24 To Fight For: Depeche Mode
Listen To The List: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/19HA7QqS8VMJGHMdWist4Z
Imagine if you had to choose a desert island playlist for a band you really love. Imagine if for some reason you were going away and could only take a single 24 song playlist with you for that beloved group and that those would be the only songs by that artist that you could ever listen to again. What would you choose? What 24 songs would you fight for and say that these songs are your personal favorites and/or the best that the artist has to offer. That is the premise of my 24 To Fight For playlists. For this project I will choose my personal favorites from an artist and make the tough call of ranking those songs from #24 to #1 (trying to NOT let the fact that some songs may be overplayed influence me but basing them on my original feelings are much as possible). This is my list and I would love to see you play along and make yours too! What songs would you fight for?
AUTHOR’S NOTE: When I first envisioned this particular project one of the bands that I was initially excited to create my list for was my favorite band, Depeche Mode. However, I continually delayed actually doing my list for Depeche Mode for fear that it would just be too hard. After all, when I did my 24 To Fight For for U2, a band I really like and appreciate, but don’t love the way I do Depeche Mode I found it exceptionally hard to winnow down my list. However, as I compiled my list of 24 Depeche Mode songs I found something that surprised me, it was easier than I thought it would be by a lot. As much as I love Depeche Mode and truly believe that they have very few bad songs in their discography, it became apparent that there was a core group of songs from my favorite band that I just liked better than the rest. That group was larger than 24 songs, but not by a whole lot, so creating this list was much less painful than creating my similar lists for bands like U2, Live, or even Coldplay, bands that I love, but nearly as much. This isn’t a list of what the world thinks is their biggest hits and best songs, nor is it comprehensive (it under represents both DM’s early years and their later ones), but it is my “desert island disk” of 24 songs, and while you will find hits on it my list is also missing Depeche Mode classics like “Strangelove”, “Somebody”, Walking In My Shoes”, “People Are People”, “Everything Counts, “It’s No Good” and others. So, let me present my 24 To Fight For – Depeche Mode.
#24 – “Policy Of Truth” – From the album Violator
Built up from a darkly cool, slinky groove that somehow both feels propulsive and languid, “Policy Of Truth” was Depeche Mode’s third massive hit single from 1990’s Violator. Telling a cautionary tale of morality gone astray, Dave Gahan sings the darkly ironic lyric with absolute conviction, while Martin Gore’s background lyrics provide an eerie, haunted counterpoint, while Alan Wilder and producer Flood add a variety effects, noises, and atmospheric touches that raise the song from excellent to full-blown classic.
#23 – “Going Backwards” – From the album Spirit
Even in the 1980’s when Depeche Mode was an all-synthesizer group primary songwriter Martin Gore always insisted in interviews and with critics that Depeche Mode were a rock and roll band. The lead track from 2017’s Spirit proves that true more than even guitar-led synth stompers like “Personal Jesus” or “I Feel You”. While the synths are present “Going Backwards” sounds and feels like a rock track with organic, rock instrumentation. Lyrically, the song is an attack on the rise of xenophobia, nationalism, and neo-conservative politics that has fueled movements like Brexit in the UK and Trumpism in the US. The song sets the tone for the album and proves to be one of Depeche Mode’s best latter-day songs.
#22 – “Judas” – From the album Songs Of Faith & Devotion
Depeche Mode’s primary songwriter is multi-instrumentalist Martin Gore. Even though Gore is not the band’s lead singer he has a beautiful tenor voice and it is Gore’s superb backing and counterpoint vocals that are one of the secret weapons of Depeche Mode. However, on every Depeche Mode album except A Broken Frame, Gore steps to the forefront and takes lead vocals on a song or two. “Judas” is the first of four Gore-sung vocals that will be on this list. “Judas” is a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere, opening with uilleann pipes that create an eerie, foggy atmosphere before a chugging beat and sadly sweet synth part come in to support Gore’s vocals. “Judas” is a fan favorite and one of the more underrated songs in the Depeche Mode oeuvre.
#21 – “Leave In Silence” – From the album A Broken Frame
Depeche Mode found success right from the beginning with their first album Speak & Spell spinning off hit singles like the bouncy and fun “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “New Life”. However, the primary songwriter on that album was original member Vince Clarke, who would leave the band after Speak & Spell’s supporting tour to first form Yaz and then Erasure. Rather than fall apart Depeche Mode simply moved forward with Martin Gore as their new primary songwriter. Gore’s songwriting would follow a darker path than that of Clarke, and while much of their second album A Broken Frame would find Depeche Mode pulled between the upbeat synthpop of their first album and the darker textures Gore wanted to pursue, the album’s opening track was the moody, pulsing early career highlight “Leave In Silence” which proved Depeche Mode would be just fine without Clarke.
#20 – “The Things You Said” – From the album Music For The Masses
The second lead vocal from Martin Gore to make it on to my list is “The Things You Said”. Gore’s tenor is best suited to softer and more intimate moments and “The Things Yous Said” is perfectly crafted to suit him. A bitter examination of a relationship falling apart due to rumors and a lack of trust Gore is able to make “The Things You Said” feel both accusatory and morose. It is a song that deals in high drama without being overly dramatic. “The Things You Said” is built off of a sensual pulse that has a dark edge, while Gore sings in a manner that suggests secretive conversation and quiet disappointment.
#19 – “Told You So” – From the album Construction Time Again
Perhaps no Depeche Mode album should be played as a full album more than 1983’s Construction Time Again whose industrial musical influences and lyrical themes of politics, poverty, and work create something of a song cycle. That said, one of the individual highlights for me from that record is the swirling and pulsing “Told You So”. An examination of organized religion’s exclusionary tendencies (and the hypocritical nature of many of their members) that manages to be both lyrically clever and a great synth/dance number. The underlying keyboard/synth riff is catchy, while gang shouts, cool vocal effects, and a strangely quirky song intro make “Take You So” one of the more interesting and unexpected moments in the early Depeche Mode canon.
#18 – “Stripped” – From the album Black Celebration
“Stripped” is, perhaps, the epitome of Depeche Mode’s experimentations with “found sounds” and masterfully incorporates engine noise and industrial sounds into its synthetic/electronic musical base. These choices make perfect sense as a counterpoint to the song’s lyrical themes of finding personal fulfillment through human connections rather than becoming overwhelmed and isolated by urban sprawl and invasive technology; themes that resonate even more now than they did when the song was first released in 1986. Indeed, “Stripped” is almost prophetic in its prediction of our dependence on technology and suggests healing comes from letting go and baring your emotions to another human being – and it sounds great doing it.
#17 – “Little 15” – From the album Music For The Masses
“Little 15” is one of of Depeche Mode’s most simple songs, yet it still packs a musical and emotional punch. The music starts out as a circular, almost circus-like, synth riff that continues throughout most of the song while other subtle elements are slowly added to give the song a feeling of increasing tension and drama. Meanwhile, David Gahan sings of a lonely older woman who feels trapped by her life and who finds both hope and envy in her 15 year old traveling companion’s joie de vivre and unwritten future. The song does what many of the best Depeche Mode songs do by finding a perfect balance between darkness and light. It’s also a song that my own personal appreciation has increased for as I’ve aged and my perspective has shifted from the younger character to the older one.
#16 – “In Your Room” – From the album Songs Of Faith & Devotion
First, I have to be clear that while I do like the album version of “In Your Room” that appears on Songs Of Faith & Devotion, the version I prefer and am including here is Butch Vig’s Zephyr Mix that was used as the single version of the song in both the US and UK. “In Your Room” is the centerpiece of Songs Of Faith & Devotion and is ominous, atmospheric, and darkly epic as it slowly builds in scale and drama. Vig’s remix of the song creates a fuller sound while also adding a guitar part that serves as a sonic hook that ties the song together and elevates it to potential alt rock radio hit rather than just the atmospheric moodpiece the album version is.
#15 – “Suffer Well” – From the album Playing The Angel
Depeche Mode’s primary songwriter Martin Gore may well be one of the greatest songwriters of his generation so it makes sense that he has written the vast majority of Depeche Mode’s songs over the course of their career. However, in the early 2000’s singer David Gahan released two solo records and began to push to have some writing credits in Depeche Mode too. Gahan is a decent songwriter but he and his writing partners are no Martin Gore. And least not usually. However, Depeche Mode has put out four albums so far in the 21st century and it is at least arguable that the best Depeche Mode song from those albums is “Suffer Well”, penned by Gahan (and his writing partners Christian Eigner and Andrew Phillpott). “Suffer Well” does what the best Depeche Mode songs do: It blends the synthetic and organic, the club-friendly with the pop-oriented, the sacred with the profane, and it manages to do it while sounding like a wonderful cross-pollination between the sound of Depeche Mode and New Order. The song is also strengthened by Gore’s perfect backing vocals. “Suffer Well” is Gahan’s high point as a writer and a late career classic for the band.
#14 – “Something To Do” – From the album Some Great Reward
Urgent and intense “Something To Do” opens up Depeche Mode’s fourth album Some Great Reward in dynamic fashion. Depeche Mode had always had hits and made good albums but Some Great Reward is where it really all comes together for them and kicks off a run of five (arguably six) albums that are close to flawless. “Something To Do” combines the “found sound”/industrial synthpop style that they had pioneered with a hard-charging club beat, a shared Gahan/Gore vocal, and lyrics looking for joy and meaning in a world that is largely filled with drudgery and meaninglessness. While the production techniques and computers would get better, “Something To Do” showcases the classic Depeche Mode sound that would make them alternative music legends in the coming years.
#13 – “The Bottom Line” – From the album Ultra
I’m not sure why but “The Bottom Line” spoke to me from the first time I heard it and has remained one of my personal favorites ever since that first listen. Another Gore lead vocal, I think it is one of his best, his voice warm and full of yearning. Lyrically, the song is about love, obsession, and the inevitable outcome of destiny. Musically, “The Bottom Line” sounds and feels like Depeche Mode as Gore sings over a simple bed of electronic pulses and noises. However, there is an added sense of ambience that really makes the song stand out due to the presence of steel guitarist B.J. Cole and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of Can fairly prominently on the song. Cole adds an exotic flair as his steel guitar adds an almost Hawaiian feel at moments, while Liebezeit’s live drumming adds an organic feel to the beat that makes the song feel more human and lively.
#12 – “Personal Jesus” – From the album Violator
In 1989 Depeche Mode shocked critics, doubters, and their fans with the release of the lead single from their upcoming album Violator, “Personal Jesus”. The track was shocking to both those who loved the band and those who questioned their rock status because it featured guitars. Depeche Mode had used guitars for accents and aural coloring to their synth music before but “Personal Jesus” was built off a full-blown blues guitar lick played by Gore over a minimalist electronic/synth beat. While an outlier of sorts on the diamond-hard and darkly pulsing Violator album “Personal Jesus” became a massive, mainstream hit and, in a sense, marked the end of Depeche Mode as a synthpop band and the start of Depeche Mode as electro-rockers. The song is insanely catchy and musically clever, combining elements of rock’s distant past with the very modern. It also featured a lyric that juxtaposed the religious with the secular, examining the way Priscilla Presley felt about Elvis and equating her devotion to him and his ability to make her feel safe and healed to the relationship between Christ and Christians. In the end though “Personal Jesus” is just a great song with a wicked riff that plays great as a single and even better as a live showstopper.
#11 – “Clean” – From the album Violator
Martin Gore has stated that he based the sound of “Clean” on Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” and it is similar with its rumbling, driving bassline and otherwise minimalist sound. It opens with a chorus-like intro that creates a quasi-religious tone before the bass groove and Dave Gahan’s voice come in. Gahan sings a defiant lyric about overcoming his obstacles and addictions that only has gained in emotional resonance in the years since as his real life battles with addiction and recovery became public knowledge. “Clean” is simple, uplifting, and redemptive, and serves as a perfect ending to one of the greatest albums of all time.
#10 – “Never Let Me Down Again” – From the album Music For The Masses
“Never Let Me Down Again” opens 1987’s Music For The Masses in dramatic fashion while also foreshadowing the more organic direction the band would pursue in future years. Featuring a slamming rhythm part that is almost Zeppelinesque in its size “Never Let Me Down Again” immediately grabs the listener’s attention. The song also features some subtle guitar accents and builds to a huge, show stopping finale. It has deservedly remained a fan favorite over the years and is still often an important song in Depeche Mode’s live show.
#9 – “But Not Tonight” – From the album Black Celebration
Depeche Mode’s album Black Celebration is a bleak affair, filled with songs about death, the loss of innocence, the isolating nature of technology, the fleetingness of love and passion, and the meaninglessness of life. Yet, at the end of the album is “But Not Tonight”, a melancholy yet warm song that offers a glimmer of hope in the form of the renewing power of nature. “But Not Tonight” is simple and melodic and stands in contrast to most of the rest of the album in both tone and themes. It is a great song placed perfectly on the album to lend that album more emotional power. However, it wasn’t meant to happen. Depeche Mode thought the song was a throwaway and originally allowed it to be used in the promotion for a film called Modern Girls and as the B-side to the pre-album single “Stripped”. However, their American record label added it to the end of Black Celebration against the wishes of the band on American and bonus track versions. The band may have been unhappy with the decision originally but it is the right one, “But Not Tonight” serves as a coda that provides both closure and hope and never feels like it is tacked on. Indeed, it is one of Depeche Mode’s great songs.
#8 – “Sea Of Sin” – B-Side to the single “World In My Eyes”
I love “World In My Eyes”, the opening track to 1990’s Violator and it was one of the last songs to be cut from this list. That said, “World In My Eyes” is outshone by its own B-side, the bass-driven and pulsing “Sea Of Sin”. For reasons that have never been explained, “Sea Of Sin”, which is a darkly seductive song with a great club pulse and wickedly not-so-subtle lyrics, was not included on Violator. This has always baffled me as the song fits the sound and mood of the album (which is only nine songs long) perfectly. It has always been a favorite and, while it is sad that it is largely unknown, it is a nice “secret” for the fans.
#7 – “Lie To Me” – From the album Some Great Reward
Possibly no song from Depeche Mode’s early years (which I generally regard as their first four albums and the non-album singles released before Black Celebration) predicts the mood and feel of their peak period work more than does “Lie To Me”. Moody but seductive, melancholy yet sexy, “Lie To Me” feels like a song that would have fit in (with different production flourishes) on Black Celebration, Music For The Masses, Violator, Songs Of Faith & Devotion, or possibly even Ultra. “Lie To Me”. Certainly one of the highlights from Depeche Mode’s early years where Daniel Miller was the band’s main producer, “Lie To Me” is the highest song on my list from that time period.
#6 – “Barrel Of A Gun” – From the album Ultra
“Barrel Of A Gun” is in many ways the perfect fusion of Depeche Mode’s earlier dark synthpop sound and the more organic, guitar-based direction they pursued with “Personal Jesus”, “I Feel You” and other songs from that era. “Barrel Of A Gun” feels like a rock song with squalling noise and a huge beat but it also has a slinky and driving electronic pulse that shows a mastery of synth textures. It isn’t grafting the two styles together so much as finding a perfect midpoint and, in doing so, beating Depeche Mode descendents like Stabbing Westward, Filter, God Lives Underwater, and others at their own game. And for those who know the band’s history well, especially Dave Gahan’s battle with addiction and his near-death experience (or more accurately his death and revival experience), “Barrel Of A Gun” feels like Gore perfectly captured the mood and issues of that period from Gahan’s perspective. While it was a single and got some attention, “Barrel Of A Gun” feels underappreciated outside of the band’s core fan base.
#5 – “Enjoy The Silence” – From the album Violator
It is hard to be completely objective about “Enjoy The Silence” any more no matter how hard I try to be. The song was both a massive hit and has become a part of the fabric of our culture. I remember absolutely loving it when I first heard it, and while the glow of the new has worn off, I still can appreciate it as an amazing song. Written as a ballad by Martin Gore, bandmate Alan Wilder and producer Flood convinced him to leave the studio and let them work with it, and they reworked the song into an uptempo synthpop masterpiece that retained its bittersweet heart. Thus, “Enjoy The Silence” is both a perfectly crafted piece of songwriting and a master class in production, making it the deserved massive hit that it was and one of Depeche Mode’s signature songs. I still love it.
#4 – “Home” – From the album Ultra
The only Gore-sung song to make the top half of my list is “Home” from 1997’s Ultra. Built from the bottom-up “Home” is a melodic ballad laid over a vaguely hip-hop beat that is emphasized by the way Gore performs the vocals. Somehow the combination of the music, rhythm, and vocal performance makes “Home” feel like a lullaby, a nursery rhyme, and a hip hop-inflected ballad all at once. “Home” also finds Gore in excellent voice as he performs one of his richest and most nuanced vocal performances. “Home” then rises to a soaring conclusion when a warm-toned, soaring guitar riff comes in over the end of the song. “Home” is easily one of Depeche Mode’s most underappreciated songs and could have been a massive hit had it been released just a few years earlier.
#3 – “Fly On The Windscreen – Final” – From the album Black Celebration
Depeche Mode originally released “Fly On The Windscreen” in 1985 as the B-side to “It’s Called A Heart”, a new single recorded for a Depeche Mode singles collection that is almost universally believed to be among the band’s worst singles/songs. While both songs (along with “Shake The Disease” and “Flexible”) were included on the collection “Fly On The Windscreen” was largely overlooked as a B-side to a bad song. However, the band realized that “Fly On The Windscreen” was a moody masterpiece in the making and reworked it slightly for inclusion on Black Celebration. This version, dubbed “Fly On The Windscreen – Final” is not radically different but it is better, especially the cool opening effects that help kick off the song and set the dark and strange tone. Ultimately “Fly On The Windscreen” is one of the bleakest songs on a very bleak record, yet it still is compulsively listenable and aurally interesting even all these years later and I am very glad the band didn’t move on from it after its inauspicious beginning.
#2 – “I Feel You” – From the album Songs Of Faith & Devotion
Most people prefer “Personal Jesus” but I think “I Feel You” is Depeche Mode’s best guitar-based song (and one of their very best songs period). From the opening squall of noise that then slips into the song’s dominant guitar riff played by Gore, “I Feel You” is Depeche Mode as full-blown rock band. Alan Wilder provided live drumming which was then sampled for the beat (and played on live drums by him in concert) while Andy Fletcher adds electronic pulses and noise to create an underlying foreboding atmosphere. And then over top of it all are Dave Gahan’s vocals which roar, plead, beg, and brag, all in the same song as he sings “this is the morning of our love/this is the dawning of our love” (or is it Allah?) as Depeche Mode continue to meld the sacred and the sexual, the holy with the hedonistic. An amazing song and an amazing way to kick off the Songs Of Faith & Devotion album, “I Feel You” showed that “Personal Jesus” was no one-off experiment and that they were going to embrace the grunge and alt-rock tone of the 1990’s successfully and on their own terms. I still love it so much.
#1 – “Halo” – From the album Violator
Like nearly every song on Depeche Mode’s masterpiece album Violator “Halo” is a fusion of incredible song writing, perfect production, and skilled performance. From its opening lasso-like effect through to its epic-scaled conclusion “Halo” finds joy in the apocalypse, even if that apocalypse is perhaps self-inflicted. “Halo” is built on a massive, thumping beat, but over top the song slowly builds in intensity and drama. Gahan provides rich and seductive vocals that help create the sense of one reveling in the forbidden, even knowing that they will pay the price for later; while behind him Gore provides excellent counterpoint vocals that come in at just the right moment to create a sense of power and grandeur. Released as the fifth single from Violator “Halo” earned a little attention in alternative music circles but largely remains a fan favorite and cult classic buried on one of the greatest albums of all time.