It happened by sheer coincidence.
On the way to the farmer’s market car with my dad, we stumbled upon a radio station that played college acapella group covers of famous songs. After listening to a little over half an hour worth of songs, more than a few covers both struck us as dull or simply not a good song to cover acapella, but, all it took was one offending earworm to ignite my curiosity.
Everyone — or at least everyone who grew up on soft rock radio — has heard the song “Tainted Love.” Indeed, I feel as though most people, regardless of music taste, would agree that it is a good song. However, all it took was the most technical and passionless acapella cover of the song to enrage me.
Complaining to my dad, I remember saying something along the lines of: “How could anyone have the nerve to cover that song without any soul? Without any oomph?”
I was angry. This anger quickly morphed into curiosity, as my dad and I found ourselves asking each other whether or not we knew who sang the original “Tainted Love,” as well as the version most people hear on the radio.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t know, and an impromptu google search quickly told us that the original “Tainted Love,” dates back to the 1960s, and the hit cover back to the 80s.
The soulful, jazzy sound of the original “Tainted Love,” written and sung by Gloria Jones, while markedly different from its contemporary cover, seemed to heavily inspired Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, in his dynamic rendition of the song.
However, both my dad and I had — maybe along with everyone else — heard the radio version of the 80s cover, so, I decided to pull up a live recording of the song.
As I pulled up the recording of Soft Cell’s 1980 band demo on YouTube and pressed play, I suddenly felt myself say, “Oh.” The song opens on the set of a TV appearance, with Soft Cell singer, Marc Almond, clad in leather from head to toe, as he dances and claps to a synthesized techno beat.
The various looks Almond has throughout the video were undeniably 80s — the first included a military style leather hat that covered one of his black lined eyes and matched his black leather vest, the second, a black sleeveless tank top, with a bandana that covered his long black bangs — that gave off a glam punk vibe.
This, of course, is when it finally clicked. “Oh,” I said, realizing that Almond is gay. Social and visual cues aside, through Wikipedia verification; I found that my gut feeling was correct.
Suddenly I was elated.
As a gender-nonconforming butch lesbian, it’s extremely validating and empowering to see a gender non-conforming feminine gay man attain such enormous success for a song that clearly communicates his gayness.
And I think, for a lot of gay people, when we realize that a famous song, especially one that has overt erotic undertones, is sung by an artist who is also gay, it’s a liberating experience. When I connected the song with the face, I felt a connection to Almond.
Upon further digging, I learned he was not a one-hit wonder, and that, over 30 years later, he is still just as gender-nonconforming, feminine, gay, and successful. And frankly, it gives me hope. If he can be just as overtly gay and still find success throughout his career, then maybe one day I can too.