The Two-Decade Journey of "Tainted Love'

Marc Almond of Soft Cell
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Fin Costello/Redferns

It took nearly 20 years, some cigarettes and a white British duo to make Gloria Jones' "Tainted Love" - one of the finest Northern soul songs of all time - a real hit.

Jones, an Ohio-born minister's daughter, was nearly out of her teens when songwriter/producer Ed Cobb picked her to record some songs he'd penned. One of them was a dancefloor-ready heartache tune called "Tainted Love," a song Jones admitted she didn't prefer. It was relegated to the B-side of a single, and Jones moved on; by the late '60s, she was a staff songwriter for Motown, penning great, emotional songs for The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & The Pips (who took a Jones co-write, "If I Was Your Woman," to the Top 10 of the U.S. pop charts).

There seemed to be no future for "Tainted Love" until fate intervened: according to Jones, a soldier stationed in England traded a copy of the single for some cigarettes. That single ended up in the hands of a local DJ, who brought it to a Northern soul revival night. Audiences couldn't get enough of it - and by chance, Jones had moved to England, to sing back-up vocals for glam rockers T. Rex. In 1976, a year after Jones gave birth to a son with the band's frontman Marc Bolan, the pair collaborated on a new recording - but it did not chart in England, either.

But those Northern soul nights attracted plenty of listeners and new fans. One of them was Marc Almond, an aspiring singer working at a club who'd fallen for "Tainted Love" and incorporated it into the set of his band, Soft Cell. Recorded and released as a medley with a Motown cover (The Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go"), their synth-heavy version was a smash on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching No. 1 in England and No. 8 in America.

From then on, "Tainted Love" was hard to ignore. It was later covered by Marilyn Manson in 2001, and Rihanna sampled Soft Cell's version for her chart-topping single "SOS" in 2006. But it was Jones who put the song on the path to immortality.

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