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Tainted Love

Soft Cell


TAINTED LOVE is an example for a song which got no broader attention until a cover recording hurled it onto the top of the pop chart lists worlwide. It was the New Wave production by Soft Cell and their producer Mike Thorne that forged a world hit from a seventeen year-old song. Hence, the Soft Cell version represents a strategy of re-recording increasingly practised since the 1970's, in which a cover record means a modified transformation of the original recording (or composition) with regard to arrangement, structure, style and, most notably, sound.

I. Origin
TAINTED LOVE was originally composed by the songwriter, producer and Four Prep member Ed Cobb in 1964 and recorded in the same year by Gloria Jones, a former background singer for Elvis Presley. In 1981, the English New Wave band Soft Cell – aka the two art students Marc Almond (vocals, percussion) and Dave Ball (synthesizer, percussion) – recorded a new version of the song with Mike Thorne and Paul Hardiman producing. "It was one of those dream sessions where everything worked", Thorn recalls. "Everything we reached for seemed to fit effortlessly, whether it was the surprisingly effective horn sustain in the middle or the classic 'bink.' Time passed very pleasantly, and very energetically." (StereoSociety [28. April 2009]).

II. Context
In collaboration with her boyfriend Marc Bolan from T-Rex, Gloria Jones recorded TAINTED LOVE a second time in 1975. It failed once again on the pop market, but nevertheless this recording marks the critical moment in which the song became a worldwide hit. It had crossed the Atlantic and subsequently circulated in the British underground. This was how the young art students Marc Almond and Dave Ball heard TAINTED LOVE for the first time, in 1980. Their own band project, the New Wave duo Soft Cell, had just conquered the same underground scene with an acid-style piece of music called Memorabilia produced by Mute Records producer Daniel Miller. In 1981 Soft Cell signed a Phonogram Records contract for their first single: TAINTED LOVE.

III. Analysis
For the Soft Cell version, producer Mike Thorne could revert to one of the rare first digital synclaviers, well known from Frank Zappa's recordings, which he combined with a simple Roland drum machine and the band's own synthesizer. Thorne, Almond and Ball take over nearly all the essential elements of the original song; the melody, the chords, the lyrics, the song structure, the length. Even most details – e.g. the strengthening of the lead voice by background voices at the end of the specific verse-ends – are kept without important changes. An effective modification is the transposition of the lead voice and the bass line around a fourth downwards. The Soft Cell version moves in a noticeably darker register and at the same time permits fuller bass sounds. Even more remarkable is Soft Cell's use of an analogue synthesizer. Together with the added floating chord pads this dislocates the song into a soft, synthetic sound sphere in which the vocals, similar to the strongly reverberant snare drum, are produced with much more hall effect and more clearly positioned in the foreground. The hit-making ingredients of Soft Cell's arrangement are surely the opening triplets in the synthesizer. Like a crescendo fanfare they lead to the two-bar bass-pattern which opens the song. Soft Cell's recording continuously syncopates the last note in the fourth measure, phrasing it off-beat. Thus, the bass generates an intense rhythmic energy and at the same time constructs an important counterbalance to the on-beats played by the synthesizer every second bar of the verse. And the syncopated bass corresponds with other off-beat elements: the irregular 'bink-bink' sound and the snare leave the pattern several times, and add further off-beat notes between the main accents. This 'bink-bink,' one of the most significant sound ideas of Soft Cell's recording, appears in three irregularly played variations which constantly maintain the tension.

V. Reception
The 1964 recording of Gloria Jones did not encounter a success and Jones decided to retire from her solo career and work as a songwriter for Motown Records, writing songs for such artists as Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and the Commodores. In contrast, the 1981 disco synth-pop version of Soft Cell reached the top of the single charts in 17 countries and remained for no less than 43 weeks in the US-charts. TAINTED LOVE and the matching album, Non Stop Erotic Cabaret, turned Soft Cell into world stars. No surprise, that the song was very often covered; one of the best cover recordings in the 2000's maybe Marilyn Manson's hardrock-version of 2001. Rihanna's major hit of 2006, "S.O.S. (Rescue Me)", a recording produced by Jay-Z and interpreted by Rihanna, significantly bases upon and samples the Soft Cell version.

 

CHRISTIAN BIELEFELDT 

 

References

  • Ehnert, Günter (Hg.): Hit Guide. US Chart Singles 1950-2005. Hamburg: Taurus Press 2006 (CD-ROM).
  • Bielefeldt, Christian / Pendzich, Marc: Spot checks of pop history. The cover recordings of STAND BY ME and Tainted Love. In: Original und Kopie (= Lied und Populäre Kultur. Jahrbuch des Deutschen Volksliedarchivs 56). Hg. von Nils Grosch und Fernand Hörner. Münster: Waxmann 2011, S. 97-111.

 

Links

  • Tingen, Paul: Secrets of the Mix Engineer: Phil Tan. In: Sound On Sound, Oktober 2007: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb07/articles/insidetrack_0207.htm [19.12.2011].
     
  • Artist Homepage: http://www.marcalmond.co.uk/ [19.12.2011].
  • Database: http://www.discogs.com/artist/Soft+Cell [19.12.2011].
  • Download: http://itunes.apple.com/de/artist/soft-cell/id140394 [19.12.2011].
  • Music Video: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x150bm_soft-cell-tainted-love_music [19.12.2011].
  • Lyrics: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/s/soft_cell/tainted_love.html [19.12.2011].

 

About the Author
Dr. Christian Bielefeldt works as a music teacher in Zurich.

 

Citation
Christian Bielefeldt: "Tainted Love (Soft Cell)". In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/taintedlove, 11/2011 [revised 10/2013].

 

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zuletzt verändert: 19.06.2014 20:45
 

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