Thursday, June 7, 2012

1981: The way you tease

Some songs live forever. Others are played for a few years but eventually die out. The rest never have any sort of existence once they drop out of the charts.

Then there are the songs that refuse to go away. Remember Relax? A huge number one at the start of the year then back in the top three later that summer. Something similar that refused to die in 1981 was Tainted Love.

Those around at the time will remember just how huge this was. The soundtrack of the summer, it was still very much in evidence at the start of sixth form. I remember girls getting up and dancing to it in the common room. I was quite taken aback. I thought it was amazing that people should do such a thing. How freeing. But oh, the common room. Now there was a place.

Initially, I was far too initmidated to go in. Just inside the door was where the cool set sat. It was their long-standing section of this vast cavernous room. Each bank of seats had its own clique. How one got to join it was anyone's guess, but in the end you just had to be bold.

For weeks a friend and I hovered just outside the door. Occassionally we would walk through. Then we got brave and sat in the coffee bar bit before eventually joining the jet set. It's not that we didn't know (some of) them, but there was a barrier to break through. Luckily a childhood friend who I had been at school with and who laughed at all my jokes affected my introducton. But it was gradual and painful and terrifying, but I it was something I had to do.

Life in the common room was hugely competitive clothes and music wise, but to be there meant you'd arrived. Though it seems utterly ludicrous that it should matter so much now, it was a huge big deal at the time. You want to be a part of things, and life could be miserable if it wasn't happening.

As a child I was bright and confident, but once I hit my teens I got awfully shy. It was at this point at college that it was time for a reinvention. I felt I was slightly behind the curve in fashion, and suddenly this mattered to me. I joined the Oxfam trawlers and patronised Top Man. Out with the blue Harrington and the Pod shoes that mum had bought in a sale, and in with pixie boots and soul slippers and the Phil Oakey hairdo. Oh dear God the pictures. But you know, I was 16. Everything was changing.

Whenever I hear Tainted Love I always think of those girls dancing to it in the common room and it means something. Not sure what. But it does.


  1. Lovely post - very resonant! I didn't have the common room experience but left after the fifth form to go to college - it all felt terribly grown-up but still the things that were actually the least grown-up mattered the most - a huge deal at the time, as you say (what you wore, who you hung out with, what music you liked etc.)
    Tainted Love really sums up that year. Makes me think of seeing them for the first time on Top Of The Pops, trips to London, preferably Camden Market, to buy (always green) hair gel (couldn't get the right stuff where I lived), draping big scarves round my neck, boys wearing Tukkas, etc. etc....

  2. Oh yes. Our sixth form common room was just as cliquey, although quite embracing in its cliques. We had metal/hippy/goth/me hanging on as it was the best of the bunch at the end nearest the stereo so we generally had control; the Sharon/Trevor set at the far end complaining about the music and everyone else in loose bunches in the middle. And of course everyone knew a few people from the year above or below, so the groups stayed the same even though half the composition moved on every year.

  3. Ours broke down into subsections. Lefty/intellecual corner, the, mod central - a fug of invisible borders and demarcation lines.

    On the subject of Tainted, I remember hearing the 12" at Croc's for the first time. That slow-melting mix into Where Did Our Love Go was like nothing on earth. Incredible. Of course it got played to death, as to those not in the know, it could sound as if the DJs were kings of the crossfade. Clever work on the part of Cell's production team

  4. Ah, haven't seen that particular sleeve for a long time. I once snorted a line of really rough speed off mine, you know. I find the song impossible to listen to now due to overexposure; the "De-WAA WAA" intro that used to summon me irresistibly to the dance floor now has me running for the exit.

    Our common room at the Technical College where I did my A levels was a typical teen battleground - there was a glass 'office' in the middle where you could only sit if you were a member of the Student Union Executive, so I made damn sure I got myself elected VP in the second year, bullshitting my way through my own crippling shyness and doing a passable impression of a cocky young woman. I remember the heavy metallers all inhabited one corner where they used to slash the seats, pull the kapok out and set it alight, while the black kids sat glaring at them from the other corner and trying to drown the sound of them out with dub reggae. One day a boy called Thomas had his first schizophrenic episode in the common room and danced around it like a Cossack screaming "It's in my leg, it's in my leg".

    Happy days...