Behind the Band Name: The Human League

It’s 1977, Sheffield, England, and The Human League have found their band name in one of the most unlikely places: a science fiction board game.

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Star Force (1974 – 1982)

First published by Simulations Publications Inc. in 1974, StarForce: Alpha Centauri (“Interstellar Conflict in the 25th Century”) was a best-selling sci-fi board game to reach the mass market within the genre.

Structured for one to three players, the game board featured a map of 74 star systems with the Earth at its center where ships moved by telekinetic powers. When ships landed in the same space, combat would ensue.

Star Force was published from 1974 through 1982 with The Human League taking its name from one of the interstellar states within the game.

The Human League: 1977 – Present

In its earliest incarnation, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were experimenting with the parameters of synth and electronic music and joined up with film technician Philip Adrian Wright as their “director of visuals” and then asked their old schoolmate Philip Oakey to join as their singer.

First calling themselves The Future, after changing their name to The Human League, the band released their debut, Reproduction, in 1979 and the follow-up, Travelogue, in 1980. The latter album later hit the Top 10 with the dense-synth brooder “Being Boiled,” a song David Bowie once called the “future of music.”

Following the release of Travelogue, The Human League parted ways, and Ware and Marsh formed the British Electronic Foundation (later known as Heaven 17), while Wright and Oakley formed the new Human League with the addition of bassist Ian Burden and vocalists Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley.

Dare, the band’s third album took The Human League into a new stratosphere, reaching No. 1 on the U.K charts and taking their pop hit “Don’t You Want Me,” co-written by Oakey, Wright, and Jo Callis, to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for three weeks.

The follow-up, Hysteria, delivered hits “Louise,” “The Lebanon,” and “Life On Your Own” and the band reached their second No. 1 with the Crash hit, “Human,” in 1986.

Over the course of nine albums, including their ninth, Credo, released in 2011, The Human League influenced everyone from Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, and Moby, among others.

‘The Virgin Years’

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the later lineup of the band, in 2022 The Human League: The Virgin Years box set featured the vinyl versions of the band’s albums from 1981 to 1990—during their time with Virgin Records.

Kicking off with Dare, the box set also features The Human League’s 1983 EP, Fascination!, featuring the hit “(Keep Feeling) Fascination,” and b-sides “You Remind Me Of Gold” and “Hard Times” along with a new track, “I Love You Too Much,” along with the vinyl versions of every album through their sixth, Romantic? from 1990.

Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

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