Tangents: Vaudeville, The Alien Franchise, And ‘Tainted Love’

I don’t generally keep abreast of all things hit parade. Those records generating serious, mainstream radio play – the lowest-common denominator smeared across the FM dial; disposable pop music delivered via a medium rapidly hurtling towards anachronism –  they don’t mean a great deal in the LGM compound. Because I’m no longer fifteen. Not target audience. At the age my parents were when Culture Club first appeared on Top Of The Pops – ‘Karma Chameleon’ mimed to a viewing public forced to reassess their lazy preconceptions around gender identity. A nation of early evening living rooms:  “Is that a man? He can’t be a man, surely? He’s not dressed like a man”. A conversation my parents were no exception to – and if anyone out there knows whether Boy George is a he or a she, please do get in touch; I’ve been desperate to know since 1984. 

The mainstream has never had a great reputation for fully appreciating androgyny. Both drag and camp, with their vaudevillian inflexions, have been an element of the cultural lexicon since before the invention of mass media. Indeed, you could piece together a convincing argument that both drag and camp are understood specifically because these are constructs that exist within well-known, formulaic boundaries. Put a man in a frock on a stage, and consensus opinion will decode it as a man in a  frock on a stage –  even if suspension of belief or dramatic effect suggest differently. You’re conscious that the pantomime dame hamming it up onstage at the Morecambe Winter Gardens is a man in a frock. It’s passive, something that conforms to easily-assimilated, socio-cultural patterns. 

Androgyny in a wider context, however, remains something more challenging when canvassing mass-market engagement. Now, I’m no sociologist; I shouldn’t be drifting off too far into territory I’m not necessarily qualified to pontificate upon. Also: this is deeper subject matter than the usual few hundred music-related words, chucked towards an internet far more concerned with pictures of cute kittens. Brevity is the watchword these days – so I’ll let this particular tangent hang for now. Subject matter to be revisited (or merely hustled across to genuine sociologists to pick apart…)

*****

I don’t generally keep abreast of all things hit parade. Should some cutting edge band of teenagers dressed as hookers or Sturmabteilung or Gore Vidal’s ghost (or however it is that the kids are attired these days) release a cover of ‘Tainted Love’, or sample any of the previous cover versions of ‘Tainted Love’, chances are I’d remain oblivious.

All I know is that the bass-heavy car stereo infiltrating the calm of a Glasgow evening last night was vouching for some bastardized version of the familiar riff the song is constructed around; and, following the theory of ever decreasing returns, we’re probably due another version even more moribund than the last god-awful reinvention we were furnished with.

‘Tainted Love’, the Alien franchise of the music world (before the Prometheus reboot, natch).

As my Culture Club reference above implies, I’m of an era where first encounter with the song was courtesy of Soft Cell (if your first encounter is the Marilyn Manson attempt – you’re probably up past your bedtime). There’ll be quite some mileage in examining the androgynous undertones to everything Marc Almond – I’m beginning to collect topics that deserve something far greater in scope and tone than flippant words and flapping tangents, so I’ll file that thought away for future use, too.

Instead, I’ll just pine that it wasn’t the original version of the song that first arrived across perception. Gloria Jones was actually responsible fore the first cover of this, on her 1976 album Vixen during the high tide of Northern Soul era. Diminishing returns (plus covering the track that made you famous in the first place) dictate that this isn’t a patch on version number one, released as a B-side to the slightly less celebrated ‘My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home” in 1965. Don’t accept pale imitations.

Tainted Love / Gloria Jones

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Comments
4 Responses to “Tangents: Vaudeville, The Alien Franchise, And ‘Tainted Love’”
  1. Gloria Jones eh? This is the version I heard before the Soft Cell one. For some reason I thought it was that other old drag queen, Sylvester that had had a hit with it. Still have the Soft Cell single (+the 12″ version; and a couple of others including the Mutant Moments EP). I like when it comes on the radio when I’m driving… a good tune. As for Boy George -whom I’ve always found to be very witty- I always remember his little anecdote about when a homosexual said to him in a bar: “It’s because of people like you that I got beaten up for wearing a Gay Pride badge” and Boy George replying “Stop whining, I get beaten up for wearing a Mother’s Pride one.” (or summat similar).
    Danny La Rue ever do a cover of Tainted Love?

    • Alas my parents weren’t ‘with it’ enough to mainline decent pseudo-Motown stuff when I was wee. So Soft Cell on an otherwise indistinct suburban English evening it was. Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret still works as an album. The record that went under the Marc and the Mambas banner is even better. Future blog material me thinks.

  2. Parental music taste legacy. Even now The Carpenter’s Greatest Hits brings me out in hives.

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