The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” Lyrics Meaning

“Don’t You Want Me” is based on a dialogue between two individuals who are at a precarious time in their relationship. It is by and large a fictitious account which originated from a story one of the co-writers, The Human League’s Philip Oakey, came across in a teen magazine. And the rift between these two individuals is based on the male (Philip Oakey) being bitter that he helped the female (Susan Sulley) blow up. But now apparently he deems her as being unappreciative of his support, as he basically threatens to pull her “back down” to her humble beginnings as a cocktail waitress, which is the situation in which he originally found her.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for The Human League's Don't You Want Me? at

Susan Sulley doesn’t agree with him

Meanwhile Susan’s disposition is basically tantamount to her belief that she would have advanced in life even without her support. She states that she “still love(s)” Philip, which may allude to them being romantically involved, though such is never specified. But ultimately she has concluded that the time has arrived for her to move on without him.


So the chorus basically consists of Oakey asking Sulley whether or not she still ‘wants’ him. This again would imply that they are in a romantic relationship. However their beef isn’t based on the usual types of issues which define a lover’s quarrel. Rather it is based on one’s perception of a lack of appreciation and the other’s belief that her partner is over-exaggerating his contributions to her success.

Lyrics of "Don't You Want Me"

Facts about “Don’t You Want Me”

  • Co-writer Philip Oakey wasn’t too fond of the track and in fact quarreled with Virgin Records when they decided to release it as a single. It subsequently went on to top both the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100. It ended up being the first number 1 song Virgin Records ever released and became The Human League’s signature song.
  • In fact with over a million and-a-half copies sold, it is one of the most-successful singles in United Kingdom’s music history, having held the coveted spot of the number 1 Christmas single in 1981. And as recently as 2015, Britons voted “Do You Want Me” their seventh-favorite 1980’s number one.
  • This track is also credited with ushering in the “Second British Invasion”, a period in the early to mid-1980s, in which music acts from the United Kingdom became popular in the United States. This was largely due to the efforts of MTV, which greatly assisted “Don’t You Want Me” in its rise to fame.
  • This track marked the first time Susan Sulley sung lead vocals on one of the band’s songs. Before that both she and fellow-female vocalist Joanne Catherall were restricted to background vocals.
  • “Don’t You Want Me” is the first single The Human League ever released in the United States.
  • This classic track was written by The Human League members Philip Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright and Jo Callas. It was produced by the entirety of the band in collaboration with Martin Rushent.


Various artists have covered this song throughout the years, some to notable success. For instance, Mandy Smith’s version reached number 59 on the UK Singles Chart in 1989. Alcazar’s cover made it number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Reappearance in UK Singles Chart decades later

The song reappeared on the UK Singles Chart, where it peaked at number 19, in 2014. It achieved this feat largely due its usage by fans of the Aberdeen Football Club (in support of midfielder Peter Pawlett). Aberdeen is a team based in Scotland, and during this time “Do You Want Me” also reached number 1 on the Scottish charts.

On which album is “Don’t You Want Me”?

It was originally released as the 10th track on The Human League’s album Dare on 16 October 1981. It later came out as a single on 27 November 1981.

Did Susan Sulley contribute to the writing of “Don’t You Want Me”?

No. A total of three people wrote this song. And Sulley wasn’t one of them. The writers of this song are: Philip Oakey, Philip A. Wright and Jo Callis.

3 Responses

  1. Kelvin Taylor says:

    This track was written to sound like a conversation between two lovers that had fallen apart after five years of being together.
    Philip Oakey begins the verse as the first character narrating how he met his lover and the positive impact he had on her. He also continues by stating how the lady has been successful within 5 years and has neglected him. He ends the verse as a threat telling her how he can unmake her.
    In the pre-chorus and chorus, he still wants to be certain if his partner no longer wants to be with him and threatens her again.
    The second stanza, sung by Susan Ann Sulley who is also the second character in the scenario, opens up a rather calm approach of her admitting his earlier assertion and refuting the aspect of him claiming he made her who she is now. She also kindly states they had some good years between them however, it’s better they go their separate ways.
    This tune was influenced by a comic read by Philip in a magazine for teen-girls.
    All in all, it was written to portray the aggressive nature of love in some relationships.

  2. Anonymous says:

    When he says “you better take me back or we both will be sorry” one could take that as he will put her back in her place she was a cocktail waitress or he’s gonna do something worse like kill them both

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am always reminded of the Dorothy Stratton tragedy when I hear this song.
    It’s a good song but very sinister lyrics.

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