The Men – I Don’t Depend On You
Generally speaking, I tend to be against record company interference when it comes to artistic integrity (unless we’re talking about Kelly Clarkson, in which case knock yourself out) – but sometimes it’s entirely justifiable, especially when you know that your signings are capable of being utterly brilliant masters of pop.
Now, many people – our very own Stewart included – are incredibly fond of the early Human League stuff, but however hard I try to love it I’m always thinking to myself “Oh come on, just get to Love Action will you?” I do realise that this is a failing on my part, but I can’t help it. I love a tune.
By 1979, Virgin Records were getting a bit thin-lipped about the Human League, despite having signed them precisely on the strength of their experimental-no-proper-instruments aesthetic. Presumably they’d counted on a big wad of cash acting as a spur for Martyn Ware, Ian Marsh and Phil Oakey to do something that might generate a bit of a return for them. Words were clearly had, and a compromise was reached that were they to make anything more conventional it would come out under an assumed name so as to protect the League’s integrity. And that is why I Don’t Depend On You is credited to The Men. I invite you to guess how long they spent thinking up that particular name.
In one of those lovely you-couldn’t-make-it-up pop moments, this compromise, this get-the-men-in-suits-off-our-backs throwaway number turned out to be the big bang that would go on to create the Human League Mk II two years later. And not only that, it sort of invented the eighties – on this record you can literally hear one decade giving way to another. If you think of musical styles as continents, then two of the biggest are disco and electro-pop. I Don’t Depend On You straddles both of these – it’s pop’s very own Istanbul.
Aside from the use of guitars and drums – how that must have rankled – the most notable addition here is the two female backing vocalists, Katie Kissoon (who would later crop up on many a Pet Shop Boys record) and Lisa Strike. They add a touch of – I can only say razzle-dazzle – to this early empowerment anthem that, while belonging firmly to the more 70s aspects of the song, points the way towards a future containing two girls dancing awkwardly while singing about shops that used to be in The Lebanon. Hooray!
Virgin, despite getting precisely what they asked for, made practically no effort to promote I Don’t Depend On You and gave it an overly literal sleeve showing a sulky suited lady quite clearly on her way out of the kitchen. Perhaps it was all a sneaky plan to promote discord within the group and force the great schism that saw Ware and Marsh splinter off to form Heaven 17 and fulfil their pop destiny, and Oakey to trawl Sheffield’s discos to find his muses in the forms of Suzanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall and fulfil his. If it was, may I just say bloody well done to all concerned.
Despite a Martyn Ware-produced cover version by noted dance-troupe and I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper hitmakers Hot Gossip in 1982, I Don’t Depend On You has remained little more than a footnote in League history, despite being a) ruddy brilliant and b) literally the spark of life for what was to come. Without this particular song we might never have had Love Action (I Believe in Love), (Keep Feeling) Fascination and Don’t You Want Me? Suzanne and Joanne would have gone home from the disco that night and no-one would have turned up at school to take them to London to go on the telly to jig about a bit. In fact the entire decade would have been completely different and no-one would have had asymmetrical haircuts. It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Kelly Osbourne, who proved quite adept at electro-pop on One Word, could do with her own empowerment anthem. Kelly Clarkson can’t have them all, can she?