Like most of you who visit here (my demographic stats tell no lies), I was the perfect age for 80’s pop. At the time I kinda took it for granted that the charts would always be filled with million-selling hit singles with shelf lives longer than the queue for a fake ‘Frankie Says…’ t-shirt at Saltcoats Market.
I spent the decade convincing myself that the era was rubbish for music – with the odd obvious exception, a million-selling single was no guarantee that it was any good. Living in the 80s just wasn’t fair. My parents watched wide-eyed as the 60s unfolded right in front of them (unbelievably, much of it unfolded while they were in a pub stubbornly listening to or playing folk music. Yeah, yeah, yeah), and cool folk from school with groovy uncles or elder brothers and sisters had a gateway into the eclecticism of the 70s, but what did I have that was exclusively mine? Spandau Ballet? Amazulu? The Art Company? Living in the eye of the norm, it was all bland rubbish really, but when you cast a misty-eyed look backwards nowadays, it’s plain to see the 80’s might not have been half as bad as we convinced ourselves they were. Granted, the music soundtracked a depressing time in which to be a teenager; Thatcher’s self-prophesising comment that ‘there’s no such thing as society anymore’ was splitting the country into haves and have nots, and with mass unemployment, little prospect for school leavers and inner city unrest (thankfully, this never made it to the mean streets of Irvine) for the millions of have nots, it was truly a shite time to be alive. But the circumstances led to some of the greatest ever music – ‘our’ generation’s music; The Specials, The Smiths, you know them all….
Soft Cell‘s 1981 take on Tainted Love remains just one reminder of how decent the 80s actually were for music. At the time, Tainted Love was nothing more than a non-political catchy single, something that Bruno Brookes played between Swords Of A Thousand Men and Kim Wilde’s Cambodia, something that Steve Wright played before Mr Angry, something that Kid Jensen played immediately after the latest Teardrop Explodes session. You might want to cross-reference artists and release dates here, but I’m sure you catch my drift. Tainted Love was everywhere. Minimalist electro-lite and bouncy, with mysterious gassy hisses every now and again, it was infectious and catchy and even now as I type, it was clearly instantly memorable. Did I as an 11 year old spot the mild whiff of submissive, dangerous, homo-erotic je ne sais quoi emanating from Marc Almond. Of course not! Marc Almond was a pop star. It was his job to dress funny, jaunty leather joy-boy cap or not. Just ask Adam Ant, a man who’s make-up-caked face plastered my bedroom wall, much to my dad’s unease. I doubt he’d ever heard those Marc Almond stomach-pumping rumours, given the enthusiasm by which he cheerily battered the dashboard of our Ford Cortina – “Sometimes I feel I’ve got to (thump thump!!) run away!” – whenever Tainted Love parped it’s way out of the tinny AM radio.
Here‘s the super-extended 12″ version, where Tainted Love breaks down into the band’s skeletal yet soulful take on The Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go?
Soft Cell – Tainted Love (12″ version)
I suspect I wasn’t alone in thinking Soft Cell’s version of Tainted Love was the original. It would be a few years later before I discovered the truth (mid 60’s brass-led stirring soul stomper, Gloria Jones, Marc Bolan, etc etc) and when I did, wow!, a whole new world opened up for me. Why couldn’t my mum and dad have been listening to this instead of Hamish Imlach in 1964? Eh? EH?!?
Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
Here‘s Inspiral Carpets‘ version. Unfairly relegated to 2nd Division Madchester also-rans, early Inspirals were a riot of bowl cuts, bass players called Bungle and badly-rhymed beat-driven garage punk. Easily identifiable by Clint Boon’s skirling Farfisa, many of those early tunes still endure to this day, in my house at least. A proper Plain Or Pan piece must surely be in the offing (I was supposed to be interviewing Tom Hingley recently, but that’s a whole story in itself), but until then, here’s their menacing attempt on Tainted Love, recorded to celebrate 40 years of the NME, a mag (free nowadays) that’s somehow in its 64th year. That’s a pension and a gold watch in old money is it not?
Inspiral Carpets – Tainted Love