5 songs producers need to hear by... Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode
(Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

The Last of Us: it's the smash hit TV series that has given Depeche Mode a massive late career boost, with their track Never Let Me Down Again featuring in at least two episodes. But 'the last of us' weren't four words that ever entered the heads of the band's Martin Gore and Dave Gahan when founding Depeche Mode member Andy Fetcher passed away last year.

Consequently, they recently returned with one of their best ever singles, Ghosts Again, and with the band's 15th studio album, Memento Mori, out on 24 March, it's time to enter the strange, dark, melodic and always compelling world of Depeche Mode to discover their five finest works…

1. Never Let Me Down Again (1987)

There was a time when Depeche Mode's most famous song was Just Can't Get Enough, a hi-energy and super happy jig that annoys some fans (and probably the band) as it's representative of the sound of the Mode for about 25 minutes of 1981.

Now, thanks to The Last Of Us's breathtaking success on HBO, Never Let Me Down Again steals the popularity crown and Depeche Mode fans across the globe breathe a sigh of relief.

This is what the band are really about: searing synths, stomping beats, memorable but ambiguous lyrics, Dave and Martin harmonising… it's all here.

Brilliantly produced, brilliantly paced and brilliantly placed in the apocalyptic zombie(ish) series, Never Let Me Down Again will be many a new fan's first Depeche foray and if that's you, it doesn't get much better than this. So, we might have peaked too early…

Also check out: the Aggro Mix of Never Let Me Down Again. With its insistent bassline, it is one of the best remixes of Depeche Mode, by Depeche Mode.

2. Stripped (1986)

Except it does get much better. Never Let Me Down Again might well have pulled you into the Mode world, but now we've got you here, we'll have you trussed up in a black leather jacket and playing analogue synths in no time.

Stripped is probably the greatest Depeche Mode song ever recorded - although we might well change our minds on that in five minutes time. It opens on a piano followed by an idling motorbike noise - a preset from an Emulator Emax One according to ex member Alan Wilder - before getting even moodier. “Come with me,” sings Dave, and you know you want to. Just for one day.

So you grab his hand and the two of you skip into the woods, but the sun's going down and there are synth wolves in the shadows. No matter. By the time the song has reached its (frankly enormous) crescendo - all powerful string riffs, crashing snares, repeated Dave and Martin back and forths - you'll do anything Dave asks. Even that. Strip down to my bones, you say? Don't mind if I do, Dave. Don't mind if I do.

Also check out: Here Is The House. Well you might as well as Stripped segues into it on the album Black Celebration.

3. Everything Counts (1983)

Pop goes your sampler. Everything Counts was Depeche Mode still in fairly poppy territory back in 1983 - when hit singles were very much a necessity - but also a band on the cusp of embracing the then all-new sampling technology and ready to take a trip to the darker side… for the next 40 years.

With an Emulator sampler, engineer Gareth Jones's tape recorder and a bunch of rocks, they recorded Shoreditch in East London, then a derelict district full of old industry (as opposed to now being a hipster district full of... well).

The sounds they would record would be loaded into the nascent technology to make their most experimental album yet, Construction Time Again, all metal beats and industrial musings. It helped the band gain a huge foothold into the then bleak landscapes of Germany and Eastern Europe, but they didn't forget to add a couple of pop songs, this track being the standout.

This writer saw the Depeche Mode play live at Crystal Palace in 1993 and they closed the set with Everything Counts, with the crowd singing along long after the band had left. It was such a great gig that there are apparently people still singing it there now. 

Also check out: The live version at the Pasadena Rose Bowl gig in 1988. And there's a moment during Never Let Me Down at the same gig - around the four-minute mark - when you realize just how huge the band had become Stateside.

4. In Your Room (Album version, 1993)

If you're an old school Mode fan who has come to this article expecting Just Can't Get Enough or See You, then you've just entered the wrong bar kiddo - one with strange, darkened rooms around the back, an odd odour, and cash-only transactions. And the music has just stopped and all the patrons are staring at you with a twinkle in their eyes.

Yes, In Your Room is very much the limb-restraining, cue-ball-in-mouth side of mid-life Depeche, as opposed to the tickle-stick, thigh slapping antics of, say, Boys Say Go. It's the highest high from the album Songs Of Faith And Devotion - an album so fraught with difficulty in production and deep in mood that after lead singer Dave Gahan sang it so many times on the Devotional tour he (allegedly) slept in a coffin, became a drug addict and even died for a few minutes. So listen to it with care. folks. 

We're talking deep, immersive, sticky, intense and, yes, a bit rude, and that's just this track. But what beauty. If ever there was a Mode song to erect your hairs - come on, you're better than that - then this it. It would, fittingly, be the last single Alan Wilder had a hand in. No, not because he likes being strapped into some kind of sex dungeon, but because it's such a high point on which to leave any band. 

Also check out: Boys Say Go. If only to lift you out of the quagmire you've just been sucked into.

5. Policy Of Truth (1990)

We couldn't round up five DM tracks without something from Violator, arguably the band's finest album and certainly their most consistent (Clean, Halo, Enjoy The Silence and World In My Eyes could easily have made this list too).

Policy Of Truth opens with a big brassy synth riff that sounds faintly ridiculous but somehow works when the song then envelops it with twangs, strings, beats and melodies. We can even forgive the other daft sampled lead that comes in around halfway through because it leads us into one of the finest ever breakdowns.

And what hooks. Policy Of Truth is the one song we load into our heads to drive out terrible earworm tracks that have taken hold. We Built This City? Load Policy Of Truth. Barbie Girl? Load Policy Of Truth. The Final Countdown? You get the drift… 

And, finally, the repeated lyrics 'never again is what you swore the time before' could sum up The Mode's relentless album/tour schedule/career cycle so far. And yet they keep coming back for more. And so do we…

Also check out: Clean. Just because… it's great.

Andy Jones

Andy has been writing about music production and technology for 30 years having started out on Music Technology magazine back in 1992. He has edited the magazines Future Music, Keyboard Review, MusicTech and Computer Music, which he helped launch back in 1998. He owns way too many synthesizers.

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