Playlist: À la mode – Thirty great Depeche Mode tunes

Depeche Mode is likely the band I have been following and listening to the longest out of all the artists that I would consider as part of my all time greats. I first came upon them mid-way through high school and have been listening to them ever since, which if you actually knew how old I am, you’d realized is quite a long time.

Back in 2020, the synth pop icons celebrated their 40th anniversary together as a going concern. The COVID pandemic likely scuttled some of the big plans the band might have had to celebrate the occasion but it thankfully didn’t impact their well-deserved induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That very same year I dedicated a bunch of words and time writing three posts celebrating some of my very favourite tunes by Depeche Mode in the 1980s and 1990s and everything thereafter. I had mused back then that the group was due for a new album, given that it had already been three years at that point since their last.

When founding member Andrew Fletcher passed away in the spring of 2022, though, I figured that was it for one of my favourite bands. I’d heard that Martin Gore and David Gahan planned to soldier on as a duo but I didn’t believe anything would really come of it. When they announced the impending release of Depeche Mode’s 15th studio album, “Memento mori”, I knew I would give it a listen but never did I suspect it would be my favourite by the band in almost two decades.

Listening to tracks like “Wagging tongue” and “Ghosts again” reminded me of what drew me to them in first place. Indeed, this new album got me reminiscing, once again, on their incredible back catalogue, how it has soundtracked the best and worst times of my life, and has probably done the same for many others. And that thought got me thinking about my favourite tracks by Depeche Mode and I started putting together a playlist of what I’d consider to be the best of their best. A new playlist, I thought, what a novelty!

Usually, I limit these playlists of mine to 25 songs but it just didn’t seem enough for Depeche Mode so I stretched it to 30. And here is the playlist (with some commentary) in all its Youtube glory:

1. Dreaming of me

    • The band’s first ever single is the obvious place to start this playlist. Written by Vince Clarke, its light energy foreshadowed the dance pop material on their debut long player.

2. Just can’t get enough

    • The big single off Depeche Mode’s debut album, “Speak & spell”, is the only other song here written by founding member, Vince Clarke, who shortly afterwards left to form Yazoo with Alison Moyet. He was always concerned more with hooks than lyrics and this one left it all on the dance floor.

3. Everything counts

    • Martin Gore took over the bulk of songwriting duties with Clarke’s departure and he really started to hit his stride on the band’s third album, “Construction time again”. I’ve include an extended version of the first single, a rail against corporate greed and corruption.

4. People are people
5. Blasphemous rumours

    • “Some great reward” was the first album by the band that I purchased for myself on cassette tape, years after the band’s fourth album was released. I remember singing the chorus of the first of these two singles over and over again while delivering papers as a teen and the second one was favourite for turning up loudly in my bedroom when I was feeling low.

6. But not tonight
7. A question of lust
8. Stripped

    • I picked up a used CD copy of “Black celebration”, the fifth album, many years after its original release and a few years after becoming a fan. It marked a further journey into darker and more romantic (or is it just lustful) territory, as evidenced by the latter two of these tracks. The first was a bonus track on my CD that appeared in the 80s rom-com “Modern girls” and for some reason, always got under my skin.

9. Behind the wheel
10. Never let me down again
11. The things you said

    • The sixth album’s title was a tongue-in-cheek play on the group’s place in popular culture and their commercial appeal and ironically, found them finally finding success in North America. These three tracks from “Music for the masses” are Mode at their gloomy best.

12. Black celebration (live)
13. Somebody (live)

    • During their very last (101st) stop on their North American tour in support of the last album, the shows were recorded and collected as a double live album called “101”. It’s one of my favourite live albums of all time and given the playlist, considered by many as almost another ‘best of’ collection. It was my own introduction to much of their incredible back catalogue.

14. Enjoy the silence
15. Personal Jesus
16. Waiting for the night
17. World in my eyes

    • Coming off their most successful tour, the synth pop quartet then recorded what is arguably their best album. “Violator” spawned four incredible and at the time, ubiquitous singles, three of which are represented here. The fourth is one of my favourites of all time by the group, a haunting track that is best listened to with the lights out.

18. Death’s door

    • Depeche Mode contributed this uncharacteristically low-key track to the soundtrack to the 1991 Wim Winders film, “Until the end of the world”. It perfectly fit with the mood and lackadaisical pace of the film and those of us hungry for new music from the group ate it up.

19. I feel you
20. One caress
21. Walking in my shoes

    • Three years seemed an eternity between Mode albums at the time but 1993’s “Songs of faith and devotion” was worth the wait. It was by times more aggressive and rock-oriented than their previous work and at others, had a lot more soul and life. By all accounts, though, its recording was difficult and is the final album on which Alan Wilder appears, given he left the group after its tour cycle.

22. Barrel of a gun
23. It’s no good

    • The remaining trio soldiered on and returned with “Ultra”, their ninth studio album, in 1997. The results for me were a bit uneven. Though I enjoyed a few of its tracks, include the two singles above, this was the first of their albums that I rarely wanted to listen to all the way through.

24. Dream on

    • On “Exciter”, the group moved on from synth pop into electronica territory. The album’s first single was “Dream on”, on which Martin Gore set a driving guitar line against rave-ready beat and David Gahan gave it some soul.

25. Precious
26. A pain that I’m used to

    • “Playing the angel” found the group back in familiar Depeche Mode territory. Indeed, the two excellent tracks included here are both sleek, dark, and sexy.

27. Peace

    • The second single released off of Mode’s 12th studio album, 2009’s “Sounds of the universe” is real spiritual. The song is heavy percussive low end synths with high end electronic beats, flittering and frittering digital party streamers, and then, more synth washes give way to breakbeats and other flourishes.

28. Where’s the revolution

    • The group’s last album before the pandemic and before Andy Fletcher’s death whittled them down to a duo was 2017’s “Spirit”. It wasn’t my favourite of their albums but had a couple bright spots, including this twitchy and industrial, political call to arms.

29. Wagging tongue
30. Ghosts again

    • And here we are at the end, or is it a new beginning, only time will tell, but as I hinted at above, tracks like above two from the new album are some of their best in a decade or so.

For the whole playlist on Apple music, click here. Enjoy!

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.


Best tunes of 1993: #15 Depeche Mode “I feel you”

<< #16    |    #14 >>

Ok. I know I’ve told this story before, at least a part of it, but I’m going to tell it again.

After I graduated high school, I took a year off, partly because I couldn’t afford the steep tuition fees for university and partly because I wasn’t ready. My parents knew it and deep down, I knew it too. It all worked out in the end but at the time, I was pretty sore about it.

The idea was that I would find work and save up. But there was a big flaw in the plan: finding a job in my small hometown was near impossible. I had found a job at a Becker’s Milk in October 1992 but that only lasted six weeks or so, through no fault of mine, and I was back pounding the pavement. I found a bit more luck the following spring when my high school drama teacher’s name on my reference list caught the eye of the owner of one of our town’s more reputable bar and grills. The King Street Bar & Grill, to be exact.

My first scheduled shift was a Thursday night, aka, Wing night, and after about an hour and a half of washing dishes, they finally got me doing some food prep. I was shown the correct way to locate the joints on a chicken wing, handed a big knife and cutting board, and was set to the task of separating the drumette from the wingette and disposing of the tip for three cases of wings. It was mindless and mundane work and if I didn’t love them so much, it might’ve put me off of wings for life.

Luckily for me, I had the radio nearby and the head cook for the night (whose name is forever lost to me) didn’t care if I changed the station, as long as I kept the wings coming. I quickly moved the dial from the country station to which it had been set and found Toronto’s alternative station, still called CFNY at that time. Now I may be remembering this part wrong* but I feel like they used to have a half hour new music show, on which they would test out new songs on the listening audience to see if they would fly in the regular music rotation. And I feel like one of the songs featured that evening was the latest, long awaited single by synth pop icons, Depeche Mode.

This was the age before the internet and I had yet to come across articles featuring the band in the music magazines** and David Gahan’s radically different, long-haired and bearded look. So I had no idea what I was in for when “I feel you” first came on and I was confronted with that screaming intro, followed by the bluesy guitar lick and drum line. The vocals were so obviously Gahan, though, and I fell for the tune from the beginning. I went out and bought the CD, “Songs of faith and devotion”, as soon as I was able, and welcomed the group’s new direction.

To this day, “I feel you” is still one of my favourite Mode tunes, and it came in at number three when I counted down my top five favourites of their 90s tracks. It is an explosion of sex and religion. It is an iconoclastic synth pop band paying tribute to rock without giving in to mass culture. It is a band thirteen years into their career, surviving crises and at the same time, finding a new path. It is heaven and hell at the same time. Hallelujah.

*Whether I am remembering this part right or not, what is indisputable, at least to myself, is that on this night, I heard this song for the very first time.

**This would come in the weeks that followed. First pay check in hand, I went out and purchased a copy of the latest Creem that featured them on the cover and voraciously read the article.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.


Top five tunes: Depeche Mode (1990s edition)

Who? Depeche Mode

Years active: 1980-present

Band members:
Dave Gahan (vocals) 1980-present
Martin Gore (vocals, keyboards, guitars) 1980-present
Andy Fletcher (keyboards, backing vocals) 1980-present
Vince Clarke (keyboards, lead and backing vocals, guitars) 1980–1981
Alan Wilder (keyboards, piano, drums, backing vocals) 1982–1995

Discography (1990s):
Violator (1990)
Songs of faith and devotion (1993)
Ultra (1997)

It was way back at the end of January that I posted the first part of this series. I got the idea to do a three part “Top five tunes” series of posts on Depeche Mode when I read the news late last year that they would be celebrating their 40th anniversary together in 2020. I focused on their 1980s back catalogue in that first post and I was hoping to post this second part focusing on their output from the 1990s back in March but that obviously didn’t happen. And it’s pretty obvious by now that my plans of wrapping things up with a final post on the rest of their work before the end of July is dead in the water. However, I’m still optimistic that I can wrap this one up before the year is out.

A lot has transpired since I started writing for this series back in January (and since I actually started writing this post at the end of March). And I’m not just talking about the announcement that Mode was named part of the class of 2020 for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though that ceremony has been delayed now until the end of the year. You might have also heard talk about this thing called COVID-19 and the havoc it is wreaking on what we have all come to know as our ‘normal lives’. Indeed, the pandemic likely had a huge impact on whatever plans the three remaining members of Depeche Mode were hatching to celebrate this year, much as it has for musicians the world over, whether it be album releases or tours or music festival appearances. Everything ‘normal’ has pretty much ground to a halt and our purveyors of music have had to find innovative ways, mostly via social media, to stay creative and relevant. My own personal celebration of Mode’s 40 years can still continue, as it must, albeit perhaps at a slower pace than I was planning.

I mentioned in passing back in January that my first real introduction to the band came by way of “Personal Jesus”. It was released as a single in 1989 and appeared on their 1990 album “Violator”. If you’ve gone back to check, you’ll notice that the song didn’t appear in my 1980s top five and that’s because I’ve always lumped it in with their 90s output, so (*spoiler alert*) don’t be surprised to see it below. “Violator” really blew things wide open for Depeche Mode, continuing the work of exposing them to a worldwide market that “Music for the masses” and its ensuing tour began. They would only go on to release two more albums in the 90s but each were, if not as iconic as “Violator”, at least tremendously successful and continued to build on the momentum from the album before.

I had become a serious fan in the years between the releases of “Violator” and “Songs of faith and devotion” and I distinctly remember the first time I heard anything new from the latter album. That’s right, a certain song came on the radio while I was working kitchen at the King Street Bar & Grill. From the very first blood curdling screech and the bluesy guitar riff, I knew things were heading in a very different direction for Depeche Mode. And then I saw photos in the music magazines of frontman Dave Gahan, the long hair, beard, and tattoos, and read the stories of his relocation to Los Angeles, the drug use and near death experiences. I saw the band live for the first and only time in the summer of 1994 while they were touring that album at Kingswood Music Theatre. Incidentally, it was the first of many concerts that I would see with my wife Victoria, back when we were just kids and didn’t know what life had in store for us, so it was a pretty special show for us both.

Multi-instrumentalist and one of the principal songwriters, Alan Wilder left the group the year after that concert, making the quartet a trio, and leaving a lot of question marks in all of our minds. The biggest one for me was would there ever be another Depeche Mode album. That question was answered in the affirmative in the spring of 1997, a great year for music in my humble opinion, with the release of “Ultra”. And though my tastes had moved on and Mode weren’t as near to my heart at that point, the album drew me in nonetheless and featured some very excellent music.

So yeah, Mode in the nineties, only three albums, but some very excellent tunes and many of them are a big part of my memories from that time. Let’s go.

The top five:

#5: Barrel of a gun (from “Ultra”, 1997)

I will forever associate this song with the night my wife and I officially celebrate as the night we got together as a couple after a few years of friendship. Even though the song wasn’t released as a single in North America until the end of the following month, I swear that we heard “Bullet of a gun” on the radio as part of a new music preview driving home from the coffee shop Victoria brought me to, planning to break up with me, a funny thought considering we weren’t yet a proper couple. Instead, I convinced her that we should give it an honest try. I remember taking this song as a sign, given that we had seen Depeche Mode live together, two years prior. Though had I gotten a closer listen to the lyrics at the time, I might not have thought the omen a good one. Frontman David Gahan felt as though Martin Gore had written it about him and his struggles at the time, the drugs that had him “staring down the barrel of a gun”. The track was the first single since Alan Wilder had left them a few years earlier and had their fans breathing a sigh of relief. It was dark, electronic, industrial, sexy, sleek, and undeniably, Depeche Mode.

#4: Waiting for the night (from “Violator”, 1990)

I remember my friend John using this song and quoting lyrics from it to spin yarns about his ability to visit parallel, dream-like worlds to the young ladies in our group of friends back in the day. Even now, I couldn’t tell you if he truly believed it or if it was just an attempt at getting some play. Listening to this song loudly, though, in a darkened room, through half closed eyes, might have anyone believing in the supernatural. “And when I squinted, the world seemed rose-tinted and angels appeared to descend.” Everything seems better when partially obscured says track five on Depeche Mode’s iconic album, “Violator”. The rapid fire, repetitive, percussive synths mesh together and wash miasma to create a sort of mist, a haunted space where all seems at peace, and Martin Gore and David Gahan sing together as one, a dream, a pang at the heart, a big glass of deep red wine. Just lay back on your carpet, let the night wash over you, the vibrations sink into your bones, and it doesn’t really matter if the story was true or not. It just is.

#3: I feel you (from “Songs of faith and devotion”, 1993)

“Violator” saw Depeche Mode branching out and adding other instruments, like guitars (!), to their typical synth palette but their next album, “Songs of faith and devotion”, was the closest thing to a rock album that the band would record. “I feel you” has a serious blues riff, care of Martin Gore on guitar, and Alan Wilder played the rhythm on an honest to goodness drum kit. Though truth be told, his playing was then looped, digitized, and sampled throughout. The religious overtones in their lyrics were taken to new heights on the album, flirting with gospel tropes and choirs, and here on “I feel you”, as per usual, Gore has Gahan equating God with the very human emotion: love. “You take me where the kingdom comes. You take me to and lead me through Babylon. This is the morning of our love. It’s just the dawning of our love.” It’s a sensuous piece that bumps and grinds along and Gahan roars like the sexy beast that he is, newly long hair a flailing, attitude personified. Yes indeed.

#2: Enjoy the silence (from “Violator”, 1990)

The fact that there are three songs from “Violator” on this list of Depeche Mode’s best five tunes from the decade (don’t worry, I know you’ve already skipped ahead to see which one was number one) only serves as a reminder (as if it was needed) as to how great that album was. Both this track and the number one also hit these pages as part of my Best tunes of 1990 series. “Enjoy the silence” was number 11 on that list and only comes second here to an indisputable modern classic, but it too is definitely one of my favourite tunes of all time. It is breaths of fresh air interspersed with delectable guitar licks that, together, approximate the beauty of the soul. Drum beats explode with confetti and get frenetic and tribal. It is worldly and interstellar, calling to mind the vastness of the grand canyon and the grandeur of the alps and the solitude of the Sahara or Antartica. It is all this and yet, all David Gahan (or was it Martin Gore) wanted and needed was here in his arms, the love of his life, the love of your life, equating silence, equating everything. Yeah, it’s all that but it’s also a great tune with which to smash the dance floor.

#1: Personal Jesus (from “Violator”, 1990)

I hinted earlier in this post that this song would appear somewhere in this list and given that I mentioned that it was my introduction to Depeche Mode and that this very same song was my number one track on my best tunes of 1990 list, you shouldn’t at all be surprised to find it number one here. Don’t be disappointed. Really, is there anybody that was alive in 1990 that doesn’t know  and love “Personal Jesus”, at least to some degree? Just play the twin chiming bells at the start of the song and I’d say that most people will respond with “reach out and touch faith”, call and answer like. The song was everywhere for a time and with good reason. “Personal Jesus” is an excellent track that feels that it pokes fun at televangelists at the same time as it examines the nature of love and obsession. The bluesy guitar riff and and the stomping percussion that plays through the first part of the verses is sexy and danceable and then things get all erratic and driving and needy before the familiar refrain kicks in. Yeah, we all need faith and we all need something to believe in, love is a religion. “Personal Jesus” is a revolution.

For other top five lists in this series, click here.