Anyone who suspects that Music Facts has some kind of bias toward synth-pop, please ignore this post:
In October 1980, Phil Oakey found himself in a really tight spot. The lead singer with Sheffield-based avant-garde electronic outfit the Human League, Oakey was a former hospital porter who, about three years earlier, had been recruited by keyboardists/composers Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh on the strength of his flamboyant, sexually ambiguous appearance rather than his untested vocal ability. Now, a couple of weeks before the start of a British and European tour, Oakey had to pick up the pieces after the aforementioned founder members had quit as a result of artistic differences arising from a lack of mainstream success.
Fed up with Oakey’s insistence on pursuing a more pop-oriented direction, electronica purists Ware and Marsh departed to form a new group that would soon be known as Heaven 17. That left Oakey with not only the rights to the Human League name, but also the responsibility for the Human League’s debts and contractual obligations, both to Virgin Records and to the concert promoter who was threatening to sue if the tour didn’t go ahead. Able to count on the loyalty of his art-college friend Philip Adrian Wright, who had recently taken to playing keyboards, while spicing up the band’s live performances with lighting and slide shows in his capacity as ‘Director Of Visuals’, Oakey didn’t waste any time, hiring synth player Ian Burden and a pair of female backing singers.
Scouring Sheffield’s city-centre venues for just one girl vocalist, Oakey spotted a couple of schoolgirls dancing at the Crazy Daisy Nightclub and — echoing his own recruitment by Ware and Marsh — enlisted them because he thought they looked good, even though they had no professional singing or dancing experience whatsoever. Susan Ann Sulley was just 17, Joanne Catherall was 18, and after the October/November tour had somehow been completed — amid press jibes about Phil Oakey and his “dancing girls” — they went back to school, while Oakey and Wright recorded ‘Boys & Girls’, which peaked at just number 47 on the UK singles chart in February 1981.