it the weakest track on Dare, resulting in one of his infamous rows with Rushent. Oakey disliked it so much that it was relegated to the last track on side two of the album.

Before the release of Dare, three of its tracks—The Sound of the Crowd, Love Action (I Believe in Love), and Open Your Heart - had already been released as successful singles.

With a hit album and three hit singles in a row, Virgin's chief executive Simon Draper decided to release one more single from the album before the end of 1981.

His choice, "Don't You Want Me", instantly caused a row with Oakey who did not want another single to be released because he was convinced that "the public were now sick of hearing The Human League" and the choice of the "poor quality filler track" would almost certainly be a disaster, wrecking the group's new-found popularity.

Virgin were adamant that a fourth single would be released and Oakey finally agreed on the condition that a large colour poster accompany the 7" single, because he felt fans would "feel ripped off" by the 'substandard' single alone.

Of course, the single proved to be a huge smash and is widely considered a classic of its era, stopping at the top for five weeks and becoming the biggest selling single to be released in 1981 -and the fifth biggest selling single of the entire decade.

A re-release in October 1995 saw it reach number 16 and a further re-entry in 2014 saw it make number 19.

In 2015 the song was voted by the British public as the nation's 7th favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV.

And the video too is fondly remembered for helping to cement the band's place in music history.

The video was filmed near Slough, Berkshire, during November 1981 and has the theme of the filming and editing of a murder-mystery film, featuring the band members as characters and production staff.

It was conceived and directed by filmmaker Steve Barron, and has at its core the interaction between a successful actress (also a 2nd negative cutter) played by Susan Sulley walking out on "film director" Phil Oakey on a film set.

British band The Farm released a version of Don't You Want Me in October 1992 which got to no. 18 in the UK charts, making it their third most successful single after 1990's All Together Now and Groovy Train.