softcell_LEAD

Incubated on the Northern England soul circuit in the 70s when it was a Gloria Jones’ brass-punch of a DJ fave, Jones painting the Motown sound black with the song’s battered declarations on the tainting of love, on the actual charts in 1965 when Jones recorded it for writer Ed Cobb, the song flopped. That is until two Leeds synth nerds, Marc Almond and David Ball, dubbing themselves Soft Cell, ditched the choir girls and the drum kit for a quintessential digi-drum and keys 80s swagger, as a last-minute effort to please their label, who threatened to drop them if they didn’t start selling records. Recut in 1981, today marks the anniversary of its 43rd week straight on the Billboard Hot 100, which at the time was the longest-run for a single to do so.

The song was always manic, in the vindictive sense – lots of self-deprecation and anger, Jones chasing therapy with fingersnaps and howls. But when Almond and Ball got behind it, coloring the melody sterile and modular at the forefront of the dudes-in-eyeliner new wave movement, Almond rode a fine line between creepy, seductive and genius with his Shakespearian alley-cat commandeering of the tale, sneering “I’m sorry I don’t pray that way.” Especially on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic. While the video’s pedophilia undertones didn’t help the creep factor either. Regardless, one of history’s finest examples of recasting songwriting’s most played out emotion in a resonant light:

Now I know I’ve got to
Run away I’ve got to
Get away
You don’t really want any more from me
To make things right
You need someone to hold you tight
And you think love is to pray
But I’m sorry I don’t pray that way