Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The Human League created many hits throughout the ’80s and ’90s in the UK, but “Don’t You Want Me” is the one that most successfully gained popularity across the pond. Philip Oakey first recorded this song by himself, but he promoted backup vocalist, Susan Ann Sulley, to the role of co-lead, creating the duet we know and love.
To those less familiar with The Human League’s full discography, this song might be considered a one-hit wonder. However, the song has a wide influence, uniting music fans across genres and demographics. We have the ladies of The Human League to thank for inspiring Posh Spice to “wannabe” in a musical group. The song’s synthesizer pop style is so catchy, even Pitbull sampled it. Sports fans rally behind this song too; “Don’t You Want Me” enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in 2014 when fans of the Aberdeen Football Club made a push to get the song back on the UK Singles Chart.
It’s surprisingly hard to find covers that don’t start with the same intro synth beat as the original, but these five covers break from the mold.
Bahamas, The Weather Station – Don’t You Want Me (The Human League cover)
Let’s start slow with the most laid back of these covers, featured on the soundtrack to the 2013 version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This duet replaces the electronic trimmings of the original with a simple acoustic guitar. The only frill is the switch from casual strumming to a deliberately plucked riff after the chorus’s first question. The female voice is airy while the male voice sings in an elegiac tone with a dash of insecurity. You want me, don’t you? (Shoutout to my friend Jamie, a newly-minted Ph.D., for making me aware of this surprising cover.)
French Horn Rebellion, Deidre & the Dark – Don’t You Want Me (The Human League cover)
In contrast, this cover doubles down on the original’s synthpop dance vibe. However, the French Horn Rebellion provides their own opening and background theme. While the original has a continual and fast-paced, almost frantic, hiss of the high-hat, this version provides a slower “tsssk” backbeat. The highlight of this rendition of the song is that it somewhat paradoxically evokes both a dance anthem, true to the original, and a relaxed atmosphere. The listener wants to simultaneously dance and chill.
Nouvelle Vague – Don’t You Want Me (The Human League cover)
More high-hat! Nouvelle Vague brings a big band feel to the song, replacing the synthesizer background with brass. If you listen closely, you can hear a faint but funky bass line in the background that punches up the chorus. The verses are more spoken than sung, evoking the dialogue aspect of the lyrics. Adding some drama, the bridge is similarly whispered rather than adhering to the original tune.
Landa, Meg Birch – Don’t You Want Me (The Human League cover)
With a power ballad beginning, this cover is distinguished by its assertive delivery. The assertiveness fits more with the slightly menacing lyrics that are hidden by the upbeat original. “Think you’ve changed your mind” about this song? “You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry.” Landa enunciates sharply which contrasts with Birch’s more prolonged phrasing. Rather than the male dominating the chorus as in the original, this version’s chorus is sung jointly with added harmony. For a brief moment, the singers’ different vocal styles are united, belting out the same question.
Scary Pockets, Bruno Major – Don’t You Want Me (The Human League cover)
The opening lick of this last adaptation has serious spunk, leading into an overall jazzy ambiance. Scary Pockets has the confidence to both slow down the tempo and shed the traditional female duet-er. Bruno Major plays his dual role of viewer and working cocktail waitress admirably. These changes, joined to a tambourine played with attitude, produce a cover with laid-back swagger.