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Op Ed: Martin Rushent – Bob Lefsetz

The American radio landscape was changed forever by two tracks.  Soft Cell’s "Tainted Love" and Human League’s "Don’t You Want Me".  KROQ played both, KMET refused to do so, KROQ is arguably the most valuable music station in America today and KMET is defunct, for a long time now, replaced by a soft jazz station whose impact has faded into the dressing rooms of clothing emporia.

"Tainted Love", which was paired with the Supremes’ "Where Did Our Love Go" in its treasured extended version, was a cover, albeit of a song few had ever heard.  "Don’t You Want Me" was an original.

And what an original it was.

Not only the synths, but that one couplet…

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar

That much is true

No one admits anything anymore.  Not unless cornered.  But this woman, barely out of adolescence, with anything but a stage-ready voice, was copping to the accusation.  And then went on further…

But even then I knew I’d find a much better place

Either with or without you

The five years we have had have been such good times

I still love you

But now I think it’s time I lived my life on my own

I guess it’s just what I must do

"American Idol" says it’s about the voice.

It’s not about the voice, it’s about humanity, creativity, touching our souls.  And Human League’s "Don’t You Want Me" touched mine.  To the point where I had to buy the album, to hear it at will, and discovered the rest of those synth-pop tracks, like "Love Action".  And "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of".  And "Seconds".  This was not guitar-based rock, this was something different, but equally infectious, because of its originality, its cheekiness.

"Don’t You Want Me" and the rest of the album "Dare" were produced by Martin Rushent.

I know, because I looked at that album cover incessantly.  Who were these people?  How did they come up with this stuff?

I don’t want to be an obituary writer, but I almost put fingers to keyboard when I heard of Rushent’s passing.  It’s the unsung, those who are not household names, that I’m interested in.  They had a huge impact upon my life, I want to give them a good send-off, especially when almost no one else does.

But I held back.  I didn’t want to overload your inbox.

But today I got an e-mail from Martin’s son.  Reproduced below.

And I don’t provide this service.  I don’t do publicity and I don’t do dissemination of your personal information.

But this is less about the son’s loss than how this work affected me.

There are certain tracks that you can NEVER burn out on.

There are certain tracks that change the course of music history.

Like "I Want To Hold Your Hand".

Like "Rapper’s Delight".

Like "Don’t You Want Me".

From: Tim Rushent

Subject: Martin Rushent R.I.P.

Hi Bob

My father Martin Rushent died the Saturday just gone (June 4th 2011) aged 63.

He was most famous for his work with The Human League … having the album Dare! and the single "Don’t You Want Me." go number one on both sides of the Atlantic … and pretty much everywhere on Planet Earth.

My brother James, sisters Joanne and Amy and my fathers sister and brother have always been very, very proud of him. But in the past three days since he left us, we have had to "down tools" in our normal life to field calls, emails and comments coming to the Martin Rushent Memories FaceBook group. The appreciation, admiration and overwhelming love has made us even more proud and I fear we have a long way to go yet!

I know for a fact that The Human League is probably not your "cup of tea" as us Brits say …. but I’d ask you to look at my father’s career that led to the work he did with them. T-Rex, Shirley Bassey, Fleetwood Mac, The Stranglers, Buzzcocks. You talk about putting in the hours before you know your craft … my father will have doubled those hours (on his own time!) just to make sure he did it better and more perfect than the next guy!

He made electronic dance records in 1980 when to do so didn’t involve a Mac and a cracked copy of Cubase with a bunch of hooky sample cds. It involved working on hugely expensive equipment, that took an age to programme (the brass swells in the League track "Hard Times" had to be programmed step by velocity step by velocity step …. it took him DAYS to do the whole riff!) and normally it would drift out of time whilst the synths drifted out of tune as it was being printed to tape!

But the guy sat there and did it so he could bring something new to the the table, something exciting and fresh … whilst making sure that the tracks could be strummed on an acoustic guitar and still be remembered chord for chord, note for note, word for word as decent songs that you could remember. He made sure that the songs were instant and drilled into your brain. Don’t believe me? Hum the intro riffs of Don’t You Want Me. See?

He also implemented many technological advances into his machines and mixes that are still used today … dance music separation and effect usage basically owes him it’s blueprint … sampling owes an equally huge debt.

His success with the League was Massive. and he followed it up with Altered Images who were big here in the UK, Pete Shelley’s solo stuff, The Go Go’s … just do the research and you’ll see. Wow …. sometimes even I can’t quite believe it.

Oh …. and he won Producer of the Year in 1982 for and countless other awards around the world … including, I believe, one of the first … if not THE first … platinum disc here in the UK for a million sales of "Don’t You Want Me."

I could go on for another 1000 paragraphs but I’d still only cover a fraction of a fraction of his work and enthusiasm for what he loved to do … pay or no pay … hit or no hit! He has been a a runner, assistant, engineer, producer, publisher, record label owner, teacher, raconteur and worked with artists such as Sting right the way down to the local Salvation Army Band and school band rockers.

I would love for you to send the message out to the industry that my Dad Martin has left us. He loved to be talked about and I promise you you will get some amazing emails back from people … because whilst he was a great Record Producer, he was equally one of the most greatest, memorable characters you could ever hope to meet … in a REALLY funny way. he was also a bit of an obnoxious twat … but trust me … he would have loved to be remembered that way too!

Thanks Bob …. I follow your posts religiously … yet my Dad would say "WFT does he know … he sounds a right wally … you listen to me … this is how you do things …  etc etc etc ….!". I fear that if you two ever met, the the Music Industry would self implode! In some ways it’s a shame you never did!

Anyone can add any comment for him to read in the great studio in the sky on the Martin Rushent Memories group here … I know we would all (including his wife Ceri) like to hear from everyone and hear everything they have to say. It’s helping us cope right now.–216490505038835

Kindest regards and thanks Bob.

Tim – A Proud and devastated Rushent.

PS – please feel free to clean up any typos etc … it’s been a long few days!