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Soft Cell Put The Synths In Northern Soul With ‘Tainted Love’

Soft Cell put the synths in northern soul on 5 September 1981, when they took ‘Tainted Love’ to the top of the UK charts.

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In the 1960s, ‘Tainted Love’ was a specialist club favourite. In the early ‘80s, it was reborn as an early landmark of the electro-pop sound. On 5 September 1981, Soft Cell put the synths in northern soul and took the song to the top of the UK charts.

The song, written by Ed Cobb, was recorded in 1964 by Gloria Jones, the future girlfriend of Marc Bolan, and released the following year. Although it wasn’t a chart hit, the recording became a firm favourite on England’s northern soul club circuit. Then in 1981, the young duo of Marc Almond, from Southport, and Dave Ball, from Blackpool, came up with the idea of covering it in the newly emerging (and guitar-free) synthesiser pop sound.

Tainted Love Gloria Jones

Almond and Ball had met at Leeds Art College and been making music together for a couple of years, and it was Ball who knew the ‘Tainted Love’ original. “Dave introduced me to the record,” Almond later remembered. “I loved it so much, and we wanted an interesting song for an encore number in our show. Dave loved northern soul and it was a novelty to have an electronic synthesiser band doing a soul song.”

Soft Cell’s version was released in July 1981 and started to pick up UK airplay. It charted within a couple of weeks and made a rapid 26-9-2 climb. On the chart of 5 September, it started a two-week run at the top, taking over from Aneka’s ‘Japanese Boy.’

With a 30-week chart run, ‘Tainted Love’ became the song of Soft Cell’s career, establishing their name and helping their subsequent first album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret to become a big seller. Then something perhaps even more sensational happened when the single was released in America: it reached No. 8 and created a new chart longevity record at the time by spending an incredible 43 weeks on the Hot 100. UK sales of the single now stand at around 1.3 million.

The career-spanning 9CD+DVD Soft Cell box set, Keychains And Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story, is out on 7 September and can be ordered here.

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