Who Did Tainted Love Before Soft Cell?

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Song: Tainted Love (1981)

Artist: Soft Cell

Album: Non-Stop Erotic Caberet

Label: Some Bizzare/ Sire/ Warner Bros. Records

Writer: Ed Cobb

When Tainted Love was first released in 1964 as the B-side of a record called ‘My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home’ it was a total commercial failure. No, you are not experiencing a senior moment. Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, released in 1981, was a cover of a song recorded by Gloria Jones and produced by Ed Cobbs. Why did it take 17 years for it to become a hit? It couldn’t have been, as singer Marc Almond described “a mixture of cold electronics with an over-passionate, over-exuberant, slightly out of key vocal” As many have speculated, perhaps it was the sexual ambiguity singer Marc Almond at the height of the aids epidemic in the gay community.

Tainted love reached no. 1 on the singles chart and was thought to be the best-selling single in the UK in 1981 until the data was recalculated and that crown was given to Don’t You Want Me by The Human League. It spent a then record-breaking 43 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching no. 8 in the summer of 1982.

Soft Cell also released an extended dance version of Tainted Love that was two covers in one. The second half of the song is ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ originally performed by The Supremes. Forged during an era of Motown devoted to hooks, it was part of the Supremes’, and then Diana Ross, who took the lead vocal, big break-out. Soft-Cell’s cover is a great blending of a virtually unknown song with a quite famous one.

While the two versions of Tainted Love couldn’t be more different, you may recognize that despite the almost scandalized delivery of Marc Almond, the lyrics are quite banal. Yet, Almond takes one almost unnoticeable part of the original and turns it into the crux of the song, the ‘oh’ part. In the original, the oh if just an oh, sung by background singers, in the Soft Cell version, the OH is everything the song is about, encapsulated. It’s the ‘oh, that sells the song. It’s the oh that is instantly recognizable.

Gloria Jones did not have success with Tainted Love but, known as the ‘Queen of Northern Soul’ in the UK, she has been a major player in the music business for decades, having written and recorded many songs, performed as a background singer, with the band T Rex, and in Broadway musicals. A pianist and composer, she was a Motown staff writer and her songs were recorded by acts such as the Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight & the Pips the Four Tops, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Supremes, The Commodores, and more.