Just Can’t Get Enough: Depeche Mode's 30 best songs ranked
One of the essential bands of the 1980s, Depeche Mode have found themselves, over the course of their long career, at the crest of the synth-pop, new wave, goth-rock, and industrial genres. The British musicians—composed of the late Andy Fletcher, songwriter/instrumentalist Martin Gore, and lead vocalist Dave Gahan for the majority of their four-decade run—broke through on their very first album, on the strength of the hit single “Just Can’t Get Enough.”
Since then, they’ve been an evolutionary, hit-dispensing tour de force. With their 15th studio album, Memento Mori, landing this week and a massive world tour kicking off on March 23, we thought it was time for a refresher: here are the 30 best Depeche Mode songs, from megahits to B-sides to deep cuts, from throughout their catalog.
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30. “Just Can’t Get Enough” (Speak And Spell, 1981)
Depeche Mode - Just Can’t Get Enough (Official Video)
Let’s get the obvious pick out of the way, shall we? Debut Speak And Spell was the sole album where Depeche Mode were creatively led by keyboardist Vince Clarke. As a result, it’s a much merrier and more disco-driven album than anything that would follow, and “Just Can’t Get Enough” is the apex of that floor-filling sound. With its happy-go-lucky beat and oft-repeated hook, it was an instant hit for the then-fledgling Brits and would become a decade-defining anthem. The band would soon dart in a different sonic direction, but this was an essential launchpad for their career.
29. “Agent Orange” (“Strangelove” B-side, 1987)
Agent Orange (2006 Remaster)
Despite being buried on the B-side of the “Strangelove” single and released later as a bonus track on Music For The Masses, “Agent Orange” is Depeche Mode’s finest instrumental. This ominous waltz of electro-beats, synths, and keyboards is as dark as you’d expect, considering the song is named after a chemical weapon used in the Vietnam War. The militaristic connotations carry through to the end, when the music is joined by a frantically beeping Morse Code sequence. What the dots and dashes spell out is, apparently, nothing but gibberish, although it’s easy to imagine this cut on the soundtrack of films such as Full Metal Jacket or Platoon.
28. “It’s No Good” (Ultra, 1997)
Depeche Mode - It’s No Good (Official Video)
Produced during and after singer Dave Gahan’s struggles with cocaine and heroin addiction, Ultra was a bleak moment of self-reflection that dabbled in industrial rock (“Barrel Of A Gun”), Vangelis-style electro-ambience (“Uselink”), and distorted strings (“Jazz Thieves”). Through it all though, “It’s No Good” was a welcome throwback to the Depeche Mode golden age. Ultra’s second single carries a subtle synth melody, with lyrics that express emotions of unrequited love. The song emphasizes atmosphere, with suspenseful overtones and no huge crescendos to be found, but that didn’t stop this tune from shuffling its way up the charts.
27. “Where’s The Revolution” (Spirit, 2017)
Depeche Mode - Where’s the Revolution (Official Video)
Rock music calling for political revolution through song has long been a cliche, but the lead single of Spirit is a fascinating twist on that trope. Instead of trying to motivate listeners to rebel against corruption like so many before have, “Where’s The Revolution” instead laments that the proletariat’s siege of power hasn’t happened yet. “Where’s the revolution? Come on, people, you’re letting me down,” a disappointed Dave Gahan and Martin Gore croon over blasts of electronica. It was the perfect lead single for an album defined by political exasperation.
26. “Little 15” (Music For The Masses, 1987)
Depeche Mode - Little 15 (Official Video)
If you were to host a seminar on how to craft an instant classic, then this Music For The Masses cut would make for one hell of a case study. “Little 15” wastes no time in establishing its central melody: right from the start, its keys serenade with notes that could have been the centerpiece of a heartbreaking classical epic. Then Dave Gahan’s vocals join in, singing the title of the song (always an easy way to wedge the lyrics into listeners’ brains), before exploring the dynamic between a young man and his older, world-weary lover.
25. “The Sinner In Me” (Playing The Angel, 2005)
Depeche Mode - The Sinner In Me
For many, Playing The Angel marked Depeche Mode’s return to form, following the ambience and stretched-out songs of 2001’s ironically titled Exciter. If that album was defined by its quietness, then “The Sinner In Me” is the polar opposite. Instantly, this deep cut amps up the listener with pulsating synths, then explodes into a blast of noise rock nastiness. It’s a track as menacing as it is memorable, with the tension of its instrumentation accompanied by Dave Gahan repeating the song title in his downtrodden baritone.
24. “Love, In Itself” (Construction Time Again, 1983)
Depeche Mode - Love, In Itself (Official Video)
Following Vince Clarke’s departure after the release of Speak And Spell, Depeche Mode encountered a sophomore slump with 1982’s A Broken Frame as the songwriting reins were abruptly handed over to Martin Gore. Fortunately, by the time of 1983’s Construction Time Again, Gore had begun to find the balance between danceable synth-pop and the bleaker sounds to come. Opener “Love, In Itself” casts Dave Gahan’s moody vocals against triumphant, horn-like sections and the odd uptempo beat. The lyrics double down on the nihilism, with concepts like naivety, depression and the dark side of love that—spoiler alert—this band was not going to get bored of any time soon.
23. “Going Backwards” (Spirit, 2017)
“Going Backwards,” the opening track of the hyper-politicized Spirit, makes no bones about introducing the album’s manifesto front and center. As the title suggests, it’s an observation of the regression of society: we have access to so much technology yet none of it has made us better, more sensitive people. “We can track in all the satellites, seeing all in plain sight, watch men die in real time,” Dave Gahan sings, “but we have nothing inside.” The sparse instrumentation—centered around a piano and slow, marching beat—only amplifies the sense of hopelessness.
22. “Miles Away/The Truth Is” (Sounds Of The Universe, 2009)
Miles Away / The Truth Is
One of the few post-Speak And Spell Depeche Mode songs not masterminded by Martin Gore, “Miles Away/The Truth Is” is the brainchild of Dave Gahan and Sounds Of The Universe programmers Christian Eigner and Andrew Phillpott. It’s one of the album’s most quickly appealing tracks, with that call of “The truth is, you’re miles away!” instantly affirming itself as a hummable melody. There’s also loads to unpack in its transparent sense of yearning: although Gahan has said the song isn’t predominantly about drugs, he’s acknowledged they’ll always be a part of his writing, given his previous addictions. Top-shelf pop with an enigmatic edge? We’re in!
21. “Fly On The Windscreen” (“It’s Called A Heart” B-side, 1985)
Depeche Mode - Fly on the windscreen (1985)
There are multiple versions of “Fly On The Windscreen” to fall in love with. The “(Final)” version is the second song on Black Celebration, and there’s a live version on 2010’s Tour Of The Universe. However, the best is the “It’s Called A Heart” B-side: while the album track clutters itself with frills like samples of producer Daniel Miller saying “horse,” this “unfinished” take is smoother and simpler. The vocals and lyrics feel more central—as they should be, since they carry fascinating metaphors for the omnipresence of death and how we use sex and romance to distract ourselves from these realities.
20. “Nodisco” (Speak And Spell, 1981)
Depeche Mode - Nodisco
“Nodisco” is the truest preview of Depeche Mode’s later career that you’ll find on Speak And Spell—because it’s the darkest-sounding song on the album. The Vince Clarke-penned track touches on the heavy, digital bounce that would eventually define the band. “This ain’t no disco!” Dave Gahan authoritatively declares, in a sharp about-face from such prior floor-fillers as “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Admittedly, this would quickly be undone by that chorus of “Move me, disco!” (because Clarke wasn’t as good at this type of thing as Gore would become), but still, it’s a refreshing change for an often uptempo disc.
19. “Everything Counts” (live version; 101, 1989)
Depeche Mode - Everything Counts [Live - from “101"] (Official Video)
The studio version of “Everything Counts” is a standout of the Construction Time Again album and, rightfully, one of Depeche Mode’s biggest early hits. However, this 1989 live version reigns supreme. Made by a more mature band—hot on the heels of their masterpiece, 1987’s Music For The Masses—the finale of 101 benefits hugely from stronger vocals from Martin Gore. During the chorus of the original 1983 take, his falsetto was still coming into its own, but six years later it’s fully realized—not to mention more powerfully contrasted against Dave Gahan’s low-pitched lamentations.
18. “One Caress” (Songs Of Faith And Devotion, 1993)
Depeche Mode - One Caress (Official Video)
By 1993, new wave had faded out of fashion and the aggression of grunge was the flavor of the day. Depeche Mode was one of the few bands to successfully reinvent themselves for this angsty era, amplifying their percussive weight for Songs Of Faith And Devotion. “One Caress” is the palate cleanser of the album, following the fast-paced rock of “Rush” with a symphonic aria. As Martin Gore sings, “I always loved the night and now you offer me eternal darkness” with cellos swelling behind him, it evokes the power and tragedy of such grandiose theater as Les Misérables.
17. “A Pain That I’m Used To” (Playing The Angel, 2005)
Depeche Mode - A Pain That I’m Used To (Official Video)
Playing The Angel immediately chose to signal that it was the louder, more dynamic follow-up to Exciter with this opener. “A Pain That I’m Used To” starts as an atonal mess, noise rock bursting out of the speakers like an ear-splitting siren, alerting everyone that Depeche Mode in’t going to make more ambient music like the tracks found on this album’s 2001 predecessor. The song then calms itself long enough to relay a tight and ever-building synth-rock verse, although the barrages of sound return with each passing chorus. Add in a dark, heavy melody to tether everything together and you have our favorite 21st-century Depeche Mode cut.
16. “Walking In My Shoes” (Songs Of Faith And Devotion, 1993)
Depeche Mode - Walking In My Shoes (Official Video)
A percussive rocker that symbolizes the grunge and alt-rock inspirations that went into Songs Of Faith And Devotion, “Walking In My Shoes” is rightfully a mainstay at Depeche Mode shows. It’s also a compassionate cut, quietly demanding that, before the listener can judge the speaker for some kind of slight or mistake, they should, well, walk in their shoes. It could be indicative of the internal divides in Depeche Mode at the time, since recording Faith… was a nightmare of personality clashes and pressure. Still, those dramas led to a killer single—and a career high point of an album.
15. “Only When I Lose Myself” (The Singles 86-98, 1998)
Depeche Mode - Only When I Lose Myself (Official Video)
This love-centric ballad was originally written for the Ultra album, but got postponed so it could be the sole original song on 1998’s The Singles 86-98 compilation. The atmospheric track is outside Depeche Mode’s usual repertoire when it comes to lead singles, but there’s beauty to every part of it. The lyrics unpack the co-dependency of relationships, while the chorus is followed by an exotic, Eastern-sounding melody that marked new territory for the band. Ultimately, saving this song for the compilation paid dividends, since “Only When I Lose Myself” went to No. 1 on the charts in three countries.
14. “Shake The Disease” (The Singles 81-85, 1985)
Depeche Mode - Shake The Disease (Official Video)
Depeche Mode weren’t the biggest fans of “Shake The Disease” when it came out. According to the band members, they were touring while writing and recording the single, and it didn’t get as big of a chorus as it should have. To that we say, they were wrong. “Shake The Disease” is an instant, melancholy anthem, talking from the perspective of a man vowing to change himself to try and save a failing relationship. It’s vintage Depeche Mode darkness caked in sentimental pop—and its creators seem to have changed their stance on it, since setlist.fm says they’ve played it live nearly 400 times.
13. “Behind The Wheel” (Music For The Masses, 1987)
Depeche Mode - Behind The Wheel (Official Video)
The ultimate sub anthem. After “Little 15” narrated the dynamic between a young man and his jaded lady, “Behind The Wheel” is a sex-happier track, with songwriter Martin Gore abandoning all pretense and asking his lover to do anything she desires with him. “Do what you want, I don’t care,” it announces. “Tonight, I’m in the hands of fate. I hand myself over on a plate.” If that doesn’t win her over, the pulsing synths and seductive guitar line most certainly should. Whatever happened on the night that Gore wrote this song about, he definitely enjoyed himself. And that’s the main thing.
12. “Policy Of Truth” (Violator, 1990)
Depeche Mode - Policy Of Truth (Official Video)
Yes, it’s finally time to talk about Violator. The follow-up to Music For The Masses is often duking it out with its predecessor over which disc gets to top the “best Depeche Mode album of all time” lists. Violator spawned a myriad of career-defining hits, including “Policy Of Truth,” the third single. Equal parts goth-rock guitar, deep baritone and tense synths, it embodies both the best of what Depeche Mode were in the ’80s and the direction they were about to pursue on Songs Of Faith And Devotion. A surefire highlight—but still only the fourth-best song on that glorious record.
11. “World In My Eyes” (Violator, 1990)
Depeche Mode - World In My Eyes (Official Video)
Before “Personal Jesus” and “Policy Of Truth” showcased some of the more guitar-centric goth-rock ideas of Violator, opening song “World In My Eyes” eased us in with a slice of familiar electronica. The cut starts with a classic sample-heavy synth melody, bouncing along as Dave Gahan promises to “take you on a trip” and “show you the world in my eyes.” The lyrics could be alluding to Depeche Mode’s tour-heavy lifestyle at the time, but they’ve also been interpreted as being about the sexiness of creativity, opening up new worlds of sensual pleasure. Either way, what a jam.
10. “I Want You Now” (Music For The Masses, 1987)
I Want You Now (2006 Remaster)
During the height of Mötley Crüe and Poison, ’80s rock was crammed with songs about men lusting over women. “I Want You Now” is among the best examples of this microgenre, since it refreshingly ditches any toxic masculinity. Instead, over hums and percussive clangs, singer and lyricist Martin Gore admits “I don’t mean to sound like one of the boys” as he turns his feelings of desire into a sensitive, candid soliloquy. It’s a brief and musically sparse track, but as an exclamation of horniness, it’s one of the healthiest you’ll hear from its decade’s music scene.
9. “Black Celebration” (Black Celebration, 1986)
The first track on Black Celebration gradually hypnotizes you into Depeche Mode’s then-ever-darkening universe. In 1986, the track was the bleakest-sounding thing the band had done, slowly unfolding as Dave Gahan charismatically invites the listener to a “black celebration.” Although the song, which relishes all things seedy, teenage, and nighttime, could just as easily serve as an induction to some shadowy cult. Meanwhile, the tapping synths foresee the countless Metroidvania soundtracks about to pour out of the video game industry. This macabre crawl through the dank depths of new wave is still as effective an opener now as it was in the ’80s.
8. “Personal Jesus” (Violator, 1990)
Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus (Official Video)
“Reach out and touch faith!” Sing those five words to any Depeche Mode fan and they’ll lose their minds, because the words kick off one of the band’s most popular songs. “Personal Jesus” deserves its success. It’s an invigorating rocker with an exciting beat, built around an earworm of a guitar melody with lyrics inspired by Priscilla Presley and her devotion to Elvis.
7. “Rush” (Songs Of Faith And Devotion, 1993)
Rush (2006 Remaster)
As an unadulterated jolt of adrenaline on Songs Of Faith And Devotion, “Rush” lives up to its name. On top of clamoring percussion and bassy synth lines, Dave Gahan sings about pure, untempered devotion to his partner: “Seen the tears roll down from my eyes for you. Heard my truth distorted to lies for you. Watched my love becoming a prize for you.” Whether such dedication is returned by the other party or not is a mystery, but this song was written by Martin Gore. So, based on his track record, probably not.
6. “Stripped” (Black Celebration, 1986)
Depeche Mode - Stripped (Official Video)
Easily among Martin Gore’s most beautifully poetic lyrics, “Stripped” is a Romantic rocker yearning to escape the modern throes of pollution and mechanization. “Metropolis has nothing on this,” Dave Gahan croons, in reference to Fritz Lang’s dystopian opus. “You’re breathing in fumes I taste when we kiss.” It all gives the chorus (“Let me see you stripped down to the bone”) a lustful yet, also, innocent tone. The clamoring industrial rock layered beneath Gahan and Gore’s dual vocals further paints the picture of claustrophobic urban clutter that the song wants to break free from. Everything comes together in this masterpiece.
5. “When The Body Speaks” (acoustic version; “Goodnight Lovers” B-side, 2002)
When the Body Speaks (Acoustic)
“When The Body Speaks” was originally an exercise in evocative and digitized atmospherics on the Exciter album. However, on the B-side version that came with the “Goodnight Lovers” single, Depeche Mode stripped the track back even further, until only guitars, strings and vocals remained. The simplicity not only adds a timelessness to the ballad, but puts more emphasis on the heartstring-plucking performance of Dave Gahan. The singer is audibly broken, as his lyrics imply physical desires are getting in the way of love: “What the flesh requires keeps the heart imprisoned.” From the music to the themes, it’s unstoppably powerful.
4. “Blasphemous Rumours” (Some Great Reward, 1984)
Depeche Mode - Blasphemous Rumours (Official Video)
“Blasphemous Rumours” is the most controversial song in Depeche Mode’s long history. In the U.K., the BBC wanted it banned shortly after its release. The lyrics are an exploration of death and religion that’s as intense as it is blasphemous, inspired by the time Martin Gore saw former bandmates Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher praying for sick people and, if they died, conceding that it was “God’s will.” Gore retorts with stories of suffering and suicide, then opines, “I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor.” Whether you’re offended or unfazed, no one can deny the weight and horrors behind those melodies.
3. “Enjoy The Silence” (Violator, 1990)
Depeche Mode - Enjoy The Silence (Official Video)
A rare Martin Gore love song without even a wrinkle of negativity, “Enjoy The Silence” is a testament to those moments of quiet bliss when you’re just enjoying the company of your other half. It’s also one of Depeche Mode’s most addictive musical moments, living on the bridge between goth rock, new wave and post-punk as its guitars and synth notes trade lead lines. This wrapping of positivity in emotional songwriting has made the Violator single Depeche Mode’s most-streamed moment on Spotify. It’s also the Brits’ third-most-played live song, behind “Personal Jesus” and “Never Let Me Down Again.”
2. “Strangelove” (single version; 1987)
Depeche Mode - Strangelove (Official Video)
Yes, we know, Depeche Mode remixed “Strangelove” after releasing it as a single because they deemed it too “cluttered” and happy to fit in on Music For The Masses. But the first version is still better. A svelte new wave megahit, it wastes no time jumping into not one but two of the band’s greatest melodies, with the verses and choruses somehow being equally infectious. Even the bridge is so catchy that, for lesser bands, it could be the hook of the biggest song of their lives. Long story short: this is unforgettable pop condensed into its purest possible strain.
1. “Never Let Me Down Again” (Music For The Masses, 1987)
Depeche Mode - Never Let Me Down Again (Official Video) (Heard on Episode 1 of The Last Of Us)
Whatever you want in your Depeche Mode music, you’ll find it in the second single from Music For The Masses. The lyrics for “Never Let Me Down Again” are an ingenious metaphor for relying on drugs and alcohol to escape reality, despite the likelihood they’ll make your reality even worse. Meanwhile, the music is a heavy, synth-powered march, which commences with a subtle twang of gothic guitar that would later get expanded upon on Violator. The song only grows more gigantic as samples a drum beat by Led Zeppelin before incorporating a full-blown choir. By its conclusion, “Never Let Me Down Again” is so over-the-top yet sorrowful that it could soundtrack the apocalypse itself. Depeche Mode has never been more evocative, more darkly danceable or more operatic—and the band does it all in the space of one single magnum opus of a song.
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