The year is 1982. The airwaves are conquered by slick, highly produced pop-rock: Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s get Physical”; Survivor’s “Eye the the Tiger”’ Joan Jett’s “I Love rock ’n Roll.”

Into this guitar-heavy slurry come an arresting—and catchy!—song around abuse and paranoia: “Tainted Love.” The artist is Soft Cell, one English duo consisting of singer Marc Almond and also multi-instrumentalist David Ball. The spare, digital production each other nothing else climate on the airwaves, and also after a quick spell in the reduced rungs the the us Billboard warm 100, that climbs to number 8, in complete spending a record-breaking 43 mainly on the chart.

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What many of the perplexed American radio audience didn’t then understand was the the song was a cover, having first been tape-recorded in 1964 by a then-little-known American artist, Gloria Jones, that would go on come re-record the in 1976, in effect covering herself. And while neither of her versions would certainly make any affect on the charts, the story of this agonized song would enfold a long, strange string of figures from the bowels of rock history.

“Tainted Love” was composed by Ed Cobb, a shadowy figure in American rock and also pop in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Initially a member that squeaky-clean vocal group The 4 Preps, he was currently gravitating towards production by the time he battered the team in 1966.

Cobb could merely have joined the ranks of many other songwriters and also producers plying the financially rewarding byways the ‘60s pop, however here his career took a distinctive left turn. Quite than capitalizing on the family-friendly harmonies the Preps had helped pioneer, he sought out darker, harder-edged bands choose the Standells—who took his tune “Dirty Water” come number 11 on the Billboard singles chart—and the coco Watchband, who blend of garage and psychedelic styles inspired many fuzzed-out imitators.

Cobb additionally dabbled in R & B and also soul. In addition to “Tainted Love,” he wrote Brenda Holloway’s 1964 hit “Every tiny Bit Hurts.” That song would walk on come be one of the most-covered of the genre, subsequent versions being recorded by the tiny Faces, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton, the Spencer Davis Group, the Clash, the Jam, and Alicia Keys.

Gloria Jones, meanwhile, had actually no such luck through her initial recording that “Tainted Love.” that a shame, too; that very first version is a classic soul stomper, ripping v a thumbnail lay out of sadomasochistic love in 2 minute 19 seconds. Jones videotaped an album and also a couple of more singles before pursuing an advanced degree in piano, with a emphasis on the works of J.S. Bach.

But the music industry wasn’t rather done with Jones. Her job-related as a backing singer and also songwriter led her to English glam superstar Marc Bolan the T. Rex, through whom she began a romantic relationship in the beforehand 1970s. Tragically, it to be Jones that was behind the wheel of Bolan’s BMC Mini when it left the road and hit a tree in the at an early stage hours the September 16, 1977, killing Bolan instantly.

But Bolan’s influence on Jones would certainly live ~ above in the form of a 2nd version the “Tainted Love,” which that had produced the previous year. English club DJ Richard Searling had brought a copy of the original single back to England in 1973, whereby it had actually quickly become a favourite in the booming underground north Soul scene. Sadly for Jones, her 2nd version had also less that an affect than had actually the first, perhaps owing to Bolan’s slick ‘70s manufacturing rounding off several of the original’s appealing stormy edges.

But the human being wasn’t quite done through “Tainted Love.” Having discovered the song through the north Soul scene, the Soft cell duo radically reworked it, stripping away the percussive and also horn-spiked gloss to disclose the desperation at its core. Producer Mike Thorne—who had already produced Wire’s essential an initial three albums, amongst many others—is neat in his assessment:

“You could smell the coke on that second, north Soul version, the was really so over-amped and so frantic. That was an excellent for the run floor, yet I didn’t like the record…when Soft cell performed the track I heard a an extremely novel sound and also a really nice voice, so off we went.”

Although “Tainted Love” would represent Soft cell commercial high-water mark, the song, as they say, persists. Its moody and stark digital sound—devoid of virtually any acoustic tools save Almond’s voice and the band’s snaps and also handclaps—influenced a generation that would-be synth-balladeers.

Some 35+ years after it to be recorded, Soft cell’s version remains in semi-regular rotation ~ above rock and pop radio. If it when sounded the end of place amid the bloated rock productions that the early ‘80s, the longevity is a testimony not just to that directness and also forward-thinking production, but to Gloria Jones’ impassioned delivery, and songwriter Ed Cobb’s knack because that bringing dark, troubling product to the previously safe pastures of pop radio.

Hear our 5 favorite various other covers the “Tainted Love” here.

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