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The Best Of: Depeche Mode

Click the cover art for the music videos.

Originally posted in 2013. Updated in 2021.
 

By 2013, when I compiled this list of my 25 favourite Depeche Mode singles, the synthpop-turned-stadium synthrockers were firmly established as one of my top 3 bands of all time. And so the arrival of their 13th studio album, Delta Machine, in March of that year was a big moment, topped a few months later by the fact that I got to see them perform live for a second time when I happened to be in London at the same time as they played the O2. 

Depeche Mode version 2.0

None of the singles from Delta Machine make this list — "Soothe My Soul" and "Heaven" (thanks to the Freemasons mix) just miss the cut — but that's only because Depeche Mode have had so many, often underrated singles throughout a career that now spans 40 years since the release of "Dreaming Of Me" in February 1981.

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25. Freelove

Released: 2001
Album: Exciter
Charts: UK #19

 

Given a welcome remix from the album version by the band's one-time producer Flood, "Freelove" is not one of DM's best known songs, but it's a sensitively performed tune that ranks as one of their best ballads of all time.

24. Martyr

Released: 2006
Album: The Best Of Depeche Mode Volume 1
Charts: UK #13

 

It didn't make the cut for Playing The Angel, and although the compilation album it did end up on seemed like an unneccesary release at the time (speaking of which, will there even be a Volume 2?), at least the world got to enjoy this track, which almost sounds like it could date back to the mid-'80s.

23. Only When I Lose Myself

Released: 1998
Album: The Singles 86>98
Charts: UK #17, Australia #34, US #61

 

Another previously unreleased song included on a compilation, this was the sole new track on DM's second singles collection. I first heard this on the Greek island of Santorini, when I saw the newly released The Singles 86>98 in a local store and bought it despite it being a ridiculously expensive import. Although that holiday was full of sun, surf and donkey rides, this moody tune is the song I associate most strongly with that time.

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22. Stripped

Released: 1986
Album: Black Celebration
Charts: UK #15

 

With their first singles collection (The Singles 81-85) marking the end of one chapter in DM's history, "Stripped" signalled the start of another. Released as the lead single from Black Celebration, it showed the band's poppier days were behind them, even if that change was resisted in the US, where B-side "But Not Tonight" (also a great song) received the focus of promotion.

21. Strangelove

Released: 1987
Album: Music For The Masses
Charts: UK #16, US #50

 

It sounds quite different on Music For The Masses, but I prefer the more commercial single version of this track, which returned the band to the Billboard Hottest 100 for the first time since 1984's "Master And Servant". The next few years would see the band's popularity and commercial success peak in the US.

20. Master And Servant

Released: 1984
Album: Some Great Reward
Charts: UK #9, Australia #89, US #87

 

Speaking of "Master And Servant", here's the song which in my mind marks a turning point for the band. While still relatively upbeat and poppy, its flirtation with a darker subject matter hinted at things to come. Naturally, any suggestion of "sexual deviancy" had radio stations up in arms, with some US stations refusing to play the song and a ban by the BBC narrowly avoided.

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19. Blasphemous Rumours / Somebody

Released: 1984
Album: Some Great Reward
Charts: UK #16, Australia #87

 

Released as the follow-up to "Master And Servant", this double A-side single was the band's most introspective release to date. It was also the first time a song featuring Martin as lead vocalist ("Somebody") was released as a single — even if Mute hedged its bets by issuing it alongside "Blasphemous Rumours", which was sung by Dave.

18. Walking In My Shoes

Released: 1993
Album: Songs Of Faith And Devotion
Charts: UK #14, Australia #74, US #69

 

Skipping ahead a decade now and this second single from Songs Of Faith Of Devotion was not only a great song in its own right, but it also featured one of my favourite Depeche B-sides, "My Joy".

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17. Personal Jesus

Released: 1989
Album: Violator
Charts: UK #13, US #28

 

"Master And Servant" and "Stripped" each marked important turning points in the band's career, but "Personal Jesus" trumps those, heralding the start of DM's time as a supergroup. As the '80s ended, the first single from the landmark Violator album put the group back on the radar with a wider audience than just the fiercely loyal fanbase that'd supported them throughout the decade. Sonically, the track's rock sound made it clear (if 101 hadn't) that DM were just as comfortable filling stadiums as a live act as they were in the studio on their synthesizers.

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16. A Pain That I'm Used To

Released: 2005
Album: Playing The Angel
Charts: UK #15

 

Here's a track which showcases the guitars-meets-synths sound that has been a feature of DM's work since "Personal Jesus". The second single from the return-to-form album Playing The Angel starts with a blast of sound and builds back up through each verse to a similarly raucous chorus.

15. Never Let Me Down Again

Released: 1987
Album: Music For The Masses
Charts: UK #22, Australia #82, US #63

 

There's something triumphant about this track which makes it a great song to hear live — or even just cranked loud on your car stereo. When it was released in 1987, it gave a glimpse of the fuller, rockier sound that was to come just a couple of years later.

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14. A Question Of Time

Released: 1986
Album: Black Celebration
Charts: UK #17

 

Remixed for single release, "A Question Of Time" is also notable for being the first song to come with a music video directed by long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn, who would be instrumental in helping to define the band's visual image over the next couple of decades.

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13. Suffer Well

12. I Feel Loved

11. Policy Of Truth

Released: 2006
Album: Playing The Angel
Charts: UK #12

 

Another first — this time it's the first single since "Just Can't Get Enough" not to be written by Martin. Instead, "Suffer Well" was co-authored by Dave Gahan, who, having released his first solo album three years earlier, was finally allowed to contribute to the songwriting of DM. 

Released: 2001
Album: Exciter
Charts: UK #12, Australia #95

 

I always think of Exciter, despite its title, as a rather understated album — but this storming single (aided by a remix from Danny Tenaglia) definitely shook things up between the quietness of "Dream On" and "Freelove". This was the first sign that the band had what it took to remain relevant in the new millennium.

Released: 1990
Album: Violator
Charts: UK #16, US #15

 

1990 was a fantastic year for DM, and "Policy Of Truth" is the first of three singles from that year to appear on this countdown. It was a massive hit in the US — in fact, it was the first single by the band to chart higher in the States than in the UK.

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10. It's No Good

Released: 1997
Album: Ultra
Charts: UK #5, Australia #52, US #38

 

"Barrel Of A Gun" had been a good choice of lead single from Ultra, since it definitely grabbed the listener's attention — but better singles from that album were to come, including this track, which I always remember being quite long (and taking up a lot of room on mixtapes).

9. World In My Eyes

Released: 1990
Album: Violator
Charts: UK #17, US #52

 

The fourth single from Violator need not have been the final single since there were other tracks that could easily have been released — especially in those days when seven singles from an album was not unusual. Fans who already had the album were rewarded with not one but two good B-sides in the form of "Sea Of Sin" and "Happiest Girl", making the "World In My Eyes" single a particularly worthwhile purchase.

8. Precious

Released: 2005
Album: Playing The Angel
Charts: UK #4, US #71

 

Since many of my other favourite '80s bands had started to disappoint me in the 21st century, I wasn't expecting Depeche Mode to release a single that'd blow me away when they returned after a four-year break from making music. But, they proved me wrong with this track, which instantly became a favourite.

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7. Home

Released: 1997
Album: Ultra
Charts: UK #23, US #88

 

We've already seen "Somebody", and here's another song featuring vocals from Martin — the first track on which he sang lead to be released as a single in 11 years. It was worth the wait, with "Home" proving to be my favourite track from Ultra.

6. A Question Of Lust

Released: 1986
Album: Black Celebration
Charts: UK #28

 

Here's the only other single sung by Martin, and like "Somebody" and "Home", it's quite an impassioned ballad — one that I used to play on the piano after I was given a compendium of Depeche Mode sheet music for my 19th birthday. Well, I tried.

5. People Are People

Released: 1984
Album: Some Great Reward
Charts: UK #4, Australia #25, US #13

 

It's been nearly 40 years and DM have not reached the Australian top 30 since this single peaked at number 25 in 1984. "People Are People" is also one of three songs that have made it to number 4 in the UK — the band's highest ever placing. Despite the chart records achieved by the song, it's not a band favourite and hasn't been performed in decades. Shame.

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4. I Feel You

Released: 1993
Album: Songs Of Faith And Devotion
Charts: UK #8, Australia #37, US #37

 

1993 was the year I rediscovered DM. I'd been aware of them throughout the '80s and was a fan of a number of their songs, but I fully explored their back catalogue after this first single from Songs Of Faith And Devotion was released. At the time, I bought the CD single of "I Feel You", which featured the amazing "One Caress" — my all-time favourite non-single by the band.

3. Enjoy The Silence

Released: 1990
Album: Violator
Charts: UK #6, Australia #71, US #8

 

This is the song that really put DM back on the map in the UK after more than half a decade of middling singles chart positions. "Enjoy The Silence" also gave them their first US top 10 hit and won the BRIT Award for Best Single. In many ways, it's the band's signature song, and has been sampled and covered by countless other acts. It was also remixed in 2004 by Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda for the Remixes 81-04 album and, had I included that single release in this list, it would have ranked as number 20.

2. Just Can't Get Enough

Released: 1981
Album: Speak & Spell
Charts: UK #8, Australia #4

 

In the 40 years since Depeche Mode's breakthrough hit was released, their sound has changed so dramatically that it's almost unimaginable the band we know today would ever have released this synthpop ditty. Obviously, "Just Can't Get Enough" comes from the Vince Clarke era of DM, but the band hasn't turned its back on it and the song still gets regular outings during live shows.

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1. Everything Counts

Released: 1983
Album: Construction Time Again
Charts: UK #6

 

Until 1993, this was the only Depeche Mode single I owned — and when I saw "owned", I should say "pinched out of my sister's collection". My love for "Everything Counts" has stood the test of time, and despite strong competition in the decades since, it remains my favourite single by the band. A live version was released to promote 101 in 1989 and the song has acted as concert encore for more than one tour — although not, disappointingly, the Delta Machine show I saw in the UK shortly afterl I originally wrote this post.

Top 5 Album Tracks

No trip through Depeche Mode's best songs would be complete without highlighting some of their best non-singles. I could name many more great album cuts, but here are the best five:

1. "One Caress" from Songs Of Faith And Devotion
2. "Halo" from Violator
3. "Black Celebration" from Black Celebration
4. "Sacred" from Music For The Masses
5. "Mercy In You" from Songs Of Faith And Devotion

You can listen to Depeche Mode's top 25 singles and top 5 album tracks on my Spotify playlist:

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