After The Four Seasons split up, Frankie Valli embarked on a solo career. In 1975, his record company, Private Stock Records issued a 12 inch version of his single “Swearin’ To God”. With a running time of 10:32, this is generally regarded as the first 12 inch single. The advantages of releasing a song as a 12 inch single included the idea that anyone who had the standard length 7 inch single would be tempted to pay to hear a different version of the song. In addition, the width of the grooves on a 12 inch single were wider than for an LP (which may last for 20 minutes on each side) and this increased width meant that the music could be cut louder, with a wider dynamic range which would have more impact when played in a club. Although Frankie Valli’s single is regarded as the first U.K. 12 inch single, it was only available to DJ’s. The first commercially available 12 inch single in the U.K. was “Breakaway” by Ernie Bush. However, the real breakthrough in popularity of 12 inch singles came a few years later with Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” which clocked in at 16:50 and “I Feel Love” (8:16).
In the 1980’s, releasing singles in 12 inch versions became de rigueur, especially with proponents of the New Romantic music scene. Over the course of Soft Cell’s fame, between 1981 and 184, they released ten 12 inch singles, all of them featuring extended mixes of singles and album cuts. The ‘B’ sides were as interesting as the ‘A’ sides and each of the singles contained a minimum of 15 minutes of music.
(In the Sixties, it became common for bands to release EP’s. The Beatles released a number of 4 track EP’s and, for example, “Long Tall Sally” lasts for just over 9 minutes. The EP fell out of favour with the advent of 12 inch singles but, as a promotional activity in the streaming age, 4 track EP’s are suddenly fashionable again.)
There are 28 songs on this 3-CD set and the total running time is nearly 4 hours. The final four songs are 1991 remixes of “Memorabilia”, “Tainted Love”, “Say Hello Wave Goodbye” and “Where The Heart Is”.
“Say Hello Wave Goodbye” reached Number Three in the U.K. Charts and was written by Marc Almond and Dave Ball, the members of Soft Cell. The extended version is nearly nine minutes long and opens with an extended clarinet solo by Dave Tofani. The contrast between the sweetness of his playing and the repeated synth riff from Dave Ball heightens the expectation of what is to follow. Dave Tofani plays saxophone and clarinet and has played with everyone, for example, Frank Sinatra (“L.A. Is My Lady”), Simon & Garfunkel (“Still Crazy After All These Years” live in Central Park), John Lennon (“Double Fantasy”) and many others. Towards the end of the song, the clarinet reappears as Marc Almond’s voice becomes more impassioned. The last desperate cry of “Goodbye” is heart rending.
The 12 inch single of “Tainted Love” features an extended nine minute version on the ‘A’ side and a nine minute dub version on the ‘B’ side which has manipulated and eliminated some of the vocals. A lot of echo and reverb is used. Sitting here, aged 67 at 11:00 a.m. in Sussex is probably not the best time to appreciate this version. Aged 28 in a Leeds club, with no cares about tomorrow would have been a different matter and I’d have thought that this was the best thing ever. I would have done that, of course, but there was a lesson on quadratic equations to prepare. On the other hand, the extended version of the single on the ‘A’ side is, of course, magnificent. The original version was recorded in 1965 by Gloria Jones, who went on to have a son with Marc Bolan. The 12 inch version is the same as the single (which reached Number One in the U.K. Charts) for the first three minutes before a couple of minutes of Dave Ball’s electronic magic segues into “Where Did Our Love Go” which had been a hit in 1964 for The Supremes.
“Where The Heart Is” reached Number 21 in the charts and is outstanding. It tells the story of a claustrophobic home life, with a controlling father and a concerned mother, neither of whom understand the problems of their adolescent child. There is a succinctness of “They say that home is where the heart is, but home is only where the hurt is” that perfectly encapsulates what many teenagers feel. After 4 minutes, Dave Ball plays an extended piano solo which leads into more magical electronic wizardry, with flute and string sounds dominating. When Marc Almond’s voice tunes back in for the last minute, repeating the lines about the mother and father, heartbreak is assured.
My favourite song on this set is the ‘B’ side to “Bedsitter” and it’s called “Facility Girls”. I can’t work out whether or not it’s patronising, whether it romanticises a mundane life or it is simply a comic strip story. I prefer to think it’s the latter. One of the repeated lines is “It’s like a page from ‘True Love Stories’“. In 1919, an American magazine called “True Story” was launched and in 1949, a British version was published. The magazine included first-hand stories of pre-marital sex, illegitimacy, adultery, unemployment, social relations, and crime. It was sensational, emotional, and controversial and told tales of sex, sin and redemption. The magazine was widely reviled by the middle classes but it sold millions of copies each month. Marc Almond and Dave Ball composed their own version of a true love story which centres on a secretary, “A modern Venus on the 8th floor“, who laughs at her boss’s jokes and is engaged to a mechanic called Terry. When she gets home from work, she goes to bed and ruminates on her life. She wants to see more of Terry and she wonders if he is being faithful to her. That day, she had found a message on her typewriter which said that she was just a normal girl. “They also felt she was a human being. They said that she was a facility (Like a dream)”. The intensity of Marc Almond’s vocals increases and then subsides when he whispers “Shhh Goodnight” as the song ends. Wonderful.
Doubling the length of one of your favourite songs might be considered tampering but, when it’s done as well as it is here, it emphasises the beauty and creativity of the original.