Back in the early part of the current century, after a nearly decade run of punk and post-punk artists started to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I was fully expecting a run on the rich vein of Eighties alternative musicians. The artists of my high school years, The Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads, Sex Pistols and Patti Smith had all been inducted. Then, R.E.M. was inducted, so I knew those artists that got me through my twenties would be dutifully following. Boy, was I ever wrong! Dead wrong! At least until this past induction ceremony during which The Cure were inducted. Maybe that logjam is beginning to loosen for my next artist to be inducted: Depeche Mode.
You see, as the Eighties progressed, the Boomers aged and with that came the usual reluctance to embrace the new sounds of a new generation. So, after the neo-glow days of the early Eighties new wave movement gave way to a darker version of rock music that was given the unflattering name of alternative rock, anything that did not sound like what had just been played on album rock radio was closed off by radio programmers across the country. Instead of hearing lovelorn lyrics of yesteryear, the so-called alternative artists of the alternative nation were much darker and more cynical. Collectively, they did not buy into the rosy would being sold by Reaganomics and Thatcherism. Instead, they were embracing changing technology (synthesizers, sequencers, samplers, computers) and turning rock music upside down. They were the children of disco, metal, pop, technology and commercialism, so their music reflected that generational change.
And, into that void stepped an English synthpop band called Depeche Mode. At first, there was very little different about them from the other synthpop artists at the time. They released what might qualify as the quintessential synthpop song “Just Can’t Get Enough.” But, as the decade wore on, that very song became more of an aberration than a blueprint. You see, the writer of that hit, Vince Clarke, quickly left the band to form Yazoo before settling on Erasure, two other large icons in the electronic war. When the band regrouped, they took a darker turn. Their lyrics questioned organized religion, the constraints of love and relationships and even dabbled a bit in masked S&M themes that were used to convey the ironies in the former two areas.
Needless to say, it took the band a few years to tighten their vision with their sound, but when they did by the mid-Eighties, they were on their way to influencing a wide array of artists. You see, Depeche Mode is not only influential across the board in the electronic world, but also in metal, industrial and even grunge. Sure, the band did cop some Gothic imagery, but they were much more than a Gothic band. How else do you explain their sold-out stadium tours since 1987’s prophetically titled Music for the Masses?
No matter how normal we all appear to be on the surface, many of us hold much darker thoughts and feelings underneath that veneer. And, Depeche Mode taught those of us who followed them to embrace that darkness as an important part of you, not to suppress it. As I have discovered over the years, that darkness in myself only allows my light to shine brighter.
With that said, allow me to give you 30 reasons why Depeche Mode is getting my second vote for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.
30. “Somebody” (Some Great Reward, 1984)
29. “Waiting for the Night” (Violator, 1990)
28. “Dream On” (Exciter, 2001)
27. “Martyr” (Non-album single, 2006)
26. “It’s No Good” (Ultra, 1997)
25. “A Question of Time” (Black Celebration, 1986)
24. “Stripped” (Black Celebration, 1986)
23. “In Your Room” (Songs of Faith and Redemption, 1993)
22. “Heaven” (Delta Machine, 2013)
21. “New Life” (Speak & Spell, 1981)
20. “John the Revelator” (Playing the Angel, 2005)
19. “Where’s the Revolution” (Spirit, 2017)
18. “Policy of Truth” (Violator, 1990)
17. “Walking in My Shoes” (Songs of Faith and Redemption, 1993)
16. “A Question of Lust” (Black Celebration, 1986)
15. “Black Celebration” (Black Celebration, 1986)
14. “Shake the Disease” (Non-album single, 1985)
13. “Blasphemous Rumours” (Some Great Reward, 1984)
12. “Behind the Wheel” (Music for the Masses, 1987)
11. “Route 66” (B-side of “Behind the Wheel,” 1987)
10. “Master and Servant” (Some Great Reward, 1984). Yes, this has the trappings of an Eighties new wave song, but it is the lyrics that separate it from the pack. Yes, this is an extreme relationship, but not any different than the one described in Fifty Shades of Grey, although lacking the detached humor.
9. “Everything Counts” (Construction Time Again, 1983). To me, this song represents the moment when new wave started to become darker, in a very delicious manner.
8. “Just Can’t Get Enough” (Speak & Spell, 1981). If I were to hold up ten songs to represent synthpop during the new wave days, this would definitely be one of them. On further thought, this is the ONE song I would use to represent that time period. It has all the hallmarks of that era, the innocence and the technology merging into one fantastic pop song. Thank God Depeche Mode grew beyond this!
7. “Strangelove” (Music for the Masses, 1987). I distinctly remember the first time I heard this song on the radio (WOXY-FM, 97-X) in my car on my way to work. It just exploded from my speakers like some sort of alien invasion. Whenever I hear it to this day, I time travel to that moment.
6. “Condemnation” (Songs of Faith and Redemption, 1993). This song is a total departure for the band. First, singer Dave Gahan is channeling his inner-Michael Hutchence, giving this a “Never Tell You Apart” feel. But, then there’s the whole gospel choir background singers taking this into U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” territory. Overall, this song is perhaps the most surprising one in the whole Depeche Mode catalogue, signifying that perhaps through Condemnation one can find Redemption.
5. “I Feel You” (Songs of Faith and Redemption, 1993). This one came out at the height of the grunge era, and, as the lead song on the album and single, it signaled that Depeche Mode were doing a U2 on Achtung Baby and incorporating new sounds into their standard fare. This is where it became obvious to the rest of us why the Mode were becoming one of the biggest bands in the world.
4. “Never Let Me Down Again” (Music for the Masses, 1987). The driving beat, the swirling synths, the longing lyrics, this represents everything that Depeche Mode music is known for.
3. “People Are People” (Some Great Reward, 1984). This tune is a veiled cry to stop oppression and for acceptance. And, I am not just talking about racial overtones but any type of orientation, creed or belief that takes one outside the mainstream. This song may be the starting point, albeit unwittingly, for the belief system of Millennials.
2. “Enjoy the Silence” (Violator, 1990). A song of this quality would be number one on any other artist’s list. And, it is on the very same album as my number one song! It’s nothing but a dreamy relationship tune, but, oh, how real the lyrics ring true.
1. “Personal Jesus” (Violator, 1990). How could there be any other song here? This is DM at their most subversive. Start with a driving, synth rhythm, then add in a critique of televangelists of the era that has not dated one bit. And, remember, Johnny Cash covered this song, proving just how strong of a song it is to this day.