This is the ninth post in a yearlong series Read about it here and see the list of all songs in the series here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.

Gloria Jones never had a hit with “Tainted Love,” even though she recorded it twice. Jones’ first recording of the song, in the mid-’60s, was produced by the song’s writer, Ed Cobb. Some reports say Cobb had originally offered “Tainted Love” to The Standells and the band declined, but The Standells say that isn’t the case. The band did, however, record Cobb’s “Dirty Water.”

Jones’ soulful “Tainted Love” failed to chart, and it remained a deep cut for almost 10 years until it became popular among soul fans in England. From the late ’60s through the late ’70s, DJs in the north of England made a sport of trying to find the most obscure American soul songs of the 1960s. This subculture, which became known as Northern Soul, catered to clubgoers who flocked to particular clubs to hear new-to-them soul songs. To keep up with the audiences’ insatiable appetites, DJs would travel to the US to look for deep cuts that they had yet to hear. On one of these trips in the ’70s, DJ Richard Searling discovered “Tainted Love,” which at that point was almost 10 years old.

The song became a favorite among Northern Soul enthusiasts, such that Jones re-recorded it for her 1976 album, “Vixen.” The 1976 update felt too self-aware, as if Jones and producer Marc Bolan were trying to refashion it to sound emblematic of all the Northern Soul songs that British fans had come to love. This souped-up remake of “Tainted Love,” which was as polished as the original one was gritty, failed to chart.

A few years later, Leeds Polytechnic students Marc Almond and David Ball attracted the attention of some record labels who were impressed by the the band’s first EP and the band’s live shows. The duo, called Soft Cell, ended up signing with Some Bizzare Records, which was backed by Phonogram Records. The first singles were flops, despite club success, and Soft Cell felt pressured to release a surefire hit for its next single if it wanted to stay with Some Bizzare/Phonogram.

Ball had introduced Almond to Jones’ second version of “Tainted Love.” “I loved it so much,” Almond said in Jon Kutner’s and Spencer Leigh’s 2005 book, “1000 UK Number One Hits.” “Dave loved Northern Soul and it was a novelty to have an electronic synthesizer band doing a soul song.” Almond said the record company had initially thought the synth-heavy cover was not strong enough. “They told us to put bass, guitar and drums on it as they said it was too odd,” he said.

Thankfully, Almond, Ball and producer Mike Thorne ignored that request. When the song was released, it included a cover of The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?” “Incorporating their cover of a Supremes song was Marc and Dave’s idea,” Thorne said. “The whole concept of the single was theirs, and that medley in the middle of the track really grew out of the fact that they had both been DJs.”

Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”/”Where Did Our Love Go?” was released in 1981 became a monster hit both in the UK and the US. It became a defining hit not only for Soft Cell, but for the The Billboard Hot 100. The song hit #8 during the summer of 1982, and ultimately spent a record-breaking 43 weeks on the Hot 100.

Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is a quintessential cover song, representing all that we love about cover songs. It is both familiar and surprising, keeping the essence of the original while introducing something new and different. There are numerous cover songs that are merely noteworthy for being done in a different style than the original. We’ve heard those covers, whether they are reggae version of soul songs, or bluegrass versions of ’80s songs, or stripped-down acoustic covers of hip-hop songs. Picking a style different from the original is an easy go-to for cover artists, but Soft Cell’s keyboard arrangement was not just a gimmick to incorporate the new technology du jour. It added sinister tone to the song, serving a purpose beyond just replacing horns with keyboards.

Marilyn Manson’s 2001 cover appeared on the soundtrack for “Not Another Teen Movie,” alongside Stabbing Westward’s cover of “Bizarre Love Triangle” and Good Charlotte’s cover of “If You Leave.” Marilyn Manson’s version used the same arrangement as the Soft Cell version. To call it a straight cover of Soft Cell’s version would be misleading, as it was slower than Soft Cell’s version, with a dark, chopped-up sound that included crunchy guitars and heavy drums. But it felt like a straight cover compared to Marilyn Manson’s strongest cover, which was an eery version of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” In that cover, the band removed all familiar parts of the original except for the lyrics, using an arrangement that sounded more like “Crazy Train.” In “Tainted Love,” Marilyn Manson kept closer to the original, including the familiar keyboards from the Soft Cell version.

New Jersey band Shades Apart had a minor hit with its cover of “Tainted Love,” taken from its 1995 LP, “Save It.” The song owes its arrangement to Jones’ version as much as to Soft Cell’s, because it sounds like neither. It has no keyboards, horns, or soulful intonations. It’s a faster version done in the punk style of the early 1990s. That is, this song predates the pop-punk style of emo vocals heard in bands like Good Charlotte or Tom Racer. The guitars and vocals sound reminiscent of Bad Religion.

Imelda May’s version retains the soul that Jones’ version had while injecting some rockabilly into it. Jones’ vocals sounded like the plea of a frazzled lover at the end of her rope, and though May’s version has much of that frustration, it has less desperation. May can sound like a jazz vocalist on one line and have some country swagger on the next line.

Singer/songwriter Hannah Peel’s 2010 EP “Rebox” featured four covers, including “Tainted Love.” On first listen, it sounds as if Peel is singing over a “Rockabye Baby” version of the song, as the only discernible instrumental part comes from simple percussion (presumably a xylophone). That percussion is as chilling as it is soothing, in part because Peel’s voice sounds just as restrained. Marilyn Manson’s version was creepy because of what we could hear, but Peel’s version has an eery, Hitchcockian quality for what we can’t hear. Not surprisingly, Peel’s version was included in “American Horror Story.”

Coco Electrik is an electropop duo comprising singer Anne Booty and producer Paul Harrison. Booty sings with a sure confidence over Harrison’s arrangement that only barely resembles the familiar hook. The iconic Soft Cell keyboards are nowhere to be found in this electronic version, serving as a testament to Booty’s and Harrison’s ability to take something familiar and make it catchy as their own song. As a cover, it’s enjoyable, but even people who never heard any version of “Tainted Love” would bop their head to Coco Electrik’s version.

The Pussycat Dolls’ “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go” repeats the pairing of covers on Soft Cell’s original single, though the majority of the track is devoted to “Tainted Love.” That portion sounds more like a cover of Marilyn Manson’s version, as its arrangement sounds like a chopped-up and slowed down version of Soft Cell’s. In The Pussycat Dolls’ version, the Soft Cell hook is amplified with strong bass that at some points overpowers the vocals. The cover of “Where Did Our Love Go?” at the end is the best part of the song, and thus too brief. The absence of the overproduced keyboards and blips from the “Tainted Love” part allow the vocals in the “Where Did Our Love Go?” part to sound more like a pop song and less like a song that you’d hear at a packed college bar on a Friday night.

Jones might not have been able to make “Tainted Love” famous, but Soft Cell did, which is why it’s hard to talk about covers of “Tainted Love” without referencing Soft Cell’s version. The original was a great song, sung by a very able singer and performed over an instrumental arrangement indicative of the all the strengths of ’60s soul. It just never became the hit that it should have been. In the aforementioned book, “1000 UK Number One Hits,” Almond called the Soft Cell version “A mixture of cold electronics with an over-passionate, over-exuberant, slightly out of key vocal.” Those cold electronics have become so iconic and tied to the song that any cover that doesn’t have the keyboards will feel “stripped down” in comparison, even if it sounds note for note like Jones’ original.

You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist. Read about the rest of the series here.

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