This is the 111th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh founded Human League in 1977 as an electronic band, but the addition Philip Oakey and Adrian Wright helped expand the vision of the band. After two albums, Ware, Marsh, Oakey, and Wright were divided on where to take that vision, so Ware and Marsh left in 1980, leaving Oakey and Wright in charge of Human League.
Ware and Marsh then formed British Electric Foundation, a synthpop production duo. In 1980, British Electric Foundation released “Music for Stowaways, and the following year, “Music for Listening To.” The instrumental releases had a few songs in common, including a dance-y track called “Groove Thang.”
There were minimal vocals on that track, provided by Glenn Gregory, a friend of Ware and Marsh. Gregory, Ware, and Marsh ended up forming the trio Heaven 17, releasing their debut album “Penthouse and Pavement” at the end of 1981. Around the same time, Human League released “Dare,” the first album since Ware and Marsh had left the band. “Penthouse and Pavement” included a reworked version of “Groove Thang,” which included lyrics and was now called “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.”
In an interview with SongFacts, Ware characterized the lead-up to the record as “a kind of arms race [with Human League] to see who could get the first single out, and we were both recording in the same studio. We were doing night shifts; they were doing day shifts. I was amazingly motivated, of course, because I was just so angry with the whole thing, so we were really going to do a thing that was going to cause a stir here.”
Ware said that “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” was a result of the band member’s love for American funk and dance music, as well as their new freedom from the constraints of Human League:
We had a set of rules with the original Human League where everything had to be totally electronically generated. We didn’t really get involved in real world issues or politics or any kind of love songs. It restricted what we did, in an interesting way. So it was like a big release – we could do whatever we wanted with Heaven 17. Suddenly, the chains were off. We were all committed socialists. Still are. That’s a dirty word now, but I still believe in it. Our fathers were trade unionists. That was a very important part of our life in Sheffield…
…Then, as we got more into writing the lyrics, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have some real world people in there?’ We were obsessed with Reagan coming into power and the specter of Margaret Thatcher coming into power and those were some very genuine concerns. The whole world was going to be blown to smithereens. It seems a little melodramatic now, but it was a genuine thing at the time if you remember. So we thought, “It’s time for action here. We’re all political people. It’s time to walk the walk.” So as it evolved, the songwriting – it only took two days to write – it turned into this really bizarre hybrid of politics and dancing and comedy and black American soul influence.
“(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” spent five weeks on the UK charts, peaking at Number 45. Of all the singles from “Penthouse and Pavement” to chart in the UK, none reached a higher position.
“(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” was banned by the BBC, which, depending on one’s perspective, could have either hampered or bolstered its charting potential. Today, the song seems too tame to be banned:
Have you heard it on the news
About this fascist groove thang
Evil men with racist views
Spreading all across the land
Don’t just sit there on your ass
Unlock that funky chaindance
Brothers, sisters shoot your best
We don’t need this fascist groove thang
Brothers, sisters, we don’t need this fascist groove thang
History will repeat itself
Crisis point we’re near the hour
Counterforce will do no good
Hot you ass I feel your power
Hitler proves that funky stuff
Is not for you and me girl
Europe’s an unhappy land
They’ve had their fascist groove thang
It’s not till later on in the song that it gets some teeth:
Democrats are out of power
Across that great wide ocean
Reagan’s president elect
Fascist god in motion
Generals tell him what to do
Stop your good time dancing
Train their guns on me and you
Fascist thang advancing
But even that seems like it wouldn’t be banned. Anymore, it seems more weird than anything else. As Stewart Mason wrote for AllMusic:
Heaven 17’s first single, “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang,” is a perfect example of the trio’s skewed perspective: on one level, the song is a straightforward condemnation of the right wing. On another…well, what exactly was a fascist groove thang? The lyrics put images of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan getting down P-Funk style into the listener’s head, a concept that’s certainly worth a giggle just by itself.
Scottish post-punk band The Fire Engines included a version of “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” the 1992 compilation “Fond,” though the band had recorded it about a decade earlier while visiting John Peel in his radio studio. The Fire Engines’ version sounded almost sparse and bare without the airy synthesizers, as if it were just a rough demo.
German electronic group Deine Lakaien covered the song for its 1999 EP “Into My Arms,” rebranding the song “We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thing.” The dance track sounded faithful ’90s update to Heaven 17’s original, as Alexander Veljanov did such a great Glenn Gregory impression that he even nailed Gregory’s pronunciation of “Reagan.”
Because the Internet is the Internet, a YouTube user named Barbuzuka decided to pair Deine Lakaien’s cover with clips from the “Star Trek” episode “Patterns of Force,” which featured the characters infiltrating a group of Nazis. As one does.
Indie band Poster Children’s 2004 EP “On the Offensive” featured covers of political songs, including The Clash’s “Clampdown” and Fear’s “Let’s Have a War.” Poster Children’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” replaced the sharp keyboards with a wall of guitars, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t dance to it: As the chanting of “We don’t need this fascist groove thang” grew louder and louder at the end, you couldn’t help but move to prove the groove.
At a 2011 show in Sheffield, Red Hot Chili Peppers paid homage to Heaven 17 with a cover of “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” The band only included the first verse, but made sure to include the bass riff from the original, which Flea did justice.
German band Boy Division has made a niche for itself in covering new wave and post-punk bands. On the band’s 2012 EP “Damaged Goods,” the band’s cover of “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” appeared alongside covers of Gang of Four, Joy Division, and The Clash. Boy Division managed to take the essence of Gang of Four — loud, gritty, distorted guitar — and apply it to each of the songs. And that worked really, really well.
The duo Blackout Country is mysterious in its Facebook presence, naming its members only as “Mr. Blackout” and “Mrs. Blackout.” Mr. and Mrs. Blackout’s cover of “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” put guitars at the fore, though there was enough of a subtle keyboard sound that connected the song to its synthy roots.
While other covers of “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” scaled back the synthesizers, Information Society’s cover homed in and amplified them. Appearing alongside other covers on the band’s 2016 “Orders of Magnitude,” Information Society’s version might be weirder than the original. And fittingly enough, the album included a cover of Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.”
What stands out to me about the various covers of “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” is that I would have expected more of them to update the lyrics to reflect the time periods during which the covers were recorded. The people that inspired the song have left office and passed away, but the fears and worries have remained. And because of that, I’m torn as to whether to “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” could be released today. The references to Reagan are dated, but fears and anxieties about people in power is timeless. So a song inspired by fears of emerging political powers could be written any time. But would it be able to chart the way “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” did?
Today’s pop music, particularly the music that charts, just doesn’t seem to have any resemblance to the type of music we got from Heaven 17. That weird, biting, political dance music seems like it wouldn’t have a place among the likes of Ed Sheeran, but I could be wrong.