Together as Soft Cell, Marc Almond and Dave Ball spawned a string of genre-busting hits during the early eighties, melding new drum machine and sampling technology with solid pop nous. Tracks including Tainted Love, Bedsitter, and Say Hello, Wave Goodbye regularly kept them on the radio and in the Top 10 during the period. Here, Marc talks about the writing of their first single and proto-house classic Memorabilia.
I remember when we made Memorabilia we wanted to write a purely dance track that would be very linear. It was important to us that we were able to shorten or lengthen the track easily and improvise when performing live. I was listening to a James Brown track, probably Sex Machine, and I liked the way it was repetitive and allowed him to improvise the vocals. The bass line of Memorabilia is just a simple repeated synth line based around a funky bass on a James Brown record.
At first we just had a simple beat but we developed it later when we went into the studio to record it with Daniel Miller (of The Normal and later Mute Records founder). I can’t really remember exactly what equipment was used – that’s something that Dave Ball would have to answer, but I used to have a little Roland portable saucer-shaped synth drum that I used live. It also features on our version of Tainted Love.
When I met Dave he was really into synthesiser music so it was him who brought the electronic influences to the track while I brought dance influences from my job working in a disco at night.
The synth bass line definitely came before the lyrics. In our early Soft Cell songs we would always write about trash culture unless we had a souvenir or a photo to prompt us. Memorabilia is mainly a list of trash souvenir objects and references – key chains and snow storms. But it also has a darker side about stalking and an obsessed person collecting pieces of others. I wanted it to sound deliberately shallow, yet dark.
We were thrilled to be working with Daniel; he really was a hero of ours, a pioneer and a champion of early electronic music. He really polished the tracks we did with him for the Memorabilia EP yet they still had a dirty edge. We learned a lot from him on that first session.
We first demoed the song at a live gig in Leeds. It went down well because it was hypnotic and irresistible to move to, even though it was just a simple idea that took only minutes to develop. I suppose all the best ones are.
I remember it was musically eclectic in the clubs around that time. I used to run venues in Leeds and my early DJ style had an electronic music bias and was dance orientated. What I loved about Memorabilia was that it enabled DJs such as Rusty Egan of Visage to do 30 minute mixes of the track that went on forever yet filled a dancefloor with its rhythmic beat and bass line. Later, house and acid house would do the same with linear records that leant themselves to long extended mixes.
Back then my musical taste was as it’s always been – very eclectic. I was listening to a lot of post-punk but also the new early electronic sounds coming from the likes of Human League and John Foxx. I’m influenced by loads of different songwriters – people like Jacques Brel, David Bowie, Marc Bolan. I love diverse things as well – I like to go into the more underground things from people like Peter Hammill.
I recognise that dance music has gone through many mutations and styles since the eighties. Clubs have more sophisticated sound systems and lights and, coupled with a stronger drug culture than back then, people are looking for a euphoric experience. In the early eighties you were happy to dance to a few extended songs and all our early Soft Cell songs were recorded as 12-inch singles then edited down to three minutes for radio and seven-inch. Thinking about it now, I suppose it doesn’t surprise me that Memorabilia is still in many ways a modern-sounding timeless track.
Written by: Marc Almond, Dave Ball
UK publisher: Warner Chappell