“Human” by The Human League (1986)

I remember at the height of “Human”‘s success, someone (I’m fairly sure it was Donnie Simpson on BET’s “Video Soul”, but I’m not 100% positive) remarking that it was the “hardest” sounding slow jam that he’d ever heard. That’s the truth. Slow jams were…well, soft. “Human” was sensitive, but the beat kicked. Producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis were feeling themselves after the success of Janet Jackson’s Control earlier that year, and “Human” was their victory lap. It became their second pop chart topper (less than 2 months following their first-Janet’s “When I Think Of You”), and although the Human League already had kind of a hood pass (“Don’t You Want Me” definitely got play in urban neighborhoods), “Human” rose all the way to #2 on what Billboard then called the Hot Black Singles charts.

The League (particularly chief vocalist Phil Oakey) wasn’t a fan of the whole Flyte Tyme experience, but the group got at least a small extension of their American success because of it. Much like the aforementioned “Don’t You Want Me”, “Human” told a very relatable story. Girl is away, guy slips up and cheats, guy is very apologetic, girl accepts the apology, later admitting that she cheated (“while we were apart, I was human too”) as well. It’s soap opera-level drama, but it’s acted (sung) perfectly. Capturing the fragility and insecurity, the realness of relationships, is something Jam & Lewis were always able to do well. Perhaps that’s why “Human” has had such a long shelf life, as evidenced by post-2000 covers by artists as diverse as singer/rapper Phonte Coleman and ’80s rocker Rick Springfield. It’s also gained notoriety in the last couple of years as the backdrop for car insurance commercials, but we won’t hold that against Jam & Lewis.

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