In Depeche Mode‘s 32-year history, the synth-rock group has tackled countless subjects across the ordinary and taboo, including suicide, politics, romance, greed, LGBT rights, xenophobia, personal insecurity, religious zealotry, sexual freedom, drug addiction, and more. Have you ever been frustrated and alive? Depeche Mode has a song for you.
Martin Gore, the heart and soul of the band’s creative force, is a tortured poet for the ages. He is the voice of all your unspeakable feelings, and frontman Dave Gahan is the dirty, sexual, animalistic voice of that voice. Together, with all-around music-man and fellow founding member Andy Fletcher, they are perhaps one of the most perfect bands to ever exist.
Depeche Mode translates from French to mean “fast fashion,” but disposable is the last word to describe its sound. The band has released a staggering 14 albums, and each one is a step forward. They’ve had one of the most secure and glorious careers of any rock or electronica band to exist, and it’s all based on a well-rounded catalog of exciting, experimental pop music. It’s really hard to narrow its career into 20 songs, but herein, I have done my best.
20. Depeche Mode – “Blasphemous Rumors”
As the world of contemporary music finds itself embroiled in the tough but important discussion of suicide prevention and mental health awareness, this Depeche Mode song from 1984’s Some Great Reward takes a twisted approach. The tale of a 16-year-old girl whose suicide attempt fails, she is still cut down in her prime two years later in a fatal car wreck. This all after she finds renewed strength in God.
The release of “Blasphemous Rumors” as a single caused a serious stir among religious communities, and the band tacked on “Somebody” as a double A-side in an attempt to appease the god-fearing masses. As a Depeche Mode fan, these are the kind of sick, lyrical twists from Martin Gore one comes to know and love. Musically speaking, “Blasphemous Rumors” is notable for its distinct, heavy percussion samples. It draws on early industrial, and brought that harsh sound to the mainstream world half a decade before Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails.
19. Depeche Mode – “Waiting For The Night”
From 1990’s seminal Violator, “Waiting For The Night” may be the band’s most poignant tune. It’s the closest thing to still silence a song has ever been. Each note of its twinkling melody comes in through haunting darkness like lights that flicker. It’s somewhat eery, but it’s somehow eve more tranquil. It’s the kind of song that immediately drags you into its own mood. It doesn’t matter what good news you’ve just received or what party anthem you were just bumping. When “Waiting For The Night” comes on, we are all transformed into nocturnal creatures, blinking wide-eyed into near-nothingness, anxious but somehow calm, anticipating some unknown for six strange and blissful minutes.
18. Depeche Mode – “Master & Servant”
From 1984’s Some Great Reward, this ode to sexy whips and chains is fun for the whole family. With lines about playing “between the sheets,” it’s definitely got overtones of BDSM, but it’s also a bit of commentary on modern life. “Domination’s the name of the game in bed or in life / They’re both just the same / Except in one you’re fulfilled at the end of the day.” Classic sass. Plus, you’ve got to love a tune that includes wood block, tiger growls, and whip-crack effects. Those whip-cracks actually got the song banned from many radio stations in the US, but it still broke the Hot 100. Take that, puritans.
17. Depeche Mode – “A Question of Lust”
Move over, Dave Gahan. Martin Gore has something so personal to say, he’s taking the mic for himself. “A Question of Lust” was only the second single to feature Gore at the forefront, and as he’s the band’s main songwriter, it’s a special moment. From 1986’s goth-spectacular Black Celebration, “A Question of Lust” is one of Depeche Mode’s most romantic ballads, and wouldn’t you know, it still stings with frailty and cynicism. (It’s also really, really fun to sing along to.) Go ahead, throw your hands in the air, do an interpretive dance, twirl about, and let this one soar to the moon.
16. Depeche Mode – “Walking In My Shoes”
John 8:7 reads “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Depeche Mode may be slightly sacrilegious, but if there’s any Biblical verse that rings true to its lyrical canon, it would be that one. Here, Gore writes of judging our fellow men not for the way they appear or even their actions, but for the trials they’ve overcome and the beauty that lives within. Even seemingly evil creatures may hide a history fraught with damnation, sacrifice, and joys heartlessly stolen. This song is also just damn good, dark and brooding with the kind of spiritual overtones that makes any song sound regal.
15. Depeche Mode – “Where’s The Revolution”
Ain’t no time to pussy-foot around with meaning. Depeche Mode are sick of the angry right, and they want you to do something about it. This ethereal dance song is a straight up rallying cry for action. “Come on, people, you’re letting me down,” Gore sings, and doesn’t it make you feel some type of way? The thought-provoking video was directed by long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn, and features stockinged men in Nazi-like uniforms waving flags before the band’s mirthless mugs. “Where’s The Revolution” comes from the band’s most recent release Spirit. Hey, there’s still time to get on board, folks. Revolution, anybody?
14. Depeche Mode – “Heaven”
From 2013’s Delta Machine, this Depeche Mode song stops me in my tracks. Gore and Martin’s harmonies are heart wrenching, and that trudging guitar is the perfect, soulful, electric moan. This song plays humanity’s futility like a sad angel plays the harp. It’s a beautiful, solemn mood, and it makes you wanna bust out your best overly-emotional sing-along performance. “Heaven” topped the Dance Club Songs chart, no easy feat for a down-tempo ballad, and in the wake of EDM’s biggest and brashest moments, a cosign that speaks to its universal loveliness. The video was filmed in a former Catholic church in New Orleans, because whenever Depeche Made can make haunting references to Christianity, it will.
13. Depeche Mode – “Dream On”
There isn’t much written about Depeche Mode’s “Dream On,” but it’s compelling without a backstory. It’s the intro to 2001’s Exciter, and Gahan’s raspy voice coming through like a whisper on a telephone. This song’s allure is all about how the weird, electronic touches weave in and around the repetitive acoustic guitar. It’s very intimate, kind of creepy, and slick with sleeze. It’s kind of an anti-party anthem. There’s something dangerous in the late nights. It hit both Depeche Mode’s strongest markets, peaking at no. 12 on the Alternative charts and topping the Dance Club Songs list. It charted in 17 countries, and ushered the band into a new millennium.
12. Depeche Mode – “Never Let Me Down Again”
Speaking of epic album openers, “Never Let Me Down” is the standout welcome melody to Depeche Mode’s landmark album Music For The Masses. It’s echo-heavy drum pattern was inspired by Led Zeppelin, led by heavy, swirling guitar riffs from Gore. The song’s enigmatic lyrics have been linked to the ethereal euphoria of drug use, while Gore’s counter vocal part in the coda references Soft Cell’s “Torch.” it grows slow, moving from sparse intro to full-blown cinematic epic. “Never Let Me Down” has become a strong fan favorite, and it was even covered by the Smashing Pumpkins.
11. Depeche Mode – “I Feel You”
The openers just keep coming — this one, the first track from 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion. Screeching guitar lights the way into one of the British band’s dirtiest riffs. This album marks the band’s greatest departure from electronic elements to date, leaning more on organic instrumentation, an interesting departure following predecessor Violator‘s heavy synth work. “I Feel You” is a strong opening statement toward that sonic departure. It shows so much growth and heralds a new sound for the group. It’s also got this twisted Western style, one that reappears in the band’s work to follow, with a swinging rhythm heavy with the sound of retribution, and yet, it really is a love song.
10. Depeche Mode – “Shake The Disease”
This Depeche Mode song digs into the band’s deep synthpop and darkwave roots. It demarks the end days of the band’s more coy, playful, upbeat quirks. It sits squarely between the whimsical compositions of Some Great Reward and the dark turn of Black Celebration. “Shake The Disease” was one of two new songs that appeared on the singles collection Catching Up With Depeche Mode, alongside “It’s Called A Heart.” It’s a love song for the modern age, in which our lead romantic desperately wishes for happiness with his beloved, but doesn’t have the time for complete devotion, and no one here is going to be caught begging.
9. Depeche Mode – “Just Can’t Get Enough”
In terms of lyrics and musicality, this is the most fanciful, bright, joyous, kind of ridiculous beloved song in Depeche Mode’s catalog, but oh is it adored. What is not to love about those bouncing synths? How can you frown when that electronic bass is pushing you toward the dance floor? “Just Can’t Get Enough” is positively dripping with ’80s absurdity, and it hints at Doo-wop influence in that vocal harmony. It comes from the band’s debut album Speak and Spell, and if it sounds distinct among the group’s work, it certainly is. It was written by Vince Clark, a founding member who promptly left the band after Speak and Spell was released. He went on to perform in Erasure and a handful of other bands, taking his trademark brightness with him, but fans will always be happy for this smily bit on sunshine in Depeche Mode’s otherwise quite macabre universe.
8. Depeche Mode – “Strangelove”
First of all, epic shout out to Depeche Mode’s song “Master & Servant,” which some people might find unforgivable that I left off, but I digress. “Strangelove” is like the cooler, older sister to that BDSM predecessor. “Strangelove” can be taken a couple of ways. Musically, it sounds similar to the former, especially when considering that the original recordings of “Strangelove” was much faster paced, until band members decided to slow it down in order ot blend better with Music For The Masses’ overall tone. “Strangelove,” too, can be seen as an ode to freaky fetishes, but it can also be an admission of emotional instability, or at times unavailability. Look, all is fair in love and war, whether it be whips and chains or infidelity. If you can’t stand the devices, get out of the torture chamber, but it’s a fine line between pain and pleasure, and we’re on a mission to walk that line.
7. Depeche Mode – “John The Revelator”
Back again come the religious motifs on this cut from 2005’s Playing The Angel. This is a devilish twist on an old, gospel blues call-and-response song by the same name, most famously recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1930. Gahan’s voice drips with protestation, similar to the bite on “Where’s The Revolution?” This one takes aim at the Christian church, just in case you still thought these guys were conflicted by it, or something. It’s a dance tune for its time, featuring heavy drums and gritty, raw synths not unlike the best electroclash songs of the middle-aught era. Of course, this is much sleeker and romantic than Fischerspooner, but this is Depeche Mode, and everything this band touches feeds through a black, gauzy, funeral veil.
6. Depeche Mode – “It’s No Good”
Here, we have another honest-to-goodness love song from Depeche Mode, and of course it sounds like a dark turn on a doomed acid trip. It’s like every time Martin Gore falls in love, he’s tortured over it. But this is how Depeche Mode pines. It was the second single off 1997’s Ultra, an album that reflected the rock sound of its predecessor Songs of Faith and Devotion, but returned to the electronic, gloomy darkness of the band’s gothest moments. It was the first album the band released since Alan Wilder left, returning it to trio status for the first time since 1982. It was also the first album to be released since frontman Dave Gahan’s near overdose, so, you know, dark themes were to be expected. “It’s No Good” is swirling and mysterious, a stand-out of the album, and a definite classic in the overall Depeche Mode story.
5. Depeche Mode – “Everything Counts”
The first sign your happy-go-lucky synthpop band is maturing is a song like “Everything Counts.” This single from 1983’s Construction Time Again speaks of corporate greed, the way Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar.” The xylophone and melodica give the tune a fun, circus-y vibe, but the lyrics speak plain disdain for Britain, and the world’s, ’80s money-before-humanity business-driven ethos. The song was released at a time when Depeche Mode weren’t actually under specific contract. Even cuter is the fact that Gore publishes his own music under a company called Grabbing Hands Music Lmtd.
4. Depeche Mode – “Policy of Truth”
Your mother always told you honesty was the best policy. This Depeche Mode song has a different message. Violator‘s fate ode to secret keeping is perfect for dancing and hatching sneaky schemes. “Policy of Truth” is one of many near-perfect jams from 1990’s Violator, truly a high-point in the band’s career commercially and artistically. These dark synthpop melodies are what goth dreams are made of. It’s was also what normies wanted to hear when it came out. “Policy of Truth” peaked at no. 15 on the Hot 100, no. 2 on the Dance Club Songs chart, and topped the chart for Modern Rock Tracks.
3. Depeche Mode – “People Are People”
This is the quintessential Depeche Mode dance-pop hit. It plays like a pogo stick bouncing around the floor, but listen to the lyrics, and you’ll find a meaningful plea to all human-kind. It’s heavy with industrial drums, quirky with its layered synths, and tinged with just enough darkness to fit the mold. Former member Wilder wrote the music, and Gore wrote the lyrics, an ode to finding common ground in the face of hatred’s many forms, and the belief that men and women are truly good deep down. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized it as one of “500 Songs that Spahed Rock and Roll.”
It’s been said that Gahan find its lyrics too obvious, and the band reportedly has not performed the song in concert since 1986. That’s kind of depressing, because this song is all the right amounts of cheesy to be absolutely divine. I can’t understand what makes a man hate this song. Maybe one day they’ll come around.
2. Depeche Mode – “Personal Jesus”
If your name is Faith, this is your favorite song, and if the world compiled a list of the best songs ever written, this song would make a lot of people’s lists. It’s been covered by Marilyn Manson, Sammy Hagar, Hillary Duff, Johnny Cash, and Mindless Self Indulgence, among others. That must be one of the motliest lineups in fandom history.
It was a turning point for the band, one of its biggest hits in its career, and what a strange hit to have: A song about being somebody’s own private savior. Gore was inspired to pen it after reading Priscilla Presley’s autobiography, Elvis and Me. Apparently, Ms. Elvis found the King to be god-like. Perhaps it was that rock ‘n’ roll influence that inspired the band to first prominently feature the guitar. Not that the drum machine or synthesizers should be jealous. When “Personal Jesus” plays, there is plenty of brooding, stomping, graveyard electricity in the air. It charted in 15 countries, landed on four Billboard charts, and marked the band’s second top 40 hit in the US. It’s also the best song to feature a strange breath breakdown in the history of recorded sound.
1. Depeche Mode – “Enjoy The Silence”
Run the tally, and we might have to all agree Violator is the band’s greatest release. “Enjoy The Silence” comes from that 1990 collection of genius, and it’s truly the epitome of Depeche Mode’s greatness. Gahan’s performance is strong but tender, the melodies ache and sing with joy. The beat is hard, relentless, and perfect for dancing. Its message is ironic, in that words could so well describe the magic of silence. When love is real, you don’t need words. It’s something you feel. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, and so on, and so forth.
What good are all these words when they fail us so often in our hours of need? At least we have Gore to tell our stories for us. “Enjoy The Silence” charted in 17 countries, peaking at no. 8 on the Hot 100, and followed its predecessor “Personal Jesus” to become the band’s first back-to-back top 40 hit. Surprisingly, it had a chart recent reprise in Poland, where it landed at no. 63 on the airplay charts in 2016. That’s because, when you write a song this good, it’s timeless.