Single Review: Human League “Don’t You Want Me”

Don’t You Want Me
Album: Dare
Year: 1981

According to the Human League’s official site, “Don’t You Want Me” wasn’t even supposed to be a single. Band member Phillip Oakley wanted a more artsy sound while fellow co-writer Jo Callis and producer Martin Rushent changed it something mainstream. However, the single brought them success in both the U.K. and United States.

“Don’t You Want Me” has two stories in it, as both the man and the woman give their point of view on their relationship. Oakley relies on her for his self-worth while Catherall needs her freedom to discover her own identity outside of him.

Oakley starts with how they met. She was a waitress at a bar. He saw her, straightened her out and made her believe in herself. He made her into a strong, ambitious woman with dreams. (“You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar/When I met you/I picked you out, I shook you up and turned you around Turned you into someone new”). Now, after they have been dating for five years, she has surpassed him in terms of achievements. He resents her for it, considering he was the one in the beginning who had the upper hand in the relationship. He undermines her accomplishments by saying it was underserved due to his help. He threatens to ruin her career.(“Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet/Success has been so easy for you/But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now/And I can put you back down too”).

However, he doesn’t feel wanted or needed in her life anymore. He’s also devastated to find out she won’t even speak to him. (“don’t/don’t you want me/You know I can’t believe it when I hear that you won’t see me/Don’t/Don’t you want me/You know I don’t believe you when you say that you/don’t need me”). He tells her that when she realizes she’s made a mistake, he won’t be there.

However, he really does want her back (“it is much too late to find/when you think you’ve changed your mind/you better change it back or we will both be sorry”). In a pained, desperate voice he tells her “don’t you want me/don’t you want me baby”).

Cattherall confirms how the story of how they first met. However, she responds that she was not the poor weakling he is making her out to be then. She wanted something more out of life regardless if she had met Oakley or not. (“I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar/That much is true/But even then I knew I’d find a much better place/Either with or without you”). She adds their relationship has been wonderful and trouble-free. She still has feelings for him. However, she needs to be alone for awhile to figure out if indeed his claims were true. (“The five years we have had have been such good times/I still love you/But now I think it’s time I live my life on my own/I guess it’s just what I must do”). She doesn’t want to leave but thinks it would be for the best for both of them. She doubts if those accomplishments were her own after all.

Oakley returns for the chorus. This time, though, he sounds like he apologizing to her in a way. He doesn’t mean his hurtful words but he’s puzzled and confused. How could her life not include him?

“Don’t You Want Me” is perhaps one of the best songs of the early 80s. The single is like overhearing a couple’s hushed argument. The storytelling allows both people to be sympathetic and irrational. Ultimately, Oakley is not the controlling person he appears to be nor is Cattherall as strong as she thinks she is.

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