Depeche Mode

The singular genius of Depeche Mode’s music might be the way their songs inspire a gut-wrenching personal response. The best music is, of course, meant to do this, but when Depeche Mode started their career in the early ’80s, pop music was as expendable as it was in the 1950s: a product meant for easy use and disposal. Mindless music was a byproduct of the boundless consumption that defined the times.

Depeche Mode proved that music often derided as simple synth pop was capable of the same expression as the most sophisticated rock and even classical music. They did so by forcing their listeners on a journey inward to the parts of ourselves that are the most confusing and frightening, the places we need to go to discover what makes us human. Their work often feels like an endurance test: How much pain can you take?
Depeche Mode was always catchy but they were never easy; their material touched on suicide, regret, obsession, doubt, and faith. Depeche Mode’s ability to provoke disparate reactions in a range of listeners is a rare achievement for a band that achieved enormous commercial success.

Most fans can remember the first time they heard Depeche Mode. Me, I was 16, and I went to visit a girl who lived in another state, expecting that I’d leave with a new girlfriend. We met at the beach that fall and made out and danced and listened to Dead Or Alive. I spent the ensuing weeks thinking about her angular but beautiful nose, the peculiar cadence of her voice. As we drove around in her parents’ Volvo, she told me that what amounted to a weekend fling (and a chaste one at that) wasn’t going to lead to anything more.

In retrospect it seems like so much childish bullshit — and it was — but young emotions are runaway meteors. They don’t leave marks; they leave craters. I was in another state after a long Greyhound ride and wanted to go home; I was rejected within hours of arriving and had to spend a weekend at her house. I wasn’t even sure why I was invited — just to get my ass kicked to the curb? The only music in her car as we drove around visiting strip malls, diners, and a rinky-dink zoo was DM’s 1984 now-classic, Some Great Reward. The songs were imprinted on my brain for life. I will always associate early heartbreak with that record. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Even if your heart wasn’t broken, Depeche Mode could make you feel like it was. And they still can.
Compiling the 10 best Depeche Mode songs is a herculean task. The band’s songs open small, Alice In Wonderland-esque portals that allow us to see the larger, often mystifying worlds inside. The hard work is distilling personal favorites — songs that feel eerily autobiographical — from the best work in their long career, particularly when there are so few duds. While “Blasphemous Rumors” and “A Question Of Lust” receive ample playtime on my stereo, they don’t reach to the level of the 10 songs below.

As blasphemous as it may seem to dissect such an impressive catalog — one that continues to expand, not to mention inspire new renditions and remixes — here are the 10 best songs from some of the most gifted songwriters of our generation. Depeche Mode was arguably at their creative peak from roughly 1983 to Wilder’s departure in the mid-’90s. So while the band continues to make memorable music — they’re releasing a new album next year, and the preview track suggests good things — all of these songs are culled from the band’s pivotal works. Playing The Angel and Exciter have their strong moments but it’s hard to compete with Some Great Reward, Violator, and Songs Of Faith And Devotion. But that’s just my opinion; let’s hear yours in the comments.

10. “Fly On The Windscreen” from Black Celebration (1986)

“Fly On The Windscreen” is one of the best songs on an album largely about death: the death of relationships; the decay of the physical body; the death and perhaps rebirth of the ego. The song could be about the abrupt end of love, the subconscious desire to hold on to love no matter what: “Reminding us, we could be torn apart tonight.” For those who paid attention in high school English class there’s an overt Emily Dickinson nod (“I heard a fly buzz when I died”). At its core the song is about the small things we notice when everything falls apart. The keyboard — often an object of whimsy in ’80s pop — is dark, overwhelming and depressing, particularly the driving hook that powers the song. The pitch-black tone and feel of Black Celebration birthed more darkness: Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine; Skinny Puppy’s Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse, and Marilyn Manson, who covered the next song on the list.

9. “Personal Jesus” from Violator (1990)

“Reach out and touch faith.” After the darkness of Depeche Mode’s ’80s output, this seemed like a breather, even if some of the songs on Violator, such as “Clean,” were unrelentingly dark. “Jesus” was one of the band’s biggest chart successes and was tweaked and remixed on dance floors throughout the early ’90s. While rhythm has always been central to Depeche Mode’s songs, on “Personal Jesus” it was the song — one idea that’s so good it can be retooled and recycled and still sound fresh. As techno took over the early ’90s — driving suburban kids to raves and Ecstasy — Depeche Mode was perhaps unknowingly one of the bands leading the way.

8. “Just Can’t Get Enough” from Speak And Spell (1981)

Depeche Mode’s first album, before Martin Gore took over songwriting duties, was brighter (and less sophisticated) than their later material. You couldn’t say it was poppier; the darker work commanded just as many replays. Speak And Spell was the only DM record to feature Vince Clarke (later of Erasure); there are a few diehards who abandoned the band with him even though the Martin Gore material is superior. Of the entire batch, “Just Can’t Get Enough” is one of their most enduring songs, about slipping and sliding and falling in love. The song marked the band’s last embrace of childhood innocence before their moody adolescence and eventual maturity.

7. “I Feel You” from Songs Of Faith And Devotion (1993)

“This is the story of our love,” Gahan sings in one of the most inspired vocal performances in a career that’s like a highlight reel. Gahan’s vocals are so intimate that you feel like he’s singing in your living room. Listen for the brilliant fills in the small spaces between the vocals; there’s a musical sophistication here that you’ll miss if you focus on the voice. One YouTube commenter says it all: “If I hadn’t already been in my panties this song would have made me take all my clothes off.”

6. “People Are People” from Some Great Reward (1984)

On an album about personal struggles this is a clarion call for something that everyone can get behind: harmony. While there is a certain hokeyness to “People Are People” this is a Depeche Mode staple; the band’s synth-pop version of utopian songs like “All You Need Is Love.” It’s also one of the few Depeche Mode songs to look consciously outward rather than to the interior struggles of the mind.

5. “Master And Servant” from Some Great Reward (1984)

Writing about sadomasochism wasn’t unprecedented in ’80s synth pop. Marc Almond and Soft Cell (of “Tainted Love” fame) crawled deep into red-light territory on the 1981 album Nonstop Erotic Cabaret; their “Sex Dwarf” is a dirty ditty about a perv who carries a dwarf around on a dog leash for sexual thrills. Depeche Mode also toyed with themes of pain and domination. “Master And Servant,” with talk of forgotten equality and play between the sheets, is perhaps more timid than Soft Cell’s earlier ribald tale. But it nonetheless reached many more listeners. The chorus of “let’s play master and servant” sounds compelling decades later.

4. “Everything Counts” from Construction Time Again (1983)

“Everything Counts” is an acidic song that’s all about joining the machine, written as Depeche Mode was becoming an unstoppable force in that machine, a band that filled arenas. Is it about the dirty record industry or the band feeling guilty about having achieved success? The sacrifices we all make to cobble together a living? Is it telling us to mind our time because we don’t have much left? Perhaps it’s about all the above. The band parroted and mimicked sounds of industry to give the song a feeling of being swallowed, much like the workers in Fritz Lang’s silent-film masterpiece Metropolis. “Everything Counts” is the moment where Depeche Mode showed how much they had grown after they were reconfigured following Clarke’s departure and Alan Wilder’s addition.

3. “Stripped” from Black Celebration (1986)

“Stripped” earns its title. It’s trimmed and reduced to its essence; there’s a mechanical backbeat that sounds like a car engine rumbling or an assembly line running; Gahan’s voice starts at a near-whisper and rises to a looming, rich baritone; keyboards sputter to life a minute in. Is “Stripped” a reference to how much you can take away from a song and still have something memorable, as much as it is about reducing someone to the place of ultimate vulnerability? “Stripped” was covered by the theatrical German metal band Rammstein, performed with a leer rather than Depeche Mode’s pensive glare.

2. “Never Let Me Down Again” from Music For The Masses (1987)

Depeche Mode has always been a pop band with a proclivity for writing songs that burrow in your brain. On “Never Let Me Down Again” they do the same with orchestral ambitions. This is in many ways their richest song: a songwriting showcase buttressed by a wider-ranging sound and approach. Much like Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys did with “Good Vibrations,” Depeche Mode constructed a “pocket symphony” tailor-made for radio that contained worlds underneath the easily grasped. The hook was unexpectedly sampled by the early white rap duo 3rd Bass in “Wordz Of Wizdom, Part 2.” Until then, I never expected to hear Depeche Mode and the line “these hoes go frontin’ on my Jimmy,” in the same song, but it’s pretty brilliant.

1. “Enjoy The Silence” from Violator (1990)

If any one song perfectly combines the elements that make Depeche Mode compulsively listenable it’s their masterpiece “Enjoy The Silence.” What works here? Everything: the anthemic chorus; Gahan’s vocals; the wide-ranging, orchestral feel and rich dynamics, which play with volume and pace. In a catalog that often talks about the pain and desperation of loneliness, the band seems to find a measure of peace in letting go and living in a quiet moment with someone important. “Enjoy The Silence” also marked that rare moment when a band’s popularity coincided with their peak of their songwriting powers, which somewhat diminished during Gahan’s addiction and the dark years that followed. This is a timeless song that works for the same reasons the best songs by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones work: Everything is done right, all at once. It’s pure magic.

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Comments (64)
  1. Where is Policy of Truth!?

    • I understand this is just a list of one person’s opinion, but it’s strange that Enjoy the Silence is #1 and Policy of Truth isn’t even on the list. They compliment each other so well on Violator that I would think if you loved one, you’d love the other.

  2. Behind the Wheel? :(

  3. Picking 10 DM songs is basically impossible–they’ve never made a bad album across 30 years and they have roughly 57 singles released to date–but this list isn’t far from mine.

    I still remember the first time I (actively) heard Depeche Mode: I was way into MTV when I was 10 years old, watching everything from everyone, whatever came my way. A long saturday morning session suddenly got interesting when the new Depeche Mode vid lit up the screen–there was a guy in a crown marching through the snow, across mountains and everywhere else, a red flower on a black backdrop flickered into the frame while he sang about words like violence. It was the best song I had ever heard then, and it’s still one of my favorites today. “Enjoy the Silence” is the only choice for #1, as far as I’m concerned.

  4. I would have “Never Let Me Down Again” as one and probably exchange Policy of Truth for Enjoy the Silence (but have it lower). I also like “Walking in my Shoes” more than “I Feel You”, and for later songs pretty much “It’s No Good”.

    Reasonable list!

    Teenage me would have put “Tonight”, but I predict a lot of teenage others would have had “Somebody”

  5. As a complete sucker for anything Depeche Mode does, I have to admire the effort here. I probably could not list their 10 best songs and not feel guilty for excluding this or that.

    We probably all agree on Enjoy the Silence, but I’m far less certain about People are People and Just Can’t Get Enough, which seem a bit like obvious commercial choices. Personally, I would have replaced Can’t Get Enough with New Life, from the same album.

    And, just to add a nerdy touch to this, I would definitly put in my Top 10 the Violator era B-Side Sea of Sin. The simple fact that such a song ended up being a B-Sides really goes to show how DM were on such a hot creative streak with the trilogy Music For The Masses/Violator/Songs of Faith and Devotion.

  6. Ick, not even through the list but glaring issues with Black Celebration….industrial music was already well into it’s existence by then, the skinny puppy album mentioned (my favorite by them) has NOTHING to do with Black Celebration at all, and as an ex goth kid from the 80s, I and many others found this album to be the “playing dress up” version of goth and darkness. I think Fly on the Windscreen is HOKEY, LAME, BORING, and completely unimaginative, as is much of that album. They just lifted what other bands were already doing well, then diluted it down. There are exceptions, stripped, NEW DRESS, great tracks. But this one and the title track—WAY over-rated.

    • the rest of the list I can somewhat agree with. I’d put Get the Balance Right instead of Fly on the Windscreen.

    • i think fly on the windscreen is the only song on this list that deserves placement. (the bass groove blends soooo well into anything with a similar bpm!)
      but that aside, this list is wildly misinformed.

  7. couldn’t you guys have picked a few deep cuts instead of swiping the back of a greatest hits cd?

  8. “Depeche Mode’s first album, before Dave Gahan joined the band, was brighter (and less sophisticated) than their later material.”

    Guys, Dave has ALWAYS been a part of Depeche Mode.

  9. wow this is a terrible list.
    sure, great songs are listed, but did you bother to listen to anything besides just youtube’ing the singles? the real riches and brilliance of this amazing band is in the deeper cuts. their catalog is pure gold.

  10. Where’s Shake the Disease? Come on…

  11. A very fine list, though I was hoping to see “But Not Tonight” on there.

  12. This is a pretty good list, but really? Discounting Playing The Angel is really sad, It’s almost as good as Violator and Black Celebration.

    And no Question of Time?

  13. i think is necessary an errata at the end of the article “I was drunk when i wrote this sh**, and i never hear a full DM album in my life”

  14. In Your Room is to me without a doubt the best song Depeche ever written. If not the best anyone ever written. Would have expected it here after darker and edgier songs like FOTW made the list.

  15. Dave actually came up with the name for the band.

  16. This list was completely invalidated the second you decided to keep ‘But Not Tonight’ off the list.

  17. SHAKE THE DISEASE

  18. I don’t even know why you’d try to do just a 10 song list, but it’s not a bad one for what it is, although I’d pick “Black Celebration” over “Fly On The Windscreen” and “Walking In My Shoes” over “I Feel You” and somehow find a way to fit “Precious” on there…

  19. Normally love these lists but 9 obvious singles plus possibly the poorest track from Black Celebration (their best album IMO)?

    I’d have had Shake The Disease, Ice Machine, To Have and to Hold, Any Second Now (voices), Halo, The Sun and the Rainfall, Barrel of a Gun, It’s No Good, Enjoy the Silence and Sometimes as my top 10 in that order.

  20. Little 15.

  21. A decent list for the average listener. But I’m not going to knock it as some people have already have. And what is the love with Shake the Disease? Don’t get me wrong, I like the song, but fans just die over that song.

  22. The problem with trying to make a Top Ten DM list is that IT IS IMPOSSIBLE. What may be your favorites RIGHT NOW will change tomorrow. Happens to me all the time. I created a Spotify playlist of my favorite DM songs and ended up with 45 tracks! But like others have said, no Shake the Disease? or how about a B-Side like Sea of Sin or Dangerous? IMO equally as great as any album tracks…..

  23. But that’s just my opinion; let’s hear yours in the comments. the mans last statement in explanation, my mum always taught me if i have nothing nice to say….i personally think depeche are one of those bands that are very personal, like in your explanation different times different environment different feelings, but i will have the last word and say leave in silence and useless would be in mine , but enjoy the silence i agree most whole heartedly……and im aving the last word on this cos im a woman….no im not im a man…i dunno what the eck i am these days…….and in retrospect i knows you all got yer favorites and its hard to describe without sounding like your disagreeing with the man….but thats the net for you ………ill leave u with a mode single ….PEACE!

  24. I’m thinking the main issue with this list is that it’s just too short. My personal list, in no particular order…

    Enjoy The Silence
    Never Let Me Down
    Shake The Disease
    Dream On
    The World In My Eyes
    Strangelove
    Just Can’t Get Enough
    People Are People
    I Feel You
    Policy Of Truth
    Behind The Wheel
    But Not Tonight
    Everything Counts
    Condemnation

    Unfortunately, I can’t agree so much about their deep album cuts being as good as their singles. IMO, they’re one of the best ‘singles’ artists in the history of the medium. Right up there with The Smiths and New Order (except Depeche Mode ended up putting more of theirs on the full-length albums).

  25. Behind The Wheel, Precious and Home are my top 3

  26. Precious has to be top 5, Blasphemous Rumours was a huge turning point in their music and swap the pretty turgid Stripped for Walking in My Shoes, an incredibly dramatic and powerful song. This year’s Soulsavers album is the best DM record without their name on it, btw.

  27. Love all those songs, and most Depeche Mode, but I will always consider Walking in My Shoes their magnum opus. Such a beautifully constructed piece of music, and one of my favorite songs from any band ever.

  28. One Caress
    Condemnation
    I Am You
    Blue Dress
    Freelove
    The Darkest Star
    Clean
    Shake The Disease
    In Sympathy
    Sea of Sin

  29. I do like the the list articles, but commenters here make it clear that it is impossible for them to hit. Many of the lists have been criticized for being too conscientiously lacking of hits, and here there is criticism for too many. I’d like for the lists to keep coming, but a feature where commenters could vote ahead of time and then have the author presenting their personal list along side results from commenter discussion/voting would be pretty cool. Kind of getting some pre-discussion going is a nice way to include everyone while still have a post that reflects a personal take.

    Also, please someone do a thematic list for best break-up albums- there are so many great ones.

  30. I would’ve left off Just Can’t Get Enough….cute song but that came out when they were trying to be a new wave pop act…it’s like Creep being on a top 10 BEST Radiohead songs list….yes some people would still wanna include it BUT it doesn’t belong. I woulda replaced it with Strangelove or Question of Lust.

  31. Lie to Me
    If you Want
    the Sun and the Rainfall
    Insight
    Here is the House
    Halo
    Useless
    In your Memory
    Happiest Girl
    Sea of Sin
    Leave in Silence
    In Your Room
    Photographic
    Freelove

    Those are just a sample of their best songs (IMO) :)

    • good call on “Insight”. that’s one of my all time favorites. I always felt like ULTRA was way underrated.

      • For real. “Insight” is an amazing song.

        And for having 2 songs off Violator on this list, it’s really interesting to see that the best song on Violator isn’t even listed: “Halo”. But that is just an indicator of just how good Violator was.

  32. Fly On The Windscreen is not a single. I liked his history with DM and PERSONAL musics choices.

    BUT, my list is better:

    10. Home (MARTIN!)
    9. Shake The Disease
    8. Everything Counts
    7. Halo
    6. Personal Jesus
    5. Stripped
    4. World In My Eyes
    3. Never Let Me Down Again
    2. Enjoy The Silence
    1. Walking In My Shoes

    Yeah, Fly On The Windscreen, It´s No Good, Question Of Time, Black Celebration got the top 20. I felt terrible.

  33. Good list, admittedly an almost impossible one to make but… nothing from Ultra?? Maybe it’s just because that’s the album that ultimately got me into DM, but I would have at least included either “Barrel of a Gun” or “Home” somewhere in there.

  34. 10. Enjoy the Silence
    9. Rainbow Days
    8. Everything Counts
    7. Personal Jesus
    6. The last time we spoke
    5. Never let me down
    4. Aviation
    3. Ray of Hope
    2. Policy of Truth
    1. Life in Ruin

  35. “Home”

    And AIR’s remix of “Home” as well.

    Needed to be mentioned.

  36. It Doesn’t Matter has to be the most well written DM song lyrically. It’s my favorite DM song and it breaks my heart every time I listen to it. Beautiful.

  37. I don’t trust any list like this without “But not tonight” in it…

  38. It made me very happy to see Stripped on here. When I saw there was a list, I thought, “If there’s no Stripped, I sad.” You have prevented this, and I thank you for it.

  39. It’s really hard to make a Top 10 Best songs. Here’s an attempt (in chronological order):

    Everything Counts
    Fly on the Windscreen – Final
    Stripped
    Strangelove
    Never Let Me Down Again
    Enjoy the Silence
    Policy of Truth
    World in My Eyes
    In Your Room
    Home

  40. I really think they did a good job with this list….here’s my top 10 not in order

    home
    just cant get enough
    never let me down again
    stripped
    enjoy the silence
    but not tonight
    it doesnt matter
    nothing
    leave in silence
    black celebration

  41. who the hell are these guys?

  42. “Shout” (early 80s 12″ – Rio Remix)

  43. From my point of view, there is one major song missing…

    BLASPHEMOUS RUMOURS

    I would say top 11 ;)

  44. I’m a diehard, lifelong Depeche Mode fan, but People are People is and always will be an festering pile of shit. Just an awful song that oozes obsolescence and was probably regretted the minute it was recorded. Just Can’t Get Enough comes in a very close second for one of their worst songs.

  45. well, if we’re gonna get REAL geeky, THESE would have to be MY personal picks for DM favorites (in no particular order)….and these would really cut in quite deep if you ask me:

    1- The Landscape Is Changing (Construction Time Again, 1983)
    2- Get The Balance Right (1983 i believe)
    3- Everything Counts (Construction Time Again, 1983)
    4- Lie To Me (Some Great Reward, 1984)
    5- Somebody (rmx) (original, Some Great Reward, 1984)
    6- If You Want (Some Great Reward, 1984)
    7- Shake The Disease (Catching Up With Depeche Mode, 1985)
    8- Fly On The Windscreen (even though the BC Final version has a darker tone, i prefer the original one on Catching Up With Depeche Mode, 1985)
    9- Stripped (Black Celebration, 1986)
    10- Here Is The House (Black Celebration, 1986)
    11- Nothing (Music For The Masses, 1987)
    12- World In My Eyes (Violator, 1990)
    13- Halo (Violator, 1990)
    14- Enjoy The Silence (Violator, 1990)
    15- Policy Of Truth (Violator, 1990)
    16- Blue Dress (Violator, 1990)
    17- In Your Room (Songs Of Faith And Devotion, 1993)
    18- Rush (Songs Of Faith And Devotion, 1993)
    19- Higher Love (Songs Of Faith And Devotion, 1993)
    20- The Love Thieves (Ultra, 1997)
    21- It’s No Good (Ultra, 1997)

    I’ll be quite honest, I feel really shitty trying to dissect a discography so intense and complex where I practically like nearly every song in the catalog (fuck, even if I’m not so crazy about “Speak And Spell (1981) i do dig “Boys Say Go!” and “Any Second Now (Voices)”), but i would say that these would make up an “immediate but not definitive” list….and i haven’t gotten into the post-Wilder stage or even the B-sides (“Dangerous”…OH MY GOD!!!!). I’m sure i speak for most when i confess that DM is like the ONLY band that’s ever struck not one nerve, but MANY nerves and sensations like no other band has ever done. To me it fills me with pride to know that STILL today DM is one of the greatest bands that has their imminent place in the world of music. Can’t wait for their new album!!!

  46. Their new track just might have to be added to this list! I can’t stop listening to Heaven. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Fy7FzXLin7o

  47. top 10 album cuts / b-sides / bonus tracks

    1. Here Is The House
    2. Insight
    3. My Joy
    4. Newborn
    5. When The Body Speaks
    6. Judas
    7. Halo
    8. Sacred
    9. Lie To Me
    10. Light

  48. My Top 20 DM tracks would be….

    1, Enjoy The Silence
    2, Rush
    3, Lie To Me
    4, Never Let Me Down Again
    5, Precious
    6, It’s No Good
    7, Policy Of Truth
    8, Useless
    9, Lillian
    10, Suffer Well
    11, Fragile Tension
    12, Walking In My Shoes
    13, Halo
    14, Shake The Disease
    15, Blue Dress
    16, Personal Jesus
    17, In Your Room
    18, Just Can’t Get Enough
    19, To Have And To Hold
    20, Shout

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