(real) one-hit wonder of the week – “Tainted Love” | SOFT CELL | 1981 / 1982.

Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Gary Numan, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers.  Once a week, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.

It occurred to me this past weekend (4.8-9.2017) that it’s been nearly three months since I shared a (real) one-hit wonder from the 80s with you!  So, I thought I’d share one of THE biggest – “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell.

When “Tainted Love” came to my attention around Xmas 1981, there was nothing tainted about it.  I really loved that song from the start.  Soft Cell’s Synthpop / New Wave sound was unique, not to mention very cool.  And, strangely enough, it took me years, right up through adulthood, to realize “Tainted Love” was NOT written by Soft Cell, but was in fact a cover of an R&B song from 1964.

gloria jones tainted

Written and produced by Ed Cobb, “Tainted Love” was first recorded by R&B singer / songwriter Gloria Jones, who was in her late teens at the time.  Ed Cobb, who was with the popular quartet, The Four Preps (who had a couple of big hits back in the late 1950s), discovered Gloria Jones, and she signed with his production company.

NERDY FUN FACT: The baritone member of The Four Preps, Glen Larson (who passed away in 2014), would be best known as a television producer, writer and creator of some of the favorite shows of my youth – including BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, MAGNUM, P.I. and KNIGHT RIDER. 

glen A larson

Gloria Jones, the original voice of “Tainted Love,” joined the Glam Rock band, T. Rex, in 1973, and was the girlfriend of the band’s charismatic leader, Marc Bolan.  Gloria and Marc also had a child in 1975.  Sadly, early in the morning of September 16, 1977, she was driving the car that crashed and killed Marc Bolan.    It was ruled an accidental death. 

Bolan & Jones

T. Rex’s Marc Bolan and the original voice of “Tainted Love,” Gloria Jones.

While Gloria Jones had some success here in her American homeland, in Northern England, she was incredibly popular, and she was labeled as the “Northern Queen Of Soul.”  Marc Almond, the vocal half of Soft Cell, once heard the original “Tainted Love” in a nightclub in Northern England, and was inspired to rework it.

The duo of Soft Cell was formed in Leeds, England in 1977, consisting of singer Marc Almond and multi-instrumentalist David Ball.  Like many bands and recording artists early in their careers, Soft Cell’s first few years were not successful.  They twice-released their memorable song, “Memorabilia,” in the first part of 1981, but the best they could muster was a No. 35 ranking on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart with the second release.  When Marc and David decided to record a cover of “Tainted Love,” however, the music world as they knew it would change forever.    

For Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love” (which appears on their debut album, NON-STOP EROTIC CABARET), they reworked the song from a Soulful, fast arrangement to a slower tempo, replacing horns, bass, drums and guitars with synthesizers.  Soft Cell’s record label released “Tainted Love” in the U.K. on July 7, 1981, and would have been their last single if it didn’t do well.  Suffice it to say, it was NOT their last record.

non-stop erotic cabaret

“Tainted Love” was so popular, in fact, that it reached No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart about two months after its release, spending two weeks on top, and was the biggest-selling song in the U.K. for all of 1981.

Around the globe, “Tainted Love” was a monster hit, reaching No. 1 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, and South Africa, and reaching the Top 10 in Austria, France, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

tainted love 7

The U.S. singles chart history for “Tainted Love” is like chart nerd heaven, especially for this chart nerd.  “Tainted Love” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 90 in mid-January 1982.  Less than a month in, it started losing steam, and by the end of February 1982, it fell from a peak of No. 64 all way down to No. 100.

Well, after staying at No. 100 for a couple of weeks (which almost never happens, by the way), “Tainted Love” started climbing the chart again.  Two months after debuting on the Hot 100, it was back to its debut position of No. 90.  By the end of March 1982, it had climbed back up to its peak position of No. 64. 

And it continued to climb.  By mid-April 1982, it had reached No. 50, the halfway point of the Hot 100, but the following week, it lost its chart “bullet” (which notates a significant gain).  But, as it had seemed to peaked for a second time, it kept climbing, and by late May 1982, in its 19th week on the Hot 100, it finally debuted in the Top 40.  (To make a comparison, the 1983 No. 1 song by Billy Joel, “Tell Her About It,” spent just 18 weeks in its entire chart run.)

In mid-July 1982, six months and one week after debuting on the Hot 100, “Tainted Love” reached its actual peak position of No. 8, where it stayed for two weeks.  A couple of months later, in its 36th chart week, “Tainted Love” was nearly off the chart, falling to No. 99.  But, for another incredible seven weeks (or nearly two months), it continued to hang on in the lower region of the Hot 100, spending its last five weeks on the chart all at No. 97. 

On the BILLBOARD Hot 100 chart dated November 13, 1982, “Tainted Love” was finally gone after 43 weeks, setting a new (then) chart record for most weeks spent on the Hot 100, a record it would hold onto for seven years, when a 1989 re-release of Moving Pictures’ 1982 / 1983 Top 30 hit, “What About Me,” spent 17 weeks on the chart, matching the 43-week run of “Tainted Love.”  The incredibly long run for “Tainted Love” placed it quite high on the year-end BILLBOARD Hot 100 chart, and it ranked at No. 11 for all of 1982.

The current BILLBOARD Hot 100 longevity holder (and prolly will be for all time) is by the Las Vegas, NV Pop / Rock band, Imagine Dragons, and their 2012 / 2013 / 2014 hit, “Radioactive.”  It spent an unthinkable 87 weeks on the Hot 100 (well over a year and a half), and is currently THE best-selling Rock song in the history of digital downloads.

tainted love US 12

The 12” single version of “Tainted Love” featured an awesome nine-minute medley of “Tainted Love” and The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?”  I should know, because it was the first 12” single I ever bought.  Other folks seemed to like it too, as it reached No. 4 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.  The medley of the two covers was so popular that an edited version of the medley was serviced to radio stations, and years later, to the public.

One of the cool things about “Tainted Love” is that, despite two failed attempts at making “Memorabilia” a hit, Soft Cell put “Memorabilia” as the “Tainted Love” B-side.  So, in a way, this great song finally got its due. 

tainted love US 12 BACK

Though Marc Almond and David Ball would not chart again on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (their No. 3 hit, “What!” came close, reaching No. 101), they would go on to have five more Top 5 songs in the U.K., and six other U.K. Top 40 hits through 2003. 

what!

Away from Soft Cell, singer Marc Almond has released a whopping 21 solo studio albums and eight live albums between 1984 and 2015, not including compilations or EPs.  On the U.K. singles chart, he spent four weeks at No. 1 (with the late Gene Pitney) on “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart,” a 1989 reworking of a song Gene Pitney himself released in 1967.  Marc sure had a penchant for cover songs, and another 1967 hit he covered reached No. 4 on the U.K. singles chart for him in 1992 – “The Days Of Pearly Spencer.”  Marc’s gorgeous reworking is from his 1991 album, TENEMENT SYMPHONY.

tenement symphony

The other half of Soft Cell, David Ball, released his own album, IN STRICT TEMPO, in 1983, and has worked as a producer and / or remixer for folks like David Bowie  and Pet Shop Boys.

david ball in strict tempo

Soft Cell broke up in 1984, and again in 1992, and reunited for a tour in 2001.  According to Marc Almond’s website, HITS AND PIECES – THE BEST OF MARC ALMOND AND SOFT CELL, is available now and is the first comprehensive Marc Almond and Soft Cell singles album since 1991, and features a new single, “A Kind Of Love.” 

hits + pieces

The legacy of Soft Cell continues today, with their huge cover of “Tainted Love” appearing in a number of films, TV shows and commercials (remember that cool emergency room-set, Spike Jonze-directed Levi’s commercial from 1996?).  Plus, their version of “Tainted Love” has been, in turn, covered by acts like Impedance, Marilyn Manson, Flying Pickets, Inspiral Carpets, The Pussycat Dolls, Paul Young and Straight No Chaser.  Their song “Memorabilia” has been covered by Nine Inch Nails and their “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” has been brilliantly covered by Nouvelle Vague and David Gray (whose incredible cover – one of the best I’ve heard – clocks in at nine minutes, about four minutes longer than the Soft Cell original).

david gray

Thinking back, it may have taken me awhile to realize “Tainted Love” wasn’t originally a Soft Cell song, but thinking now, there’s no mistaking that it was indeed Soft Cell who made “Tainted Love” their own…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UARn9GLnhow

soft cell 82

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