Who Wrote Soft Cell’s 1981 Hit “Tainted Love”?

When Marc Almond and David Ball formed Soft Cell, shortly after meeting while studying at Leeds Polytechnic art school in the late ’70s, the duo also began recording a number of cover songs. There was Frankie Valli’s 1972 song “The Night” — released decades later on Soft Cell’s 2002 album Cruelty Without Beauty — and “Tainted Love,” a song originally released by American soul singer Gloria Jones nearly two decades earlier.

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Released on Soft Cell’s 1981 debut, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, “Tainted Love” shot to No. 1 in the U.K. and peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Tinged in synth, Soft Cell’s reimagined “Tainted Love” became the soundtrack of new wave and synth-pop by the early ’80s. Soft Cell later released a cover of the 1964 Supremes’ hit “Where Did Our Love Go,” on their 1982 album, Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing, and their “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go” medley continues to run through the band’s set today.

Ed Cobb

Almond and Ball wrote a majority of the Soft Cell catalog together. The pair collaborated in the writing room on their 1981 debut Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, which also featured “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,” through Happiness Not Included in 2022. However, it was Ed Cobb, formerly of the 1950s pop quartet The Four Preps, who originally wrote “Tainted Love,” nearly 20 years earlier.

Earlier in the 1960s, Cobb was writing songs for Marvin Gaye (“Touch of Venus”), Brenda Halloway (“Every Little Bit Hurts”), and soul singer Gloria Jones.

After his recording career, Cobb managed and produced the garage rockers The Chocolate Watchband and ’60s “punks” The Standells. He was also writing songs for both groups. For The Standells, who were often considered the “punks” of the 1960s, Cobb penned four tracks for the band’s 1966 debut, Dirty Water. His writing credits include their Top 10 title track and “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White.” He continued writing and producing their later three albums through Try It in 1967.

Cobb also wrote and produced the early albums for The Chocolate Watchband, including tracks including “No Way Out,” “She Weaves a Tender Trap,” and “Sweet Young Thing.” He continued working as a producer, engineer and songwriter, and also collaborated with Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, and Steely Dan, throughout his career.

Gloria Jones

In 1964, Jones released “Tainted Love” as the B-side of her single “My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home.” Cobb also produced Jones’ 1966 debut, Come Go with Me, along with writing several songs on the album.

By the early 1970s, Jones’ earlier version of “Tainted Love” was getting played around the northern soul club circuit in England, which saw a re-emergence in the track. This led to her re-releasing it on Vixen, which also included several songs written by her boyfriend, the late T. Rex singer Marc Bolan, who also co-produced the album with her.

“Tainted Love” continued its rotation on the club scene into the late ’70s, and well across the pond. Ball, who was into northern soul at the time, first heard “Tainted Love” at a club in Blackpool. He then introduced Almond to Jones’ work and the song, which he immediately wanted to incorporate into their shows as an encore number.

“Dave loved northern soul and it was a novelty to have an electronic synthesizer band doing a soul song,” said Almond. “When we signed with our record company, they wanted to record it. They told us to put bass, guitar and drums on it as they said it was too odd.”

Almond continued, “They put it out anyway and the next thing it was gathering radio play and then it was number one. I was fascinated that it was originally by Gloria Jones, the girlfriend of Marc Bolan and I’d always been a T-Rex fan.”

Gloria Jones once said that she considered Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love” to be the best. “I loved the emotion in his voice,” said Jones. “Their version was far better than mine.”

Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns

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