The lyrics of "Warm Leatherette" reference J.G. Ballard's controversial 1973 novel Crash, which had heavily influenced Daniel Miller. Together with his college friend, he had worked on a film script based on the book, but after the project was abandoned, Miller decided to "write a song encapsulating [the script] in 2 and a half minutes". The song was recorded in Miller's apartment using 2 Revox B-77 tape machines. Series of sawtooth waves were recorded on a $150 Korg 700S synthesizer.
Miller went with the record to a few independent music shops, including Rough Trade in London, where it would be played to customers. "Warm Leatherette" was released as the B-side to "T.V.O.D.", the only single by Miller's musical project The Normal, and the very first release on his Mute Records label. However, since it was "Warm Leatherette" that gained more public attention, it was featured as the lead song on subsequent single re-releases. Although Miller did not expect the single to be successful, it sold thirty thousand copies.
The single was an early example of the then-burgeoning industrial music genre, emerging on a wave of numerous electronic pop experiments of the late 1970s in the UK. It has since been described as having "revolutionised electronic music with its punk aesthetic, stark sound and dark subject matter" and has been covered by numerous artists.
Canadian band Prayer Tower covered this song in a 1990 single.
Belgian band Blok 57 covered this song on their eponymous album in 1992.
Peter Rauhofer has recorded multiple covers of this song as Club 69, first on two 1995 releases, then on a 1999 album, Re-Styled, on a 2007 electronic compilation album, Naughty Holiday Collection and a 2007 Star 69 Trax promo disc.
Chicks on Speed and DJ Hell covered this song on a split 7" in 1998 with different versions of the song. Chicks on Speed later re-released their cover on a 2000 CD, The Re-Releases of the Un-Releases, with an additional intro.
Velocity Star recorded a cover of this song for the 2000 compilation album The Final Solstice II.
Belgian band Dive recorded a cover of this song, released in June 2000 on the electronic compilation CD Heaven & Hell.
Industrial band Pankow recorded a cover of this song for their 1989 album Gisela.
Analogue Brain covered the song, released on an industrial compilation CD, Septic III, in October 2002.
The Former Yugoslavia, in 2003, released a "dictionaraoke" cover of the song, leaving the underlying music as originally written, but replacing the sung words with Merriam-Webster's recordings of each word in the lyrics.
BlizzFrizz covered this song live in Graz, Austria as early as 2006.
Duran Duran performed the song at their run of ten concerts in New York City in November 2007, and as part of an electronic medley portion of their set list on the subsequent 2008 Red Carpet Massacre tour.
HIV+ (aka Pedro Peñas y Robles) recorded a cover of this song on the 2008 split album with Babylone Chaos, followed by the Club Amour remix of the track on the February 2009 compilation album Electronic Manifesto: French Tribute to Mute Records, the LAAG remix on the March 2009 compilation album Stumm + Bong: An Independent Tribute To Mute Records, the Cruise remix on the May 2009 compilation album Elegy Sampler 59 and the AQL remix on the 2010 compilation Club Respekt.
Rubin Steiner covered this song on his 2008 album Weird Hits, Two Covers & A Love Song
Noise Trade Company covered the song in 2010 for the album Just Consumers.
Naith Vault covered this and released as a single in October 2010.
Laibach performed a cover with German lyrics of the song titled "Warme Lederhaut" at the end of their set at the Mute Records Short Circuit Festival at the Roundhouse, London, on May 14, 2011. They have also performed it as part of their 30th anniversary tour.
NON aka Boyd Rice covered the song again for the Short Circuit edition of the Mute compilation Vorwärts.