Ah, the b-side. Back when singles were singles and not just digital downloads, bands were pretty much morally obliged to give away an additional song as the b-side of the single. Some bands took this seriously (The Smiths for example,) and others tried their best (REM for one). Just like those two bands, Depeche Mode had a crack at it too. So what of Depeche's b-sides? How good are they really?
For the avoidance of doubt, this looks at 7" or cassette single/CD1 b-sides only, meaning no hard hitting analysis of Black Day and the likes. Also, given that single formats have gone crazy in the last few years, I'll get slightly selective towards the end. Here we go.
Part 1: The Singles B-Sides 1981-85
DM got off to a flying start with their first ever b-side. Debut single Dreaming Of Me was backed by the Vince Clarke written gloomy electro classic Ice Machine, which is possibly so named because other standard pieces of hotel equipment didn't sound synthpop enough. "Corby Trouser Press" or "Complimentary Apple" just wouldn't have worked. Ice Machine is a cracking song, combining powerful music with Vince's standard, puzzling lyrics ("A letter/Once composed/7 years long/And as tall as a tree") and was played by the band live up until the end of the Some Great Reward tour. The band's first hit single, New Life also boasted a Vince written track that would be played live until 1984, Shout! It's a wonderful track and the version on the 1984 live video The World We Live In and Live In Hamburg, is a must see, Little known single, Just Can't Ge Enough followed New Life and it featured the third and final of Vince's b-sides, Any Second Now, which is an instrumental and is rather lovely.
Vince soon abandoned ship, meaning Martin not only had to write the a-sides, but he had to write the b-sides too. His first attempt was Now, This Is Fun which backed See You. A good effort but it's no Ice Machine. Next single, The Meaning Of Love, had a wonderful b-side called Oberkorn (It's A Small Town) which is an instrumental filled to the brim with spooky synth sounds and it's a track that I still love today. It's named after, would you believe it, a small town in Luxembourg which the band had driven through on tour. It's also the first time that a b-side was arguably better than the a-side. Leave In Silence came next, and was backed with a very odd track called Excerpt From : My Secret Garden which is an odd take on the A Broken Frame track. A point to note is that the b-side can be played at either 45rpm or 33rpm, so in effect, you kind of get two b-sides. If you know what a vinyl record is, own this record and have a record player, try it at home.
No doubt sensing Martin was buckling under the pressure of writing a follow up to Now, This Is Fun, Alan stepped in and co-wrote the b-side of Get The Balance Right which is the, well, odd instrumental The Great Outdoors. It sounds like something from a bad East German children's cartoon and is very much one for collectors only. Thankfully, things improved with the release of Everything Counts where we find Work Hard on the b-side. Ok, it's not a classic but it contains plenty of period metal bashing and exhortations to, well work hard. Love, In Itself then featured Alan's writing prowess again, where he was the sole author of b-side Fools, a really good song and, for me, the equal of the a-side itself.
"You think Fools was good," Alan no doubt said in Berlin in 1984, continuing "well try this for a b-side," pressing play on the tape revealing In Your Memory for the first time. He was right too, though history will always remember the a-side, People Are People more fondly. It's a good track though, so well played Slick. Master & Servant saw Martin return to b-side duty, where he gave us the average (Set Me Free) Remotivate Me which could only ever be a b-side. It's a bit of cheat I guess, but the next b-side was Somebody (Remix) which was technically a double a-side but it DOES feature on the AA side of the 7" and that isn't an a-side as such, so there you go. This being a Depeche blog, means I have to cover all types of potential pedantry.
The last two singles of the arbitrary era the first part of the blog comprises both had Martin penned b-sides. First up was Flexible on the flip of Shake The Disease which is in the same league as (Set Me Free) Remotivate Me.The still baffling choice of a single, It's Called A Heart, was, however, backed with a classic b-side Fly On The Windscreen which is 1000 times the song it's a-side chum ever will be. I'll never know what they were thinking here. Perhaps they wanted to focus on pop rather than doom and gloom? It's not as if the next period in their career would focus on the dark side of life at all. Oh wait....
Part 2: From Black Celebration to Devotion
The first single of this era was the glorious Stripped and it was backed by the fluffy but decent enough But Not Tonight. The band's American label made an It's Called A Heart of things by making But Not Tonight the a-side instead of Stripped because it featured in an underwhelming film called Modern Girls. Things improved somewhat with the release of A Question Of Lust which featured Martin and Alan combining again with the rather lovely instrumental Christmas Island on the alternative side. That was the last time Alan would receive a writing credit. The last single from Black Celebration, A Question of Time had a live version Black Celebration as the b-side from the Birmingham NEC gig of the tour which was the first time a live track formed a b-side. Yes, there are the L12's from 1983 and, yes the Blasphemous Rumours 7" ep has live tracks, but I'm right and that's that.
We next heard from Depeche with Strangelove which featured an ace b-side but a bit of a cheat in Pimpf. Yes, it's a glorious track, but it also featured on Music For The Masses. B-sides featuring on albums will always puzzle me. Strangelove was followed up by the mighty Never Let Me Down Again which gave us the rather smashing Pleasure, Little Treasure on side 2. It's a great tune and, random fact for you all, it is my Mum's favourite Depeche song. Martin tired of writing tunes as good as this however, so for Behind The Wheel we were treated to our first ever Depeche Mode cover version b-side. Taking the motoring theme further than was perhaps necessary, the band covered Route 66 with Martin on lead vocals. It's not too shabby and was later covered by them on the World Violation tour with Dave singing lead. Little 15 may or may not have been a single depending on what you believe, but I say it was and its instrumental b-side Stjarna is a lovely thing. It is also the Swedish word for "star." This blog: fascinating AND educational. Everything Counts was released in its live guise to promote 101 and was back by Nothing (live) from the Rosebowl show. This version of Nothing is far better than the album version. It has metal bashing which is all any song ever really needs.
The Violator era is, as we all know by now, the best era of any music ever, so it's no surprise that the b-sides were outstanding too. Personal Jesus was backed by Dangerous, a song good enough to have been a single in its own right. Greatest piece of music in the history of music, Enjoy The Silence came next and, whilst it could be said to be an insult to have that song forced to share a 7" circle of vinyl with anything other than the same song repeated again, it had a b-side and that was the nice piano led track Memphisto which is based on a film where Elvis is the devil. That film only exists in Martin's mind however, so it'll only be the real hardcore fans that have seen it. Policy of Truth continued the b-side instrumental theme with one of my favourites, Kaleid and the Violator era b-sides were rounded off with not one but TWO new songs on the World In My Eyes single; Happiest Girl (Tonal Mix) and Sea of Sin (Jack Mix). Both songs are great, and prove that in 1990 Depeche Mode were the best thing that had ever happened, has ever happened and will happen to music.
As I've said above, I don't like album tracks as b-sides, so One Caress as b-side of I Feel You is a poor show, despite the near tear inducing glory of the song. Walking In My Shoes put things right, with the fantastic My Joy which surely must have been challenging for a place on the Songs Of Faith And Devotion album itself. There was, of course no official 7" single this time, which would remain the case until Precious, but My Joy was track two on the cassette single and is, let's face it, what we'd all call the b-side here. Condemnation was then backed with Death's Door (Jazz Mix) which had previously only been available on a fan club 7" flexi disc or shady 12" claiming to be a promo. The first three minutes are good, the rest is relatively pointless quasi jazz gibberish. Finally from SOFAD, the nowhere near as good as the album version remix of In Your Room was back with a nowhere near as good as the album version remix of Higher Love - the Adrenaline Mix Edit.
Part 3: Ultra Machine
Ultra started off with no 7" and no cassette single, but track 2 of a cd single counts as a b-side for my purposes, so Barrel Of A Gun's b-side is the huge sounding Painkiller. It's an instrumental, but it's a fine thing. It's No Good did have a cassette single release, but it had a pointless b-side instrumental in the shape of Slowblow. Home's cassette b-side was a live version of It's No Good from one of the Ultra Parties and then Useless finished off the 1997 campaign with no b-side at all but instead a series of remixes. I've covered all the remixes before and, to be perfectly frank, I don't count them as b-sides so there you go.
Only When I Lose Myself popped up next in support of The Singles 86-98 and featured two b-sides. This is the risk of cd single releases. I can't say Surrender was any more of an additional track than Headstar, so I'm counting both. Surrender is pretty cool and Headstar, an instrumental, is decent, especially when you consider the likes of Slowblow.
Dream On has a cd track 2 of Easy Tiger which is a wholly pointless thing so we'll pass over that and move to I Feel Loved's cd1, track 2, Dirt, which is a cover of a Iggy and the Stooges song, It's pretty good and works in a sleazy kind of way. Freelove brings us back down to earth with the dull instrumental Zenstation, and then Goodnight Lovers doesn't help my structure by not really being a single and having remixes of When The Body Speaks, The Dead of Night and Goodnight Lovers as the other tracks it's backed with. For completeness' sake, let's say When The Body Speaks (Acoustic) is the b-side and leave it at that.
The next release was Enjoy The Silence 04 and cd1 of that was a simple two track affair adding the Goldfrapp remix of Halo so it's the b-side and it's a very lovely thing indeed.
I don't know what they'd put in the water in the studio, but it was very good indeed, because the Playing The Angel campaign came littered with b-sides which were actual songs and were actually ace. There were also (belatedly in Precious' case) 7" singles! Picture discs at that! They clearly knew I'd be writing this. Anyhow, Precious' b-side was the brilliant Free which could easily have slotted onto the album instead of the weaker tracks towards the end, as could A Pain That I'm Used To's b-side Newborn which is something of a lost Depeche classic. Pedants should note at this point that I am using the original versions of the b-sides as the nominated b-side here. Suffer Well was next and it was backed by the rowdy but lovable Better Days. Only the John The Revelator/Lilian double a-side let the side down, by featuring a remix of Lilian on the flip. Martyr was next and was released to promote the Best Of campaign. The b-side is brilliant Digitalism remix of Never Let Me Down Again.
Wrong not only has a 7" but it is also a coloured vinyl piece of loveliness. Its b-side Oh Well (7" edit) is also a very good thing too and is a collaboration between Dave and Martin. Peace, as well as being an odd choice for a single, was also a 7" coloured vinyl, with a b-side featuring a remix of Come Back by Jonsi from Sigur Ros. The double 12" and cd single for Fragile Tension and Hole To Feed had no b-sides, forsaking a b-side for a collection of unmemorable remixes.
Personal Jesus 2011 didn't have anything other than Personal Jesus remixes all over its gorgeous purple vinyl, so we hasten on to Heaven which was backed by the Dave written album bonus track All That's Mine. It's a great song. Soothe My Soul's cd1 track 2 was the Gesaffelstein remix of Goodbye and to bring us bang up to date, Should Be Higher had no b-side at all; it just had dreadful remixes of Should Be Higher.
So what have we learned? Not much anyone who is a Depeche fan didn't already know I guess but I think we can say that, overall, Depeche haven't treated us too badly b-side wise. For every Slowblow, there's been a Dangerous so on balance, I think we can be happy.