Non-Stop Associative Cabaret

Because it's fun for me to write, let's take a little walk down Association Lane!

So, most people are at least aware of the 80s hit, "Tainted Love" by the synth-pop group Soft Cell. It is still regularly played on the radio, and included on almost every 80s compilation one might find as a quintessential song of the era. Certainly it is, with trademark synth organs and horns, digital drum sounds, and whiny, emotional lyrics.

However, most people are not aware that it is a cover-song. The song was originally sung by Gloria Jones, a "northern soul" singer who recorded the original version in 1964. The lyrics are much the same, except the original, "I've given you all a girl can give you," is switched to the oh-so 80s appropriate "Ive given you all a boy can give you." Very emo, very goth, very hip. Look at those two hipsters. They love the 80s.

And I guess that they did. They recorded the album in the height of the New York gay clubs scene of the 80s, hence the title, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, which of course no one knows because they are mostly into the single. They, and especially the singer, Marc Almond, also loved the gay club scene. Besides "Tainted Love" being sampled by Rihanna, which many people are familiar with, the song was also covered by the 80s industrial (and also flamboyantly gay) group Coil, for use on the first AIDS benefit album ever in 1984. Coil's video from this cover is purportedly on permanent display in the MOMA in New York.

Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret had videos as well, including the famous video for "Sex Dwarf" that was banned in the UK for including, among a few other things, mutilated corpses and sex dwarves. "Sex Dwarf" is a pretty awesome song, and is representative of the fact that the rest of the album is just as good and sometimes better than the smash single. I would also recommend the opening track, "Frustration". Here are a sample of the lyrics:

"I have a life
I have a cage
I'm going bald
I want to tell the world
I've done nothing
I've acheived nothing
I work for a firm
I want to burn it down
I am so ordinary


Very gothic 80s. In fact, with the whole Cabaret theme, this is almost a concept album for gay/non-mainstream life in the early 80s. Except that it wasn't an intentional concept, only the aesthetic of the time, which makes the album even more remarkable as a fragment of 1980s Western culture. Much more remarkable than the oft-repeated cover single would seem.

Another interesting thing is that the B-side of the "Tainted Love" 7" single was another cover, "Where Did Our Love Go?" originally recorded by the Supremes. The 12" mix was a compilation of both these songs, and an edit of this mix is what is normally recognized as the song. This pairing of two hit soul songs from 1964 recorded by black female vocalists, now covered in 1981 by a gay synth-pop duo, could again be seen as a curious cultural indicator. In the days of the Civil Rights movement and SNCC, the music charts were being overwhelmed by black artists talents. In July 1981 Soft Cell released their versions, a month after what would be labeled the official beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and the year before the disease would be, albeit briefly, called "Gay-Related Immune Deficiency". Two minority groups were being persecuted at the times when their cultural contribution to music was at one of its highest points.

And, because there were two covers on the Soft Cell single, the duo received very little in the way of royalties for their smash hit. Normally a cover single is paired with an original to bring in money for the group, but poor business planning led to the historic cultural fact of this release.

It's funny how culture is related. Or, perhaps unfunny, depending how you look at it, or whether you like Soft Cell.

In other, more specious conspiracy related connections, Gloria Jones was the girlfriend of the lead singer of T. Rex, another groundbreaking 80s group. She was actually driving the Austin Mini that he was in when he was killed in an auto accident. Despite never learning to drive, he had prophesied his death (perhaps tongue-in-cheek, perhaps not), and often discussed his fear of cars in conversation and in song.

Sex Dwarves!

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