Soft Cell was one of a new wave of British groups like Culture Club, Depeche Mode, and Human League that crafted their pop hits with electronic synthesizers and made sexually ambiguous clothing and a decadent lifestyle fashionable. The hit single “Tainted Love” drove the duo to fast and furious success, but also gave them a legacy as a “one-hit wonder.” They broke up just four years after forming, but the song stands as the symbol of an era. “No single tune is more emblematic of the 1980s than ’Tainted Love,’” critic Steve Greenlee wrote in the Boston Globe.“At the time it sounded like something you could do yourself using no more than a Casio keyboard with preprogrammed drum patterns. Today, it is no less than the sound that defined an era.”
Marc Almond and Dave Ball met in art school in Leeds, England, and formed Soft Cell in 1980. With Almond on vocals and Ball handling the keyboards and programming, the duo self-financed the release of their first EP Mutant Moments later that year. The release caught the attention of the Some Bizzare record label, which released the underground hit single “Memorabilia” in 1981. The group’s debut full-length album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, was a follow-up success, fueled by the wild popularity of its first hit, “Tainted Love,” the group’s sole number-one British hit, claiming the top spot in August of 1981. “Bed Sitter,” “Say Hello Wave Goodbye,” “Torch,” and “What” followed in the next year, all making it into the top five on the British charts. After its American release, “Tainted Love” hit only number eight. It stayed on the charts for a record-setting 43 weeks, however, and was inescapable on the radio. A remix album, Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing, followed in 1982.
The hit that made Soft Cell immensely and immediately famous was actually a remake. Almond and Ball were looking for a “throwaway cover song” to include on their debut album, Almond told Rolling Stone in 2000. “It had something sleazy and dark about it, and that fit into the whole Soft Cell world at the time.” The song was originally written in the 1960s by Ed Cobb, a member of the Four Preps. Singer Gloria Jones was the first to record the song in 1964. Her version of “Tainted Love” clearly reflected the Motown sound that defined the R&B of the era. Soft Cell’s remake of the song sounds very much like the Cobb’s. The original, however, is virtually unavailable and can only be found on the Rhino Records compilation Beg, Scream & Shout. Almond and Ball borrowed the “whoa-oh” backing vocals from another 1960s tune, “Heart Full of Soul” by the Yardbirds.
“Tainted Love” long outlived the group that made it a hit. It has been remade in metal style by Marilyn Man-son, done as industrial rock by the band Atrocity, rockabilly by the Corsairs, psychedelic alternative rock by Inspiral Carpets, smooth-jazz piano by David Benoit, and goth rock by the Spitting Angels. It has also been reworked into ska, Latin pop, vocal jazz, rap, and
Members include Marc Almond , vocals; Dave Ball , keyboards, programmer.
Group formed in Leeds, England, 1980; released selffinanced EP Mutant Moments, 1980; scored underground hit with “Memorabilia,” 1981; “Tainted Love” became a breakout hit in England and the United States, 1981; released popular debut LP, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, 1981; remix album, Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing, 1982; The Art of Falling Apart, 1983; duo disbanded; album This Last Night in Sodom released after breakup, 1984; Almond formed electro-soul groups Marc and the Mambas and Marc Almond and the Willing Sinners, 1980s; Almond pursued a solo career, late 1980s; Ball formed techno duo the Grid, 1988; pair reunited to play on an East London stage, 2001; released Cruelty Without Beauty, 2002.
Addresses: Record company—spinART Records, P.O. Box 1798, New York, NY 10156-1798.
a cappella versions. It has been featured in a jeans commercial and in the 1993 comedy Coneheads with Dan Ackroyd. Panelists on the VH1 show The List declared it the best one-hit wonder of all time. No matter what they do, the members of Soft Cell will forever be defined by the success of one hit single. “You’re lucky if you have one of those records in a lifetime…,” Ball told Wayne Hoffman in Billboard, “lucky, yet unlucky in other ways.”
“Tainted Love” was revived to glorious dancefloor success in 1999 by deejay Paul Rauhofer, a.k.a. Club 69. Billboard critic Chuck Taylor called the remix a “wickedly savage restructuring” and “the overhaul of a lifetime.” The song appeared on the albums Club 69 Future Mix 3 and Soft Cell: The 12” Singles that year. As soon as the remix was released, the newest version of “Tainted Love” was “a certified smash on global dancefloors,” Taylor declared.
Soft Cell’s 1983 release, Art of Falling Apart, was successful, but almost served as an prediction of what was to come. The group had fallen apart before the release of their 1984 album, This Last Night in Sodom. Both men maintain they never had any personal differences, but were driven apart by label and management problems.
Immediately after the group’s breakup, Almond formed electro-soul group Marc and the Mambas. He then formed Marc Almond and the Willing Sinners before pursuing a solo career in the late 1980s. He went on to have solo success in England with songs like “The Days of Pearly Spencer,” “Jacky,” and “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart,” a duet he recorded with 1960s pop singer Gene Pitney. He climbed back onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart in America with “Tears Run Rings” in 1989. He embarked on a solo world tour in 1999, with an American set consisting of solo material and Soft Cell hits. “Almond can still deliver the goods after a decade away from American stages,” critic George Paul wrote in the Orange County Register. “It was a welcome return to form.”
Almond published a book of poetry and lyrics, Beautiful Twisted Night, in 1999. He followed it two years later with End of New York, a book of his poetry about New York City that was accompanied by a CD of Almond reading his work. Ball was incommunicado until 1988, when he formed the techno duo the Grid with Richard Norris. The group had a minor hit in Britain in 1994 with “Swamp Thing,” and Ball went on to do remixes for such acts as the Pet Shop Boys and David Bowie.
After 17 years, Almond and Ball reunited as Soft Cell, playing three sold-out shows to celebrate the opening of a London nightclub called Ocean. They had collaborated on and off over the years, and even got together in the late 1990s to write new material. The Ocean shows were “an easy way for us to test the waters,” Ball said in an interview with Wayne Hoffman of Billboard. After their comeback success, they decided to forge ahead and work on a new album. “We launched the venue and launched ourselves at the same time,” Almond told Hoffman. In 2002 the group released Cruelty Without Beauty, their first album of new material in 18 years. Songs like “Sensation Nation,” about the media; “Monoculture,” about globalization; and “Together Alone,” about isolation; showcase the group’s talent for “creating sublime pop hooks and warm melodies out of the bitter, the sweet, and the melancholic,” critic Michael Paoletta wrote in his Billboard review. “Tracks like ‘All out of Love,’ ‘On an Up,’ and a cover of Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons’ ‘The Night,’” continued Paoletta, “demand immediate dancefloor action.”
Mutant Moments (EP), self-released, 1980.
Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, Sire, 1981; rereleased, spinART, 2002.
Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing, Sire, 1982.
Art of Falling Apart, Sire, 1983.
This Last Night in Sodom, Sire, 1984.
Down in the Subway, Alex, 1994.
Cruelty Without Beauty, spinART, 2002.
Billboard, January 30, 1999, p. 23; July 7, 2001, p. 19; October 12, 2002, p. 13, p. 20.
Boston Globe, February 8, 2002, p. C16.
New York Times, May 5, 2002, p. 2.1.
Orange County Register (California), November 23, 1999, p. F3.
Rolling Stone, December 7, 2000, p. 122.
“Soft Cell,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 20, 2003).
“Soft Cell Return to the Stage,” BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/1/low/entertainment/music/1221998.stm (February 20, 2003).
“Soft Cell’s Marc Almond,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/community/chat/2002-11-06-almond.htm (February 20, 2003).
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