485. ‘Tainted Love’, by Soft Cell

Compare and contrast, if you will, this next #1 with our last. ‘Tainted Love’ has the same instruments, is in the same basic genre as ‘Japanese Boy’, but how different it sounds…

Tainted Love, by Soft Cell (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 30th August – 13th September 1981

It’s a collection of synthesised beats and sound effects, intricate but minimalist, and it sounds thrillingly futuristic. One of the sounds – the poink poinks, you know the high-pitched ones that contrast with the lower dun duns, the ones the song fades ends on – always make me think of a life-support machine. In actual fact, they sound nothing like a life-support machine (though Intensive Care wards would be a much more fun place if they did). It’s strange how music can put images into your head.

Sometimes I feel, I’ve got to, Run away… It’s a tale of a toxic relationship, about a lover who needs the tears and pain of their partner, and the singer’s escape from their tainted love… Don’t touch me please, I can’t stand the way you tease… It’s a cover, of course, of a 1964 release by Gloria Jones that failed to chart. A cover of a cover, even, as Jones had re-recorded it in 1976, with the help of her boyfriend Marc Bolan, though it still failed to chart.

And it’s a great cover version. Soft Cell take the original, strip down all the sixties froo-froo and do it up in an early-eighties style. It’s like seeing an old building renovated in a much more modern fashion, but with the walls all in same place, the support beams still running across the ceiling. They take the song in a completely new direction (a direction semi-influenced by Jones’s re-recording), though to most listeners at the time it would have been brand new. It’s sexy, it’s abrasive, it’s very, very now.

By the end, the singer is having second thoughts about giving up on this relationship. Touch me baby, Tainted love… he urges. It might be wrong, he thinks, but it feels so right. Meanwhile the music video is very much in the ‘anything goes’ spirit of the early-MTV age: there are cricketers, Greek Gods, Regency-dressed women, suspicious looking children…

Actually, what I thought was the video – the one I’ve seen several times before, in which a man writhes on a bed and Marc Almond sings among the stars – is actually the video for the 1991 re-recording, which seems to have now usurped the original. One thing I do notice, as great as this strange, sexy record is, Almond’s voice lets it down slightly. It strains at times, and is slightly flat at others. He sounds much better a decade later, on the re-recording.

Soft Cell were another early-eighties act that burned brightly but briefly. They had a handful of other Top 10s before Almond and his sidekick Dave Ball went their separate ways. They won’t re-appear on this countdown (though Almond will, eventually) And, carrying on the fine tradition of covering and re-recording the life out of ‘Tainted Love’, Marilyn Manson scored his (their?) biggest UK chart hit when his/their Industrial-metal version reached #5 in 2002. I can’t think of many songs that I love in three different versions; but ‘Tainted Love’ is one.

Before I go, and seeing as this is my last post for 2021, I’d just like to wish all my readers, followers, likers and commenters a very Happy New Year! See you all in 2022, as we push on through the eighties!

17 thoughts on “485. ‘Tainted Love’, by Soft Cell

  1. Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is one of those songs in America that got bigger through being sampled on another song than on its own as it originally peaked at #8 but was sampled heavily on Rihanna’s “SOS” from 2006, her first #1 hit. Notably, “Tainted Love” didn’t reach its peak across the Atlantic until the summer of ’82 as MTV began to make it safe for this kind of British synthpop to get popular though here Soft Cell are a true one-hit wonder with “Tainted Love” being their only charting song on the Hot 100. Despite being out charted by the Rihanna song that sampled it, “Tainted Love” has definitely left more impact considering my aunt said the Soft Cell album with “Tainted Love” was one of her favorites at the time. I think what works with Soft Cell’s take on “Tainted Love” is that they do the best trick with a cover in making it sound like their own without just playing it straight for recognizability though when you play a song that had unfairly ignored, it provides a perfect opportunity for a cover that can add something new.

    • I completely forgot about the Rihanna sample, even though ‘SOS’ is one of my favourites from her. Think that goes to show how well done the sample is, that you don’t hear the original song in it.

      And I agree that it helped that they were covering a song very few people had heard. People today are still surprised to find that this isn’t the original, much like ‘The Tide Is High’.

      • With the Rihanna song, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is basically the entire track on “SOS” so it’s hard for me to not notice while listening to it. But it still makes for a solid fun track there.

      • I’m not sure it’s the entire song. To me it sounds like a couple of synth lines from ‘Tainted Love’ upon which everything else hangs. In fact, if Soft Cell’s take on ‘Tainted Love’ is a perfect example of a cover, then ‘SOS’ is a perfect example of how to make a sample work.

  2. My main memory of this is that while it was no. 1 I was in a youth theatre group in Southport. One of the kids in the group had his parents away for the weekend so we all went over for an all-night party but for some reason this was the only music in the house and Tainted Love was played over and over again all night over several hours.

  3. The original version is the genius version and Marc’s quirkily flawed vocals for me add to the passion just as they did to the heartache on Say hello wave goodbye, both of which became remakes by numbers when Marc decided they would sound better with him holding a note better. They lacked conviction to me, though. Torch is also a belter of a single.

    Ive pretty much enjoyed solo Marc Almond throughout his career, esp his Trevor Horn masterpiece era, but he was never more endearing than in his early days “right off the club circuit” soft cell days. Oh, and as ive mentioned many times online, I was sat in a bar called Centre Stage in gran canaria during a week he was doing a PA in a club, he popped his head round the door looked around, past me and my mates, and moved on. I didnt take it personally and i even paid to see his next tour… hah!

    • Haha… maybe he was looking for someone in particular? That’s how I’d spin it.

      I do need to listen to a bit more Soft Cell… His voice is quirky, I’ll give him that. I do wonder what it would have sounded like if he’d gone for a flatter, more monotone delivery – like many other synth-pop bands of the time. But he really sings it, and good for him it worked!

  4. I’ll take the sixties froo-froo thank you very much lol. It’s a catchy song to begin with so they had a good song to work with…It worked…it really did… but I could have done without the revamping…I know I’m a party downer!
    It’s certainly NOT the worse song in the eighties so I don’t hate it…I just rather hear Jones’s original version. Soft Cell did a good job…I’ll give them that.

    • With ‘Tainted Love’ I can’t decide which version I like better. Maybe the original, as it hasn’t been played to death like this version. But then this version is a classic… Maybe I’ll just say Marilyn Manson, to be contrary.

      Coming up in a couple of songs time is another reworking of a sixties hit… And on that occasion I’ll definitely be siding with the original!

      • Oh this is a classic now…I am just biased against synths…sooooo that is the reason the 80s gets on my nerves soon…but like I said….I will admit…this one does work….. Manson lol. I heard that one today.

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