Chart Week: November 15, 1986
Song: “Human” – The Human League
Chart Position: #2, 10th week on the chart. Peaked at #1 the week of November 22.

I only got to listen to a few minutes of the local countdown two Sundays ago. I felt obligated, though, to write about it as that was the last old AT40 we will get here in Indy this year. The station that airs AT40 replays switched to Christmas music on Thanksgiving, and will be airing the special holiday editions of AT40 for the next month. Sure, I’ll still have the SiriusXM countdowns. But they are not the same as listening to Casey and the original countdowns.

For years I’ve said this was one of the most important songs of the 1980s. Not because it was the best or biggest song of the decade. Rather because of who recorded it, the production team that helped them record it, the sound of the track, and the moment it arrived.

The Human League was one of the biggest artists of the British New Wave invasion of the early 80s, primarily on the strength of “Don’t You Want Me.” That 1981/82 smash is one of the biggest singles in British music history. It was a massive hit world-wide, hitting #1 in seven countries and peaking in the top five in seven other countries. In the US it was inescapable in the summer of ’82.

When the mid–80s rolled around, Human League was looking to adjust their sound. They hooked up with the Minneapolis production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were fresh off their first big chart success with Janet Jackson’s Control. Jam and Lewis kept some elements of HL’s classic synth-pop sound, but relied far more on the sleek, processed Minneapolis Sound R&B that they would soon dominate the charts with.

The result was another monster hit for The Human League and confirmation that Jam and Lewis were A) more than a flash in the pan and B) could work with more than Black artists. This song was the transition point for music, not only in the 80s, but beyond as well. It was a white, British act singing modern, American R&B. In a few years the Billboard pop charts would be dominated by Jam and Lewis’ music, as well as by other artists and producers they influenced. That was the gateway for hip hop taking over the charts later in the 90s.

Today the charts are almost entirely made up of hip hop and hip hop adjacent tracks. All of that goes back to the fall of 1986, when The Human League shut the door on the movement that had brought them to prominence.