“Tainted Love” may be one of the 1980s’ most indelible songs, but it began its life two decades earlier. Originally recorded and released in 1964 by soul singer Gloria Jones, the song was a flop, failing even to scrape into the lower rungs of the pop charts. Gloria, a veteran performer who began recording as a teenager in a gospel group that also featured Billy Preston, was also an accomplished pianist. She earned a degree in classical music, and after her recording career as a soul singer went nowhere, she joined the casts of several musicals, including Hair. She was eventually hired by Motown Records as a songwriter, and wrote several hit songs, including Gladys Knight’s “If I Was Your Woman”.
While touring in England with the cast of Hair in 1969, she met Marc Bolan. The lead singer of the band T. Rex, Bolan was known for hit songs like “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” and “20th Century Boy”. Gloria joined the band as a backup singer, and began a relationship with Bolan. They would go on to have a son together. In 1977, Gloria and Bolan were driving home from a club when Gloria lost control of the car, crashing into a tree. Bolan was killed instantly. Gloria, suffering a broken jaw and arm, was informed of his death the day after his funeral. Devastated, she and her son moved back to Los Angeles. She recorded a few more albums before retiring from music. She had no idea that her biggest success was still to come.
In the Northern Soul scene of the 1970s, British fans revived soul hits and obscurities in dance clubs across northern England. One of the songs that received maximum airplay was a forgotten record called “Tainted Love.” This and other songs Gloria recorded became so popular on the British scene that she became known as the “Queen of Northern Soul”. Soul fans Marc Almond and David Ball formed the duo Soft Cell. After their own first single flopped, they were given one more chance by their label, and they chose to record a reworked version of “Tainted Love”, one of their favorite Northern Soul numbers. It reached the top of the charts in England, and the top 10 in the U.S. It was their one and only hit, and they owed it all to the soulful sound of Gloria Jones.