With a nod for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020 arriving at great applause, Depeche Mode are approaching their legacy with an air of debauched decorum. We thought we’d look back at the band’s 10 greatest songs of all time.
Martin Gore and Dave Gahan have now been writing iconic songs for their band Depeche Mode for nearly 40 years. According to Rolling Stone, they’re the “quintessential eighties techno-pop band” and critic Sasha Frere noted them to be the “last serious English influence who seem more and more significant as time passes.”
With 14 studio albums and 50 songs in the UK’s singles chart, Depeche Mode are prolific, to say the least. They manage to synthesize the melancholy with the danceable, leaving you unsure whether to cry or boogie. It’s a neat trick which has seen them gather fans across the globe.
They may have started in the depths of Essex but the band soon rose to prominence and found their name up in lights, selling out stadiums and connecting with every person in them.
Below we look back at some of their best songs and why they’re one of the greatest synth-pop bands ever to have walked the dry ice-flooded earth.
The 10 best Depeche Mode songs of all time:
10. ‘Personal Jesus’
When a song is so ruthlessly covered it’s a fairly good indication of the kind of quality it represents. Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ is, without doubt, a high-quality track and represents a turning point for the band.
Born out of Martin Gore’s love of Priscilla Presley’s autobiography, the track is one of Depeche Mode’s most legendary.
9. ‘Policy Of Truth’
A song from the 1990 album Violator, this punchy song is undoubtedly one of the best. It builds and keeps you entranced the whole way through. The intro melody sound was created by a single note sampled from a guitar and then looped and played from a keyboard—a mark of the band’s inventiveness.
It’s the only Depeche Mode single to do better in the US than in the UK. Martin Gore told Bong in 1998 that it was one his all-time favourite songs ever recorded.
8. ‘Master & Servant’
Master and Servant is off their 1984 album Some Great Reward, and at first, this synth dance track appears to be a song about S&M. Gore told Martin Townsend of VOX Magazine in 1993:
“If you analyse it, it’s not. It’s not as drastic as you might think. It’s about domination and exploitation in life, but it uses sex. It’s about the power that people employ in work, love, hate … and in sex. We just used the sexual angle to portray it.”
7. ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’
The quintessential ’80s synth-pop song was the last single to be written by Vince Clarke before he left the band in 1981. It’s from their first album, Speak and Spell, and is starkly different to Depeche Mode’s later music, yet still remains a great dance track and a favourite among fans.
When interviewed about the song by Entertainment Weekly, Gahan said: “The punk thing had just kind of ended, but there were still a few people who were hanging out in the clubs in London, who were trying to play music that you could dance to a bit more that wasn’t so violent, and ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ became one of those.”
This dark atmospheric track is from their 1986 album Black Celebration and is another shining example of the group’s songwriting prowess. According to Gore, it’s one of their best songs and really demonstrates their evolution from their harsher previous albums.
Interestingly, the rhythm of ‘Stripped’ came from an idling motorbike played half an octave down from its original pitch. Just another way in which Depeche Mode asserted themselves as innovators.
5. ‘Never Let Me Down Again’
One of Depeche Mode’s more bold and dramatic tracks from Music for the Masses, 1987. The strident lyrics appear to reflect drug use and is a synth-pop masterpiece that well conveys the feelings of drug euphoria.
This song is noted for the video in the 101 documentary when Gahan waves his hands in the air during the coda of the song, and the sold-out show of 60,000 all wave with him. When he was interviewed for the French magazine, Best, in 1989, he said: “For me, this is one of the most intense moments during the concert.
“Firstly because this track has a very strong emotional charge, and every time I play it the waving goes well with the crowd. In addition, we were heading towards the end of the show and during this song, the stadium was on fire. When I saw the number of people there, I felt like crying. It was very moving.”
4. ‘Enjoy The Silence’
‘Enjoy the Silence’ from the 1990 album Violator is probably Depeche Mode’s most widely recognised song. It’s about being satisfied with exactly what you have.
The stripped-back, poignant lyrics were initially going to be sung over a slow track, a ballad of sorts. However, Alan Wilder had the idea to speed it up and make it more disco which Gore was opposed to. He felt it contradicted the serenity and aesthetic of the lyrics, but he came around once he’d heard the new version.
Speaking to BONG in 1998, Gore said: “This was the only time ever in the studio when we thought we had a hit single.” They were obviously onto something, as ‘Enjoy the Silence’ won Best British Single at the 1991 BRIT Awards.
Taken from their 2005 studio album, Playing the Angel, ‘Precious’ is about Gore’s divorce from his wife. It’s a melancholy song, but not defeatist. It’s a touchingly honest reflection on the dissolution of, at least a part, of one’s life.
In an interview with Kolner Stadt-Anzeigar, he said: “’Precious’ is about how my children cope with the divorce – which isn’t very well. But the song ends with the verse ‘I know you learned to trust / Keep faith in both of us.’ All our songs, even the most depressive ones, contain hope.”
2. ‘People Are People’
‘People Are People’ was their first hit single in the US and was the first single from their 1984 album Some Great Reward. It’s a captivating song that you wish went on for a bit longer because it’s just that good.
According to Gore, the lyrics are about racism. When speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Gahan offered a little more clarity: “We were using all these tape loops to create rhythms and the technology was quite advanced, but it wasn’t anything like it is today, the things that you can do,” reflects the singer.
“We used to go into studios, and the first thing we’d do, we’d ask where the kitchen was — literally for pots and pans and things that we could throw down the stairs, and record the rhythms they would make crashing around, and then make it into loops.”
1. ‘Everything Counts’
‘Everything Counts’ is one of those songs that’s near impossible to not dance to. The track is on their third studio album Construction Time Again which was released in 1983 and sees Depeche Mode nearing the peak of their creative powers but still propelled by enthusiasm.
Crystalline synthesizers, xylophones and lyrics criticising corporate greed all come together to make what is still a fantastic and rather relevant song in 2020. It’s a gutsy track that switches between the melodic to the harsh.
It’s the first song to have both Martin Gore and Dave Gahan sing prominently at different times and was quick to become one of the fan favourites when they toured. Shortly after the track was released as a single, Gahan said in an interview with NME: “It’s a bit more important to sing about something of substance than sing about nonsense. If you’re in a band in our position, you’re in a very strong position to write about those things, so why not do it?”