Tell Me When

"Tell Me When" is a song by the British synthpop group the Human League. Written jointly by lead singer Philip Oakey and Paul C. Beckett, it was recorded at 'Human League Studios', Sheffield in 1994. The single and the Octopus album were produced by Ian Stanley (formerly of Tears for Fears).

"Tell Me When"
Single by The Human League
from the album Octopus
Released26 December 1994
Producer(s)Ian Stanley
The Human League singles chronology
"Soundtrack to a Generation"
"Tell Me When"
"One Man in My Heart"
Music video
"Tell Me When" on YouTube
Audio sample
"Tell Me When"

Release and promotionEdit

"Tell Me When" was the first Human League single to be released from Octopus and was issued in advance of the album. It was issued on 26 December 1994 (but is considered a 1995 single as it did not chart until the first week of January). Released in a variety of vinyl and CD single formats, these variously included remixes of "Tell Me When" by contemporary electronic acts Utah Saints, Development Corporation and Red Jerry, a non-album B-side ("The Bus to Crookes"), and a track from the band's recent collaboration with YMO.

"Tell Me When" became the Human League's most commercially successful single in nine years and reintroduced the band to many of the British general public. It received considerable radio promotion in advance of its late 1994 UK release, hitting the airwaves at a time when many people started to get Christmas song fatigue.[1] Radio 1 played the song three weeks before release with Capital FM playing it two weeks prior.[1] By the time of its release, the single received over one thousand plays per week across the board according to East West Records.[1] One month after its release, the single steadily gained airplay on Europe's leading radio markets. It topped the Major Market Airplay charts in the UK for two weeks commencing 4 February, registering total plays of 915 for the week of 11 February.[2] According to East West Records, the single had achieved sales of around 200,000 copies.[3] Capital 95.8 head of music Richard Park welcomed the single, saying: "the marketplace is just ready for a fresh dose of the Human League."[1] It peaked at number six on the UK Singles Chart in early 1995, their highest UK chart position since "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" reached number two in 1983, and spent a total of nine weeks on the chart.[4] It also peaked at number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100, on 15 April 1995, giving the band their last hit to date in the United States.[5] The song fared well on the Mainstream Top 40 chart, where it peaked at number nine on 22 April 1995.[6]


The song was originally written for the act, "Fast Arithmetic" (Oakey – Beckett), A side project in development within the HL environment. A demo version was recorded in 1991 and presented to Max, Ian and Jean at East West. It then became the first release by the band under their new label EastWest, who had signed the Human League after their dismissal by Virgin in 1992.

As it was the first commercial release in the UK by the band for four years it is often incorrectly described as a comeback as many people erroneously believed the band had disbanded in 1990. Band principal Philip Oakey takes issue with this description and will point out in interviews that the band has never stopped recording and performing since its formation in 1977.[7] The band had collaborated with Yellow Magic Orchestra prior to signing with EastWest.[8]

Critical receptionEdit

Several critics of the Octopus album, singled out "Tell Me When" as a standout track. Dave Thompson of AllMusic said it echoes earlier material, likening it to "Fascination" and "Mirror Man". He went further, saying that "the real difference is found in the vignette-esque lyrics and the more complex vocals. And these slight changes make all the difference, turning synth dreams into techno club success."[9] David Bauder of Associated Press called the song "splendid", and noted that it is a "shimmering melody, with Kraftwerk-like synthesizers and Phil Oakey's arch voice sweetened by his two female colleagues. It ranks with their best work". He added that it was the only song from the album "with any worth."[10] Larry Flick from Billboard was favourable, writing, "British synth-pop act that enjoyed a high profile during the '80s returns with a percolating swinger, which harkens back to its now-classic hits, 'Don't You Want Me' and 'Fascination'."[11] Anderson Jones from Entertainment Weekly described it as "bubbly" and "radio-friendly", whilst calling the album "lackuster".[12] John Kilgo from The Network Forty wrote, "This is a great comeback for the Sheffield, England trio! A techno-pop release full of energy highlighted by a very catchy hook. This smash is a no-brainer."[13] People stated that "their hot new single "Tell Me When" has made the Human League hip again." They added, "But the tune is an infectious anachronism—the synthesizer trio still tinkle about as soullessly as they did in 1982, when they hit No. 1 with "Don't You Want Me"."[14] Tony Cross from Smash Hits said it is "the best thing" on the album.[15] David Sinclair of The Times commented, "All the familiar components are here join-the-dots tune, danceable synth-pop arrangement, catchy bubblegum chorus but the result sounds disconcertingly like the Human League by numbers."[16]

Music videoEdit

The official music video for the song was shot entirely on location in Prague[citation needed] in the Czech Republic and directed by British director Andy Morahan.[17]

Track listingEdit

  • CD 1 1994, East West (YZ882CD1)
  1. Tell Me When (7" Edit) 4.42
  2. Tell Me When (Mix 1) 5.09 (Remix by Utah Saints)
  3. Kimi Ni Mune Kyun (YMO Vs The Human League) 4.55
  4. The Bus To Crookes 4.52
  • CD 2 1994, East West (YZ882CD2)
  1. Tell Me When (Mix 2) 6.11 (Remix by Utah Saints)
  2. Tell Me When (Red Jerry Remix) 7.36
  3. Tell Me When (Strictly Blind Dub) 5.51 (Remix by Development Corporation)
  4. Tell Me When (Overworld Mix) 6.26 (Remix by Development Corporation)
  5. Tell Me When (Mix 1) 5.09 (Remix by Utah Saints)
  • U.S. CD 1994, East West Records America (66147-2)
  1. Tell Me When (Utah Saints Mix 2*) 6.12
  2. Tell Me When (Red Jerry Mix) 7.36
  3. Tell Me When (Strictly Blind Dub) 5.51 (Remix by Development Corporation)
  4. Tell Me When (Edit Version Overworld Mix) 5.25 (Remix by Development Corporation)
  5. Tell Me When (Utah Saints Mix 1*) 5.09

These versions (*) are identical to the UK mixes.


Chart (1995) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[citation needed] 110
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[18] 21
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[19] 17
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)[20] 16
Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 53
Iceland (Íslenski Listinn Topp 40)[22] 27
Ireland (IRMA)[23] 9
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40 Tipparade)[24] 9
Netherlands (Single Top 100 Tipparade)[25] 5
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[26] 47
Scotland (OCC)[27] 7
UK Singles (OCC)[28] 6
UK Dance (OCC)[29] 4
US Billboard Hot 100[5] 31
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[30] 39
US Dance Club Songs (Billboard)[31] 15
US Hot Dance Singles Sales (Billboard)[32] 33
US Mainstream Top 40[6] 9
US Cash Box[33] 8


  1. ^ a b c d Watson, Miranda (11 March 1995). "Human League Is Back in the Race". Billboard. 107 (10): 15. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  2. ^ "Major Market Airplay" (PDF). Music & Media. 11 (6): 23. 11 February 1995. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  3. ^ Watson, Miranda (11 March 1995). "Human League Is Back in the Race". Billboard. 107 (10): 7. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  4. ^ "Artist Chart History – The Human League". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Chart History - Hot 100". Billboard. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Chart History - Mainstream Top 40". Billboard. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  7. ^ Interview Philip Oakey GMTV 1995 Transcribed: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 December 2012. Retrieved 5 November 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Thompson, Dave. "Tell Me When Single Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  10. ^ "League has a single effort worthy of note". Park City Daily News. 20 April 1995. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  11. ^ Flick, Larry (4 March 1995). "Single Reviews". Billboard. 107 (9): 67. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  12. ^ "Music Review: 'Octopus'". Entertainment Weekly. 5 May 1995. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  13. ^ "Mainstream: Music Meeting" (PDF). The Network Forty. 3 March 1995. p. 18. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  14. ^ "Picks and Pans Review: Octopus". People. 1 May 1995. Retrieved 15 November 2020.
  15. ^ "New Albums". Smash Hits. No. 422. 1 February 1995. p. 57. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  16. ^ Sinclair, David (31 December 1994). "Pop Singles; Recordings". The Times.
  17. ^ Garcia, Alex S. " – the Human League – "Tell me when"". Music Video DataBase. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  18. ^ " – The Human League – Tell Me When" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  19. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 9251." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  20. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 11 no. 5. 4 February 1995. p. 36. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  21. ^ " – The Human League – Tell Me When" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  22. ^ "Íslenski Listinn Topp 40 (18.02.1995 – 25.02.1995)". Dagblaðið Vísir (in Icelandic). 18 February 1995. p. 24. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  23. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Tell Me When". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  24. ^ "The Human League – Tell Me When" (in Dutch). Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  25. ^ "Dutch Single Tip 18/02/1995". (in Dutch). Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  26. ^ " – The Human League – Tell Me When". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  27. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  28. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  29. ^ "Official Dance Singles Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  30. ^ "The Human League Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  31. ^ "The Human League Chart History (Dance Club Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  32. ^ "The Human League Chart History (Dance Singles Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  33. ^ "Top 100 Pop Singles" (PDF). Cash Box. Vol. LVIII no. 30. 8 April 1995. p. 10. Retrieved 20 February 2018.

External linksEdit