This is a cover of a 1964 song by the American soul singer Gloria Jones, whose original version was released as the B-side of her single "My Bad Boy's Comin' Home." A club DJ named Richard Searling picked up a copy in Philadelphia and in 1973 started playing it in his sets at Va Va's, a popular club in Bolton, England that was very influential on the UK northern soul circuit. The song found new life, and Jones recorded a new version in 1976 that was released on her album Vixen. This version was produced by her boyfriend, Marc Bolan of T-Rex (Jones joined the group as a backup singer and keyboard player in 1974). Jones was driving the car (a Mini) at the time of the accident that killed Bolan in Barnes Common, South London in 1977.
This was written by Ed Cobb, who was the manager of the Standells and the Chocolate Watchband, for whom he also wrote songs, including "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White." Cobb was also a member of the Four Preps, and wrote songs for Brenda Holloway, including "Every Little Bit Hurts."
Soft Cell is the duo of Marc Almond (vocals) and David Ball (instruments), who met in 1979 when they were students at Leeds Art College. They embraced electronic music, and worked to give it a less robotic sound, which proved successful. Early on, they performed inside a white padded cell with pink and blue bars as part of their stage act.
The duo started recording this as a "throwaway cover song." The choices were "Tainted Love" or a Frankie Valli tune, "The Night
In the book 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, Marc Almond called this song "A mixture of cold electronics with an over-passionate, over-exuberant, slightly out of key vocal." Almond recalls, "Dave (Ball) introduced me to the record and I loved it so much and we wanted an interesting song for a encore number in our show. Dave loved northern soul and it was a novelty to have an electronic synthesizer band doing a soul song. When we signed with our record company, they wanted to record it. They told us to put bass, guitar and drums on it as they said it was too odd. They put it out anyway and the next thing it was gathering radio play and then it was #1. I was fascinated that it was originally by Gloria Jones, the girlfriend of Marc Bolan and I'd always been a T-Rex fan."
A variety of electronic instruments were used on this track. The bass generated with a Korg Synthe-Bass that David Ball used at live shows (the B-52's used the same instrument to create the bass in "Rock Lobster
"). The whip-crack sounds were made on hand-held synth-drums, and the piano sound came from a Synclavier.
The song is about a toxic relationship, with the singer realizing he's got to leave it. "I love you though you hurt me so," he sings, as he struggles to move on.
The song's writer, Ed Cobb, told Blender magazine: "I had a lover for whom you could say wasn't a good individual. I tried to go into her head and write a song from her standpoint. Once the word 'tainted' had popped into my head, the song was written very quickly, probably 15 minutes."
As AIDS began to spread, this song took on new meaning. Marc Almond said: "It was the first time we'd heard about this then-unnamed disease that was affecting gay men in America. It wasn't an intentional tie-in, but as the record hit the American charts, it took on this other meaning."
Almond is gay, but his record company had him keep that under wraps.
In the US, Soft Cell is a one-hit wonder, but they did very well in the UK, scoring many other hits like "Bed Sitter," "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
" and "Torch." Their second-biggest hit in the US is "What!," which reached #101 in 1982.
In 1981, this was Britain's best-selling single. It re-charted there in May 1991, hitting #5.
This song was released in various versions with Soft Cell's cover of the Supremes hit "Where Did Our Love Go
." The original single has the 2:39 "Tainted Love" on the A-side with "Where Did Our Love Go" as the flip, but other single releases featured the two songs segued together as the A-side. The 3:58 edit is the one most often heard on the radio, but a 12" single with the combined songs running 8:57 was also released.
Marc Almond's vocal is the first take he recorded. That take was actually a run-through so they could tweak the settings, but it had just the right emotion, so that was the one they used.
This was used in a Levi's commercial where the sound of an EKG in an operating room starts to sound like the song and the staff begins singing along.
Gloria Jones has said that she considers the Soft Cell version to be the best one. "I loved the emotion in his voice," she said. "Their version was far better than mine."
This reached #1 in 17 different countries. In the US, it spent 43 weeks on the Top 100 chart, which was a longevity record at the time.
Marilyn Manson covered this in 2001 for the film Not Another Teen Movie
. While performing at Glastonbury in 2002, Mark Almond jokingly said "This is a Marilyn Manson song" before performing it.
Rhianna's sampled this on her 2006 song "S.O.S (Rescue Me)."
This was covered by the Palast Orchester and their singer, Max Raabe - German performers who play in the style of 1920s-1930s dance bands. It's on their 2002 album Super Hits Nummer 2
, which also features renditions of "Lady Marmalade
," "Uptown Girl
" and "Let's Talk About Sex."
This was used in the 1993 movie Coneheads
in the scene where Dan Aykroyd's character is bringing his daughter and some friends to school. The friends mock the musical notes after the vocal phrase, "Sometimes I feel I have to...Get away"