The third and final single released from an album as the tour in support of that album winds down might not seem that important. Everyone that will buy the record has bought it and the single will only really be of interest to collectors who need to have everything associated with the band.
A Question Of Time was released on 11th August 1986 and at that point there were only two dates left on the Black Celebration tour. Despite this odd release date, A Question Of Time is a hugely significant moment in Depeche Mode's history, not because of the music, but because of the video.
Enter Anton Corbijn, and enter the previously unknown concept of artistic credibility. The video review sections are going to be dull for the next few singles. Let's see if we can find something else to laugh at instead.
PERSUASIVE WAYS - A QUESTION OF TIME
A Question Of Time was released having been remixed, the single version of BONG12 being a slightly jauntier version than the album mix. There was a Remix Edit of the remix too but we'll come on to that and how to spot it later on. Yes, that's right - I will be providing examples of how to find out if you have the promo 7" with the Remix Edit on it. I like to provide as full a service as I can. You lot read this voluntarily - imagine what my wife, my family and friends have to put up with.
The NME gave the single a fairly snide review:
"Remixed and remodelled, 'A Question Of Time' is an anthem: Depeche Mode's answer to Big Country. It just stutters on in frantic waves of guitar and synth keyboard. Depeche Mode's fans seem to crave for a diet of rigid, thrashing beats. That being so, 'A Question Of Time' is neither here nor there. It's just yet another Depeche Mode single."
"Synth keyboard" eh? Number 1 Magazine was a bit kinder:
I did always wonder why there were two singles that were both A Question Of something but that's the sort of thing I expect you all thought about too.
The single was released on 11th August 1986 and entered the UK charts at number 25 on the 23rd of that month. The band's appearance on Top Of The Pops (above) on 20th August saw it leap to a chart high of 17 the following week. The band had of course wrapped up the Black Celebration tour but that didn't stop them performing their promo duties. There is much to admire in this performance. Firstly, they use the big keyboard stands are the of thing I like. You might too. Secondly, let's pause and enjoy Alan in his post-tour, suntanned, distinctly non leather look, with the Wilder Leather Scale only reaching 11% here (leather socks). In football parlance, hes' already on the beach. Fletch meanwhile has already started transforming from the blonde mid 80's Fletch to the Music For The Masses Fletch which is a joy. You can see him becoming more serious right before your eyes. Dave is changing in the same way too - the 101 haircut is nearly there, the fresh faced Gahan now more worldly wise. They didn't know it at the time but they were on the point of making it very, very big indeed.
Martin no longer has the Exploding Hairdo and he is almost fully clothed. There's obviously some bondage type gear and he appears to be wearing a pair of tights on his top half. A bold look but why the hell not eh? God bless you Martin.
The peaked at 17 and then fell to 20, 33, 42 and finally 68 before time was called and it disappeared forever.
As for the song itself, I think we can all agree that A Question Of Time is an outstandingly good track. Only Depeche Mode could come up with a song that sounds like this and that is why we love them. It's a perennial live favourite too, having featured a mammoth 836 times in live sets. The only tours it hasn't featured on since 1986 are the Devotional and Exciter tours. Every time I write one of these blogs, the single I'm writing about didn't feature on the Exciter tour. It did have The Dead Of Night and the backing singers doing the driving mime dance to Never Let Me Down Again however so it's quite understandable that better songs wanted nothing to do with it. This song has really changed over the years when the band have played it live. The 101 version is outstanding of course and the Exotic version a tad too trying to hard to be loud. The rest are fine and always worth a jump around. I remember my glasses falling to the floor at the NEC in Birmingham on Touring The Angel as me and my mates kept about like idiots to this. Thankfully, and miraculously, I picked them up unharmed.
The B-Side to the single is an oddly clunky version of Black Celebration recorded at the NEC in Birmingham on 10th April 1986. It's good of course, any version of Black Celebration is, but it lacks the urgency of say the 101 version.
Gone are the milkmen and spacehoppers. Goodbye to pie eyed people and oddball voodoo floating heads. Depeche Mode finally found a video director who could give their music a visual edge that it had been lacking. Anton Corbijn took control at this point and while his more recent work might be criticised for either being a bit lazy or just genuinely baffling (the Enjoy The Silence projection on the Delta Machine tour for example), he gave Depeche Mode a much needed boot in the visual arse (erm...) and, for the next few years, his videos and artwork became a crucial part of the Depeche Mode message.
A Question Of Time is textbook Anton basically. A storyline that bears no resemblance to the song, black and white footage and a sense of this being a film he meant to make about something else but ultimately attached it to a Depeche Mode song. Alan is the star of the video, patiently awaiting the delivery of a baby from a really weird looking guy driving a motorcycle and side car. Thankfully there's plenty of really rather exciting looking footage from the US gigs on the Black Celebration tour to distract us from this very odd concept. 30 seconds in for example, we see a delighted Fletch perfecting his walk around the keyboards and mic but never touch them dance moves. Glorious. We then see the odd motorbike man pick a baby up from beside the road, quickly move past the many questions that throws up and once again lose ourselves in live footage, pretending that everything is ok.
Suddenly, Alan appears. He was the only band member who got up at 5am for the shoot so he's the star. Thanks to the outrageously good work of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group, we know that the shots of Alan were filmed at Faulkner House, Telegraph Road, Santa Paula, California. Next time you're there, kidnap a baby and recreate the video yourself.
We then get more of the same really. Some thrilling tour footage (genuinely - it looks incredible), more strange kidnap man driving and Alan hanging around waiting for his, erm, delivery. The footage of Martin from the live show sees him wearing the tights top again but this time with a pair of handcuffs around each nipple or thereabouts. Of course.
Two minutes 50 seconds in, Alan finally receives the baby he ordered and the odd man heads off leaving a very tanned Alan alone in his big house. We move inside and are relieved to find that Depeche Mode have in fact started a creche and all four of our heroes take it in turns looking after the baby. For once, Dave is the worst dressed - that crop top is hideous but mercifully not quite at same level as the Master And Servant sandals.
More live footage is interspersed with footage of the band, unusually in white, holding the baby in front of a projection of a clock (oh yes. the literal interpretation of lyrics thing wasn't over yet), the baby crawling about on a clock mat, the motorbike criminal crashing and, WHAT'S THIS, Martin laughing as the child pulls what is left of the Exploding Hairdo.
What on earth is that all about eh? Who cares? It's bloody marvellous.
7BONG12 (above) features the two tracks mentioned above. The A-Side label should look like this:
|Courtesy of depmod.com|
My one is blank however. The B-Side looks like this:
The labels are really nice and the question mark on them and the rear sleeve is a nice touch. I don't quite get the front sleeve art which appears to show a girl looking in to the mirror of a crashed car but there you go.
I mentioned earlier that there is a Remix Edit available too. This came out on 7"and there seems to be a way of finding out which one you have if your sleeve isn't adorned with a Ferret & Spanner promo sticker. The Remix Edit is, unsurprisingly, an edited version of the Remix that features on the standard 7". Here is a photo comparing both versions (yes, I did this):
The promo version is on the right, As you can see, the inner groove is larger than on the standard 7" on the left, meaning that the track is shorter and is therefore the Edit. The fact my standard 7" has a black label and thus looks like a white label (but isn't) is a needlessly complicating factor. Basically, if you want the Edit 7", be prepared to study photos on Ebay etc. I did that and I got it for a fiver, There are other ways to identify the promo including by looking at the colour and position of the label on the B-Side. If you are ever in doubt, seek help at depmod.com
Talking of promos, we are now firmly in the era of the promo 12". There were two for this release. Above, we have the standard 12BONG12 promo which has a lovely hand stamped label and features the four songs on the standard 12", more of which shortly.
There is also a numbered 12" promo for L12BONG12 which again features the tracks we'll talk about shortly. My own one is number 1011, one digit too long sadly. You know why.
12BONG12 features a remixed, but not extended, version of the 7" cover art. Original pressings have the words Extended Remix a greay stripe, later ones in a white stripe. The Extended Remix of A Question Of Time is well worth your time - a superb, thumping take on the track.
The B-Side takes the live version of Black Celebration from the April gig at the NEC and adds enjoyable live versions of Stripped and Something To Do from the same concert. Again, the artwork is rather nice and the labels quite lovely.
There was of course a limited edition 12". L12BONG12 has a question mark based sleeve and label. As you can see, the words "limited edition" appear in the top right of the front sleeve. The pressing above is the second pressing as the words are printed on the sleeve. First pressings had the words on a sticker:
Rather wonderfully, that trick was repeated in the Black Celebration The 12" Singles boxset. There are two tracks on Side A. Firstly the rather odd but actually quite good New Town Mix of A Question Of Time which leads into the apparent Live Remix of the track. It seems to be so named because the lead riff is played using a different and quite odd sound.
The B-Side is great. There's the Black Tulip Mix of Black Celebration, a quite glorious thing, and a thundering live version of the ice cream demanding More Than A Party recorded at the NEC.
The 1991 UK CD is a cracker. It was the first of this series that I bought and I was obsessed with it back then. It features all the tracks from the three vinyl releases, turning the two tracks from Side A of L12BONG12 into one. It was like that on the record really as track one ran into track 2, but here it's called A Question Of Time New Town Mix/Live Remix. So there you go.
Elsewhere, once again we have a red vinyl 7" from Germany.
It features the same tracks as the UK single.
The first of two coloured vinyl 12" singles is this lovely marbled version.
It's just like 12BONG12 and features the same four tracks.
The German L12 comes in this stark but rather smashing grey vinyl as well as the standard black version.
It co-ordinates rather nicely with the colour of the question mark on the cover and, of course, features the same four songs as L12BONG12.
Unlike most of the other German blue stripe CDs (the three ...And Live Tracks and Blasphemous Rumours aside), this CD single came in a jewel box and features booklet inlay albeit blank on the other side. It takes the tracks from 12BONG12 and adds A Question Of Time Remix for good measure.
There are a few interesting French releases. Their 12" (above) has a different sleeve to the UK version.
It features the same tracks as 12BONG12.
There are three variations of the French CD single - two that are in jewel cases and one in a numberedd cardboard sleeve as pictured above. It features the same tracks as the German CD single. There is also a French cassette single which is rare but not too pricey.
I discovered when preparing for this that I also have a Spanish 12" which you can see above. No idea when I got that. Anyway, it features the 12BONG12 tracks.
As I mentioned in the A Question Of Lust blog, there is an American 12" which is half A Question Of Lust and half A Question Of Time - the vinyl equivalent of a half and half football scarf. The A Question Of Time half here features the Extended Remix and the live version of Something To Do.
As Depeche Mode were becoming a much bigger thing, this single was released in a lot of countries so there are a lot of variations to hunt down. The Italian 7" with its unique sleeve is well worth hunting for, as long as you get behind me in the queue.
The Black Celebration tour had ended and it saw Depeche Mode become a band who played big venues everywhere. A Question Of Time may feel a bit like an afterthought given its release date but it allowed everyone to experience the new, powerful live Depeche Mode through the live tracks on the various releases and through tantalising glimpses on the video.
What would Depeche Mode do next though? How would they build on this success? Surely they wouldn't bin the successful production team and instead team up with someone new?
Of course they would. Having done so, they'd release an album that ended up being ironically titled, suddenly become a gargantuan band, make an epic film and fill an American stadium. Simple eh? Oh yes, they kept the video chap around too.
There were many highs and lows on the way to that though and we'll look at the strange ones next time.
Strangelove in other, less convoluted words.
A quick note. An incredible amount of you have got in touch saying how much you're enjoying this project. Thank you so much for that. It really means an awful lot.