Lost in the ’80s: Soft Cell, “What!”

It’s a shame that U.K. synthpop duo Soft Cell became the epitome of an ’80s one-hit wonder.  While they charted with several singles overseas, “Tainted Love” was their sole American hit, despite releasing several excellent singles and albums.  One of those unfairly ignored singles was actually the follow-up to “Tainted Love,” another Northern Soul remake called “What!” (download)

“What!” came a few months after “Tainted Love” and Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret‘s release, a non-LP single to mark time until Soft Cell’s next album.  While non-album single releases were a regular thing in other parts of the world, it was still a relative rarity in the U.S., which may explain why it failed to chart, since record labels tend to ignore songs that don’t promote album sales.  “What!” also had a fun, Pop Art-inspired video that despite being pretty fabulous got scant airplay – that didn’t help matters much.  And yes, New Wave trainspotters, that’s Mari Wilson making a cameo:

An extended version of “What!” (download) finally appeared in album form on the Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing remix LP a few months later after the single, but by then it was too late to help its charting chances.  That’s a shame – while “What!” may have been too similar to “Tainted Love,” it was still a great little single – much more upbeat than Soft Cell’s normal oeuvre – that deserved more than just a few weeks of bubbling under the charts.  Even sadder, it was the last single to make any noise whatsoever for the duo in the States, cementing Soft Cell’s standing as a classic one-hit wonder.

“What!” peaked at #101 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Chart in 1982.

Get Soft Cell music at Amazon or on Soft Cell




  • WHarrisBullzEye

    You know, I had never heard this song until it was featured as a “classic” on an episode of “120 Minutes.” It was so instantly catchy and and danceable that I couldn't believe it hadn't been a hit. Hearing it again now, I STILL can't believe it.

  • Darren

    I can. I can't recall any synth-playing more clumsy than on this track and, to my ears, Almond's vocals are just shy of karaoke quality. meh.

  • Aynthem

    Twenty years since my mix tape with the extended version broke. You have made my life complete again. The only Soft Cell song I love better is the cover of “You Only Live Twice.”

  • JohnHughes

    I love reading comments like this!

  • Z

    ha ha ha – what a typically insularly american comment – they had other hits “overseas”. Yes, I can see that you liked the band but really, it's your compadres who failed to see their talent as they did pretty well for themselves in most other countres in the world.
    And 'What' sounds hee-haw like 'Tainted Love' – what a bizzare thing to say.

  • JohnHughes

    “Typically insularly” or fact?

    Fact. Sorry.

  • JohnHughes

    “Typically insularly” or fact?

    Fact. Sorry.

  • JohnHughes

    “Typically insularly” or fact?

    Fact. Sorry.