“You know I’ll change,
if change is what you require,
your every wish,
your every dream, hope, desire.”
A Little History:
Mirror Man is a Motown-inspired song by the British synth-pop group, The Human League. It was released as a single in the UK on November 27, 1982 and peaked at # 2 in the UK Singles Chart. It was written jointly by lead singer Philip Oakey with keyboard players Jo Callis and Ian Burden. The song features a lead vocal by Oakey and female backing vocals by Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall, analogue synthesizers by Callis, Philip Adrian Wright and Ian Burden (who also plays bass on the song). Drum machines, sequencing and programming were provided by producer Martin Rushent.
Mirror Man was the first track written and recorded by the Human League after they returned from their World Tour, conducted in the wake of the enormous international success of their album Dare. Mirror Man was conceived and written as a celebration of Philip Oakey and Philip Adrian Wright’s love of Motown. It has been described as electronic northern soul, with Oakey’s main verses delivered in deliberate sentences with emphasis on the last word of each sentence. Vocalists Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall feature heavily but have no lyrics, providing a backing of operatic “oohs” and “ahhs“. Recording and production was overseen by Martin Rushent. It is possible to pick out his style in the sequencing and drum machine layers, ensuring Mirror Man would sound as if it had come from Dare.
Speculation about who was the titular ‘Mirror Man‘ was ended in 1988 when, during interviews to promote the band’s Greatest Hits album, Oakey revealed that it was about Adam Ant. Oakey had become concerned that Ant was starting to believe his own publicity, and was in danger of losing touch with reality. Oakey had avoided revealing this at the time for fear of offending the song’s subject.
The song was released as a single in the UK in November 1982. It was the first single the band had released since the unexpected phenomenal success of Don’t You Want Me almost a year earlier. The single was tipped by the media as their second Christmas number-one single in the UK, but peaked just short, at number two.
Its release in the U.S. was delayed until May 1983 where it was incorporated into the stop gap EP Fascination!. A&M Records had refused to release it as a single “unless there was to be an album hot on its heels“. The track peaked at # 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the Fall of 1983.
The promotional video for Mirror Man was conceived and directed by Duffy.The basic premise is that Oakey is a ghost of a performer who has died suddenly, and now inhabits a theatre where he reveals himself to a band (Human League) who have come to rehearse. The video is filmed on location at a deserted theatre in London. The main scenes are of Oakey in a dressing room singing to a mirror. Footage of the crash and death of John Cobb (whilst attempting to break the world water speed record on Loch Ness on 29 September 1952) is spliced in with Oakey’s dressing room scene. Cryptic references are left in shot, including a British Vehicle excise duty disc with an expiry date of October 1981 which was the release date of Dare.
A Little Memory:
I was 14 years old when I first heard this song. It was on my favorite radio station at the time (KROQ), the station I would set my tape player up to tape “my favorite songs” of the moment when they played. Those days and nights of sitting with fingers on the record and pause buttons, the flush of heady anticipation and exciting making my heart beat a little bit faster, they were the glory days of my musical obsessions. Sure, the advent of the internet and downloadable files made all the music accessible with just a click and the knowledge of where to go, but it was never could replace the feeling of sitting there patiently, or often impatiently, waiting for “your song” to play.
MTV was my radio companion at that time. I sat and waited for my favorite songs and videos to play, keeping notebooks full of song titles and artists so I could pick-up their albums the next time I had enough babysitting money saved up to afford a trip to the local record store.
This song by the Human League is my personal favorite of their “hits”. I prefer it to the bigger hit, Don’t You Want Me. I love that “northern soul” meets new wave electro-pop sound so much. I also loved Joanne and Susan’s look in this: the cat masks, the make-up, the hair, all of it.