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Electronically Yours: How Being Boiled Changed Synth Music For the Better

Despite failing to chart with its initial release in 1978, Being Boiled was the first single from The Human League. Featuring the band’s original lineup, Phil Oakey, and Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, both later of Heaven 17. It had been recorded on a tape recorder in an abandoned factory for a mere £2.50 (almost £15 in today’s economy!).

When put side by side with the group’s more well-known tracks, it appears to be much more sinister and does not feature the inviting synth sounds of ‘Don’t You Want Me’ or the warm-welcoming introduction of ‘Fascination’ yet it grabs you by the hand and forces you to listen to the artificial drums and the distorted bass line which holds you tightly.

The song marks the joining of singer Phil Oakey as Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh had parted with singer Adi Newton of their former band ‘The Future’. Oakey, known in Sheffield’s social scene for his promiscuous dress sense, was appointed by Ware as he believed that Oakey was the ideal singer because he already had the looks of a popstar. The lyrics for ‘Being Boiled’ were written after Oakey had listened to one of Ware and Marsh’s demos. In a 2009 interview with Bonedo Synthesizers, Ware said “Can you imagine how surprised (we were)… when he started singing this shit?”

For the synth nerds like myself… the song was recorded using a Roland System 100 semi-modular synthesiser for the drum pattern and the Korg 700S for the bass line.

There have been several versions of the song from 1978 to 1980, one of which being a re-recorded version for the band’s 1980 EP ‘Holiday ‘80’ which reached #56 in the charts. However in 1982 an EMI reissue of the single reached #6.

The song was one of the first mainstream singles from Britain to use only electronic instruments and received mixed responses from the public. David Bowie even declared that it would be “the future of music”, and you could say he was somewhat right about that. However, John Lydon (unsurprisingly) disregarded the band and called them “trendy hippies” when reviewing the single for the NME.

My first introduction to the Human League was at a very young age because of my father, probably around the ages of 3 or 4, and I had become very obsessed with the song ‘The Sound of the Crowd’ but I didn’t know anything about the band, because you know, I was 4; obviously. They are one of the main bands that influenced my father to become a synth player and singer in his youth. I believe his first interaction with the band’s music was when he was about 14 and had purchased the 7” of Being Boiled (which we still have to this day along with many other records).

The song has gone on to influence many artists including Gary Numan, another synth pioneer, who has named it as one of his favourite songs. Vince Clarke, founder of various synth groups such as Depeche Mode, Yazoo, and later Erasure, stated that it was his favourite record and was the inspiration behind him starting Depeche Mode.

Not only has the song had such a huge influence on the electronic groups after its release, it has also been sampled in various Hip Hop and Techno songs. For example: Rolling on Chrome by Aphrodelics, In The Ghetto by Beats International, and the #3 UK hit Being Nobody by Liberty X.

And to answer your question Martyn; yes. Yes we can imagine how surprised you were. I’m sure anyone will find a song unusual with lyrics denoting sericulture: the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk.


This post was written by Lucas Rees, a new writer on the SPIT Blog. Props to him for sending over the article, keep up with his future work on Instagram


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