A Song's Story #7: Tainted Love

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Some songs seem so ingrained in the decade in which they were recorded that it may come as a surprise to discover they're actually a cover version of an older song. Such was the case with Soft Cell's "Tainted Love", released in 1981. Given that we were hearing a lot of New Wave and/or British hits on the U.S. charts in the '80s, I assumed that the song was written at that time. It actually originated around the time of Beatlemania and Motown (don't blame me -- I can't be an expert on everything about the 20th century; I started this blog to learn as much as my readers!)

Yep, we've all been living a lie..."Tainted Love" was recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964 and released in 1965 as the B-side of her single "My Bad Boy's Comin' Home." Both songs were considered commercial flops -- and it probably didn't help that "Tainted Love" was regulated to the B-side. It was written by Ed Cobb, a songwriter and music producer that went on to write or co-pen other hits such as "Dirty Water" by the Standells and "Heartbeat" by Gloria Jones. Cobb originally offered "Tainted Love" to the Standells, but they passed on it.

Jones, by the way, is often most known for being the girlfriend of T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan up until his death in an automobile accident 1977 (Jones was driving the car and suffered severe injuries.) She was a member of T. Rex during the mid '70s and had a son with Bolan. But she also had serious songwriting chops, composing hits for The Supremes, Junior Walker, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and many other entertainers.

Although "Tainted Love" failed to get any attention or airplay when it was first released, it found new life as a nightclub standard during the Northern Soul music craze of England in the 1970s. In fact the song was so popular among the Northern Soul crowd that Jones was declared the "Northern Queen of Soul."

It was sometime during this time that Marc Almond, Soft Cell's lead singer, heard the song and expressed interest in recording a cover version. The band's producer, Mike Thorne, wasn't impressed with Jones' version; he considered it too "frantic" and more suited for a dance floor. So the song and tempo was slowed down and recorded in a different key to pair better with Almond's voice.

As most of us know, the cover version was a huge hit, released as an A-side single in 1981 and reaching number one on the UK charts fairly rapidly (the highest it reached on the U.S. charts was number eight by 1982.) Extended versions of the song included a section of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go."

After discovering Jones' version, I honestly have to say I prefer it over Soft Cell's. It has a jaunty Motown beat to it that is very reminiscent of "Good Thing" by the Fine Young Cannibals. And the original music video of Soft Cell's version is just plain bizarre and creepy. It seems the little girl in the video is perhaps the slave's/servant's child and the lead singer is taking out his woman's unfaithfulness on the innocent girl? Well, we'll never figure the '80s out. The re-released 1991 music video is not much better.

The newfound popularity of "Tainted Love" led to more cover versions including one by Marilyn Manson and has also been sampled in Rihanna's "SOS."

Here's Jones' version followed by Soft Cell's...let me know which one you prefer!




2 comments:

  1. Ah, Sixties Music! I love the version of Gloria Jones and still dance like crazy on this song when I hear it on a soul allnighter. When Soft Cell released their cover, I was still very young and had a bit of a crush on Marc Almond, so I really liked this song. I also learned only later that it is a cover. It's similar with "It’s my party" by Lesley Gore or later Barbara Gaskin and a few others (even beloved Amy Winehouse did a version, although I don’t like that very much). It's sometimes a lot of fun digging up the roots of music.

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  2. Boy, talk about renditions that are indicative of their era.
    I have to say that I like both versions as they products of their times.
    Thanks for your continuing courses on entertainment education.

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