Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis Talk about Making “Human” by The Human League


We interviewed Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for our year end Power Play List magazine. The magazine will be available online next week. Here is an excerpt from that interview done by Radio Facts CEO Kevin Ross

KEVIN ROSS: I’ve always wanted to ask my absolute favorite song. Well, I have several favorite songs by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. But my absolute favorite song is Human. 

That is not just a song that is like a huge movie score production. I mean, if The Human League didn’t even sing on it, I would have still loved it. It’s so powerful, it’s some of your absolute best work, in my opinion. What do you think about the song?

JIMMY JAM: It was an interesting experience because there were a lot of shocks. I think on the Human League’s part and really on both of our parts, because that was once again, John McClain, the person that hooked us up with Janet initially. 

And Human League was making a record and the record that they were trying to make, basically they were trying to make a Jam and Lewis record. And John McClain said, well, if you’re trying to make a Jam and Lewis record, why don’t you just get Jam and Lewis to do it? And so he was the one that put us together and they were from Sheffield, England. 

Kevin: Oh yeah. 

Jimmy: So they came to Minneapolis in the middle of the winter and cold weather which was a shock. But then it was just kind of a lot of culture shock or whatever you want to call it. 

It was interesting, but they were good and we enjoyed it but when it came to Human, it was interesting because we had done the track. Terry did the amazing vocal with Phil Oakey, who was the lead singer. And the whole thing, if you knew any of The Human League music before Human, it was very robotic, right? Like “Don’t You Want Me,” which was a big hit. 

Kevin: It was a very New Wave

Jimmy: And the whole idea was to do something that sounded human-like, you know, with some soul to it. 

And I remember Terry worked on that lead vocal for probably a week, every day he just was in there, grinding, grinding, grinding, he finally played the lead vocal, it sounded great. So then Terry did the backgrounds, you know the part Ooooooooh huuuuuuuuuuman, that’s Terry doing that. 

Kevin: Oh wow. Okay. 

Jimmy: Mr. Background. But then we had a girl named Lisa Keith, people may know from this song “Making Love In The Rain.’ She’s the lead singer on that and she also had her own album, but anyway, she was our background guru also. So she put this nice little texture and stuff on the vocal so we played it for the group. 

And when we got done playing it, there were two girls in Human League and one of them said, “Who’s the other girl singing on the track.” And we said, oh, that’s Lisa Keith, that’s our girl, you know, whatever. “I don’t think we like the other girl singing on the track.” Oh the other girl, we don’t like the other girl. Okay. We don’t like the other girl, so anyway, whatever the next day we come to the studio, Phil walks into the studio, the lead singer, he walks into the studio, he’s got a funny look on his face.

And we said, what’s up Phil? He goes, “I just have to say we don’t like the other girl on the track.” And Terry and I kind of looked at each other like, huh? Terry and I repeat it .. you don’t like the other girl on the track? And he says, yes. I just have to say, and we turn around and say, “Oh, you just have to say you don’t like the other girl, we get it. But the reason he had to say that is because he was seeing one of the girls in the group. 


So we already knew what that was about. We were like, okay, we get it. Okay. So anyway, we called the record company and we were basically like, we’re just going to pull the song off because if you’re not going to do it the right way, then we just won’t do it. 

And what we ended up doing was we said the songs we write we’ll finish the way we want them. The songs that you guys wrote, you finish them the way you want them and we’ll call it a truce because the record company was like, “No, you can’t take that song off there. Oh my God, that’s the single, no, you can’t take it off.”

So anyway, it turned out really good, but here’s the brilliant thing to me about the record. So, because the girls were, you know, didn’t feel like they were included in the making of the record. 

Terry came up with the idea to have the spoken word part that one of the girls say, but lyrically it’s the whole brilliance or whatever you want to call it of the song to me is, here’s a guy laying it out on the line that he was human and I’m sorry. And you know, whatever, please forgive me, blah, blah, blah And then she just goes “While we were apart, I was human too.” Oh shit. You were human too? Oh man. 

I mean that changes everything, right and I love that. I remember when I heard that the first time, cause Terry said I got something for the girls to do. And I’m like, okay, cool. And he put that vocal on there I was like, that’s the song right there.


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