A friend and reader turned me on to a great musical arc that is right in Music Now & Then’s wheelhouse. Thanks, David!
In 1964, Motown singer Gloria Jones recorded “Tainted Love”. The song was a B-side and didn’t get much attention (nor did the A-side), but in the early 1970’s it started to turn up in British “Northern Soul” dance clubs.
Marc Almond, half of the synthpop duo Soft Cell, heard the song in such a club and made it part of Soft Cell’s live sets after the group formed in 1977. When Soft Cell released the song as a single in 1981, it catapulted the band to fame. It was a No. 1 hit in 17 countries (No. 8 in the U.S.), and spent a then record 43 weeks in the top 100.
The song was later covered by an unlikely collection of musical acts ranging from Marilyn Manson to Pussycat Dolls. Check out this article for a sampling. The Soft Cell version was also the driving sample for Rihanna’s first #1 single in the U.S., “SOS”, released in 2006. Believe it or not, this video has been viewed 115 million times.
If you have another five minutes, hear the story of “Tainted Love” as told by Gloria Jones herself, and learn about her relationship with one of last week’s 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
As we step back from our usual flag-waving, fireworks-filled celebrations of America, this year’s subdued Fourth of July feels appropriate as we question the functioning of our nation and how its promise has gone unfulfilled for so many after twelve score and four years. The tension between America’s promise and reality has been explored in some great music.
Of his song “American Tune”, Paul Simon said, “I don’t write overtly political songs, although ‘American Tune’ comes pretty close.” Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on, I wonder what’s gone wrong.I can’t help but wonder, what’s gone wrong. Here’s a live performance recorded a couple of years after the song’s 1973 release.
An iconic song about the reality of America, in this case from the perspective of Vietnam veterans, is Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”. The anthemic chorus contrasted with the story line reminds you of why Springsteen is for many of us, America’s true poet laureate.
Jimi Hendrix was the final performer at Woodstock on the morning of August 18, 1969. His set included a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” which drew controversy, as it wove sounds of sirens, explosions, wails of pain and a few bars of “Taps” into the national anthem. Performed during one of the most turbulent eras in America’ history, it’s hard to imagine an instrumental performance delivering more complex meaning.
A more recent take on America’s promise vs. reality is Rihanna’s 2015 “American Oxygen”. Written by an international collaboration of artists from the U.S., Great Britain, and South Africa, along with Barbadian Rihanna, it is regarded that she brought to the song a mix of hurt and hope from the perspective of a black woman come to America. Here she is performing it on Saturday Night Live.