Two bits of random info about this song:

  • A very common extended mix (if memory serves me correctly, it's the original 12") ends with a Soft Cell cover of the song Where Did Our Love Go, originally by The Supremes.
  • The UK band Coil covered this song on their 1984 album Scatology. In the CD release of this album, the insert reads: "At the time of writing this booklet, November 1988, the official number of deaths attributed to AIDS in the UK is 1011."

Strangely prescient song written in the 60's, but covered by Soft Cell in the 80's, where it recalled the AIDS epidemic. Has thematic resonances also with Clouds without Water, by Aleister Crowley. Bizarre.

The Tainted Love story

The song was written by one Ed Cobb, a former member of the 1950's vocal group The Four Preps, who later became a songwriter and producer. In particular he teamed up with the sixties garage-punk group the Standells and gave them Dirty Water (which reached number 11 on the Billboard chart during 1966). Ed Cobb also offered them a song called Tainted Love. The Standells turned it down.

So Ed Cobb took the song and recorded it with an R&B singer named Gloria Jones and it was released in 1968 on the Champion label. It did absolute nothing and sank into obscurity. Until the mid seventies that is, when it was rediscovered by the British Northern Soul movement and played almost to death, becoming one of the definining anthems of Northern Soul.

A digression on the subject of Gloria Jones. It was because of the success of her recording of Tainted Love on the Northern Soul that Gloria Jones came over to the UK, and it was because she was in the UK that she ended up with a job singing backing vocals for T Rex and hence met Marc Bolan etc etc. Whilst it is true that she was driving the yellow Mini on that fateful day in September 1977, she survived the crash and is very much alive and well.

Now two of the people who heard Gloria's Tainted Love being played at the Northern Soul clubs were Marc Almond and David Ball. When they later formed their own electro-pop band under the name of Soft Cell they decided to cut their own cover version. Producer Mike Thorne turned into a nine minute long extended dance mix segueing into another cover, Where Did Our Love Go, originally by the Supremes. From which was compliled a cut down shorter version of Tainted Love solus for radio.

This Soft Cell version of Tainted Love hit number one in the UK and was the biggest selling single of 1981. In the United States it reached number 4 in 1982 and stayed in the Billboard 100 for almost a year in total (a record at the time). It reached number 1 in another sixteen countries. In short, it made Soft Cell (and Ed Cobb) a shed load of money, and thereby continuing the grand old British tradition of making a small fortune exporting American music back to America.

Of course since then it has been recorded by lots of people including P J Proby, The Soul Preachers, Prozac+, and most recently by Marilyn Manson (although the less said about that the better, I think.) Of course, the Gloria Jones version is the version, a fast stomping piece of 'northern' soul against which all the others pale in comparison.

Oh yes the lyrics. The lyrics quoted for Tainted Love always seem to be the Soft Cell lyrics as sung by Marc Almond. Please be advised that this was not quite what Ed Cobb originally wrote. In particular what he wrote and Gloria Jones sang was;

And you think love is to play
But I'm sorry I don't play that way

Soft Cell changed this to pray, no doubt becaused it fitted their gothic flamboyant sexual world view (as befitted a band that recorded Sex Dwarf), but in the context of the song, it doesn't actually make any sense. They changed a couple of other things as well, "take not give" becomes "take my tears" for instance, but changing "play" to "pray" has always annoyed the heck out of me, in particular because everyone else has followed suit ever since.

In the UK the Gloria Jones Tainted Love is available on The Wigan Casino Story Volume 3 - The Final Chapter (Goldmine Soul Supply GSCS 90); for the US try Soul Shots, Vol. 3: Soul Twist (Rhino 75757) or Beg, Scream & Shout: The Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul (Rhino 72815). (Thanks to trainman for the US information.)

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