Song of the Day #382: ‘Don’t You Want Me’ – The Human League

humanleague20 Best Songs of the 80s – #20

Over the next four weeks I’ll count down my twenty favorite songs of my most formative decade, the 1980s. I’ll do five per week, breaking on the weekends for the usual Motown classics.

First, allow me to lay out some ground rules. These songs are not necessarily my favorite songs released in the 80s… they are my favorite 80s songs. Yes, there is a difference. Plenty of my favorite artists released music in the 80s, so this list could easily consist of tunes by Elvis Costello, R.E.M., Lyle Lovett, Talking Heads and so on. That’s not what I’m after here. I’m looking for songs that typify the musical style of the 80s and, more important, trigger my memories of that era.

I’m also trying to avoid artists that made a name for themselves outside the decade. A lot of these will be one-hit wonders, or at least bands that are known primarily for the songs featured here. Others had several hits but mostly in the 80s. Only one notable exception went on to even bigger success.

I’m also likely leaving out a host of songs that could well find a home on this list. I culled this group from several “Best of the Decade” lists around the Web but who knows what great songs out there I’m forgetting. But enough table-setting…

The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’ (1981) is one of my first memories from those early MTV days. The thing that struck me most about this song was the shared lead vocals, the ultimate he-said she-said. And I always loved the woman’s opening line “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar… that much is true.” Hilarious.

It’s an odd little story. The man is vaguely threatening, saying he can put her “back down too” and claiming they’ll “both be sorry” if she doesn’t stay with him. Not the way to win her back, buddy! But for her part, if she still loves him why must she live life on her own? I suppose she loves him, but isn’t in love with him, to fall back on the old cliché. But I definitely sympathize more with her.

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up, and turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget its me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too

Don’t, don’t you want me?
You know I cant believe it when I hear that you won’t see me
Don’t, don’t you want me?
You know I don’t believe you when you say that you don’t need me
It’s much too late to find
You think you’ve changed your mind
You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry

Don’t you want me baby? don’t you want me – oh
Don’t you want me baby? don’t you want me – oh

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
That much is true
But even then I knew I’d find a much better place
Either with or without you
The five years we have had have been such good times
I still love you
But now I think it’s time I lived my life on my own
I guess it’s just what I must do

Don’t, don’t you want me?
You know I cant believe it when I hear that you won’t see me
Don’t, don’t you want me?
You know I don’t believe you when you say that you don’t need me
It’s much too late to find
You think you’ve changed your mind
You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry

Don’t you want me baby? don’t you want me – oh
Don’t you want me baby? don’t you want me – oh

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6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #382: ‘Don’t You Want Me’ – The Human League

  1. Dana says:

    Well, this song is definitely quintessential 80′s! And I applaud this theme–it should be fun.

    As for today’s song, I never took it seriously, not then, not now. I think it’s mostly the guy’s voice and the heavy synthesizers that, while making the song ripe for parody, would keep this way off any top 20 80′s tunes I might compile.

  2. Amy says:

    Quintessential 80′s – absolutely! So much so that I don’t think I ever got past the sound of it to actually think about (or even fully listen to?) the lyrics. This should be an amusing and eye-opening couple of weeks, as I discover all the not at all hidden meanings of songs that are incredibly familiar yet I don’t really know at all.

    And I look forward to a chance to properly mourn and respect John Hughes in this space at some point over the next 20 entries, as I can’t imagine at least one song from one of his films won’t make an appearance here. :(

    Finally, since several of your loyal readers are also products of the 80′s, perhaps the last day of the theme weeks, we could include in our comments any songs we would have included that you didn’t.

  3. Clay says:

    First, please understand that taking a song seriously is by no means a prerequisite for it making this list! On the contrary, some of these songs are so ripe for parody they’re practically rotten.

    Nor is overall quality my primary concern, though some of these 20 songs I do like quite a bit on their merits. Others, not so much.

    My one (and in most cases only) goal in choosing these songs was compiling a batch of tunes that most remind me of the 80s, often because of their sound and sometimes because of specific memories I associate with them.

    Amy, I absolutely expect and welcome your own 80s lists. I know Alex has been flabbergasted by some of the songs I didn’t include on this one.

  4. Amy says:

    Just make sure she doesn’t send her list via iPhone ;)

  5. Amy says:

    Oh, I also wondered if the countdown is in order of importance/impression each song made on you. How did you decide which song would be 20 and which would be #1?

  6. Clay says:

    They are in order of impact, though a lot of it is rather arbitrary. Apart from the several at the top, the rest could probably fall anywhere.

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