“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell is a cover song. It has been so commercially and critically successful as a cover song that not many people realise that it is a cover song.  American soul and r ‘n’ b singer Gloria Jones recorded the original version of “Tainted Love”, which was released as the B side to her single “My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home” in 1964. It was a commercial failure. However, it was later picked up by the Northern Soul scene who loved to find obscure soul songs for their nights of swirling (and allegedly cocaine fuelled) weekend dance marathons.

Soft Cell, made up of vocalist Marc Almond and instrumentalist Dave Ball, heard it during a night out at a soul club and decided to record a drastically different version of it, using synthesisers to replicate the original instrumentation. They slowed down the tempo, changed the key to suit the lower register of Marc Almond’s voice, and added something extra to it: an undercurrent of sleaze and sexual frustration that added a slightly sinister undertone that later became one of Soft Cell’s signature calling cards. You can see it in the lyrics:

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to
Run away, I’ve got to
Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me
The love we share
Seems to go nowhere
And I’ve lost my light
For I toss and turn, I can’t sleep at night

 

Did you find yourself singing along? Then I expect you grew up in the 80s just like I did. Congratulations – it offered me the best times, and it offered me the worst of times. Such is life, eh? For anybody who grew up during the early 1980s, it remains one of those key tunes that will often evoke strong memories:

 

What the bloody hell was that?

Seriously… I have never seen that video prior to finding a suitable clip for this blog post. I was going to put up one of the seminal performances from Top of the Pops that launched Soft Cell into the public consciousness but, when I found this official video, I decided that it was so bloody weird that people just had to see it. I mean, did you see that length of what Marc Almond was wearing? Not so much a toga as a belt.

Actually, that turned out to be so completely unexpected that I need to remind myself of what I remember Soft Cell being all about:

 

That’s better. Phew.

“Tainted Love” was the band’s second single and, thanks to a run of memorable TOTP performances that featured Marc Almond’s distinctive dancing, the song climbed up the charts until it peaked at the number 1 position.

My memories of “Tainted Love” are linked with my first memories of a holiday outside the UK. My gran took me and my mum (along with my gran’s boyfriend – oh yes, she was a thoroughly modern grandmother) to Spain to enjoy the summer sunshine. At the time, I didn’t question why I was being taken along and not my older brothers and sisters – I think it was a some kind of reward after what had been a very difficult and traumatic year for our family.

At the hotel where we were staying, there was a disco that was held after the evening meal had been tidied up and all the things put away. One evening, the DJ started to play the 12inch mix of “Tainted Love” that segues into their cover of The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?” and I started to dance. I’m not a trained dancer. Never been to a dance lesson in my life. And my dancing at the disco was certainly a case of enthusiasm over talent and ability. However, something happened. People stopped what they were doing, they watched and, when I eventually stopped my jigging about, they gave me a round of applause.

This was not my first experience of performing in front of an audience. That honour had already gone to being part of a primary school nativity play, where I has taken on the role of one of the three wise men. I cannot remember what I did exactly – sometimes I think it was falling over and sometimes I think that I had said a brilliantly improvised funny line. Whatever it was, I do remember getting a round of applause or some kind of reaction. I liked it.

However, it wasn’t really until that experience of dancing before a random audience of holiday-makers from a variety of nations, that I thought it might be a pretty good thing to do with my time. The bonus is that it is also a pretty decent example of everything that I love about an extended 12inch single remix.

Here it is:

 

That is what I love about 12inch singles – I need to track it down and buy the thing coz it is fantastic.

Once I ran to you (I ran)
Now I’ll run from you
This tainted love you’ve given
I give you all a boy could give you
Take my tears and that’s not nearly all
Tainted love (oh)
 Tainted love

 

Sometimes everything comes to together to make everything perfect and exactly what it needs to be – sometimes it does not. Soft Cell released a slightly remixed version of the song in 1991, along with a video that featured figures made from stars (or stardust) dancing around a confused looking young man in his bedroom, whilst Marc Almond sang looking down from the stars. It seemed totally unnecessary and didn’t really add anything to the brilliance of the original mix (although the remix video is ten times better than that Mount Olympus thing), but it was great to be reminded of how brilliant Soft Cell’s version was.

However, as is often the case, things took a strange turn in 2001 when Marilyn Manson (of whom I have already written with reference to his glam-rock inspired stomper “Rock Is Dead”) released a version of “Tainted Love” that was obviously inspired by the Soft Cell version. As you would expect from the self-styled God of Fuck, Manson ramps up the sleaze factor helped along by a natty little video that shows an invasion of a cheerleader’s party by a gang of Goths. It is a glorious tribute to a song that celebrates doomed romanticism.

 

As cover versions of cover versions go, I actually really like it because it keeps to the “original” enough to be instantly recognisable but is also different enough to have its own worth as a piece of art.

So there you have it. Soft Cell would go on to create some more memorable single but nothing ever reached the dizzy heights of “Tainted Love” – nor would they seem to be integral to memories in the same way either. Marylyn Manson would go on to create some more amazing singles before his personal relationship demons began to take his unique vision off in a different direction that he was perhaps not best suited to fill. I would go on to study Creative Arts at Nottingham Trent University (that’ll be Nottingham Polytechnic in old money) although I resisted any urges to explore my ability to communicate my art through contemporary dance.

Such is life, eh?

 

 

 

 

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