Tuesday 15 December 2020


After See You had shown everyone that Depeche Mode were still very much able to carry on with a new songwriter, the band followed Martin's synthpop masterpiece with another poppy love song. Let's be honest, it's not their best single, but it did pretty well considering its fairly synthpop-by-numbers approach, curious lyrics about "wanting a scar" and a video that is quite terrible. Despite all that though, it's still better than everything about Hole To Feed and it has a glorious B-side. Here is the story of The Meaning Of Love.


The Single

The Meaning Of Love was released on 26th April 1982. 11 years later, Walking In My Shoes would be released on the same day - one single a towering, dark masterpiece with a sound that is the essence of Depeche Mode and the other the second single from Songs Of Faith And Devotion. Ho ho.

The single entered the charts on 8th May at number 34 and this appearance on Top Of The Pops on 6th May helped it rocket up the charts to number 12 the following week. Martin had only just finished his shift on a fishing trawler as you can see from his clothing. 

Number 12 on 15th May was as high as the single would get however and it then tumbled from there to 17, back up to 15 curiously, back down to 17 and then 21, 46 and 72 before leaving the Top 75 forever.

It was reasonably well received in the music press. Smash Hits said it was "as damn near perfect as a record could be," which is perhaps a bit much, before adding that the song was "truly scrumptious."  Smash Hits also printed the lyrics and a picture of the still officially three piece band in its 28th April edition

Sounds was less complimentary, claiming "the lead melody line is musically identical to their last hit" which isn't really true.

As we'd learn when A Broken Frame was released, The Meaning Of Love was clearly not the direction in which Martin's song writing was headed. In hindsight, it's very much an exception to the general theme of the album and it stands out along with A Photograph Of You as being almost too poppy for the record. Pre A Broken Frame however, pop songs were what Depeche Mode did, or were at least what was expected of Depeche Mode, so it's perhaps no surprise that The Meaning Of Love was picked to follow See You. It was a safe choice and certainly a wiser choice than A Broken Frame's other full on pop track A Photograph Of You. That would have been a bad move.

As a song, The Meaning Of Love is fine but nothing special. Martin clearly came up with the lyrical concept before the lyrics however.

"Yes Martin"
"How would you describe something other people tell you that you want or need when you don't want that thing itself?"
"I dunno. I'd just say no thanks to whatever it was being offered."
"Hmmmm...and if you'd made notes about it?"
"Are you ok Martin?"
"You know....if you'd researched something, made notes but still couldn't see why people thought you should have it...if you said it seemed that wanting it was like wanting something really odd?"
"Look, Dave. Help me here. From the notes I've made so far, love seems something like wanting...."
"I have no idea Martin. A car? A bar? A guitar. Actually, a guitar would work because we use nothing but synths. A guitar Martin. There."
"A scar Dave?"
"Love seems something like wanting to be badly cut enough that your skin ends up disfigured Martin? Almost certainly not. No. Don't use scar."

That conversation probably happened.

The Meaning Of Love quickly joined the band's live set, debuting at the 20th January 1982 show at Crocs and featuring another 133 times before last being heard live on 10th March 1984 at University in Madrid. Little did the gig goers that night realise that they were witnessing musical history.

The B-side of the single is far more interesting than the A-side. Oberkorn (It's A Small Town) is named after the, would you believe it, small town of, that's right. Oberkorn in Luxembourg. Martin told Jonathan Miller all about it:

"Instead we found ourselves pulling into a tiny village called Oberkorn. It was a curious kind of village with a population that would hardly fill the first few rows of any ordinary theatre, so it was quite a fascination for us to find out just what would happen. Instead of our gig being to a handful of people, the place was packed as the audience came from all around and even from across the borders. But there was an interesting twist to this concert. When we got back to our hotel our record company told us that whilst the A-side of our single was all set, they needed a title rapidly for the B-side. We're never all that good with names and the first thing that sprang to mind was the name of this village, Oberkorn. So that's the title we used!"

Footage of the gig on 30th March 1982 recently appeared on RTL Today and you can watch it here - Oberklick (It's A Small Piece Of Footage)

It doesn't feature Oberkorn (It's A Small Town) sadly. The song itself is an instrumental but a gloriously haunting one. It's one of those synth instrumentals that only the early 80's era was capable of producing really, all gloomy swooshes and uplifting melodies. Brilliant. The song would eventually appear on the band's setlist, appearing 47 times on the A Broken Frame tour. You can hear part of it before My Secret Garden on the ...And Live Tracks 12" of Get The Balance Right. ("Good evening everybody.")


This video is on drugs. It starts with children playing with building blocks before Depeche Mode and a mystery fourth man (he was apparently called Alan Wilder and he had some role in the band. As your grandparents) appear in front of  very glitzy backdrop that is an obvious fire hazard. Oddly, Dave is holding a book but that's because he's read "more than a hundred" of them and he throws it away, no doubt in a visual joke that will please all fans of that sort of thing. Hang on...more than a hundred? DOES THAT MEAN THAT BOOK WAS BOOK 101 AND THIS WAS THEREFORE ALL PART OF SOME MAGNIFICENT PLAN? DOES IT?

No, no it doesn't. Stop that. We move on from Dave throwing about Book 101 (...hang on....) and we find him peeking through a keyhole at a ballet dancer. It turns out he's not just being a peeping tom as,  all of a sudden, he literally becomes pie eyed, which is a way people in Britain had back then of saying that someone was in love with someone else. The phrase makes no sense of course but that doesn't stop the visual gag slamming home as mightily as the book one earlier. Anyway, Dave then dusts the pastry from his eyes and gets back to the day job of being a scientist. He looks into a microscope and sees Fletch as what I can only describe as one massive sperm singing to him, closely followed by Martin. We mercifully return to the live set part where the band all take it in turns pointing at Dave and singing "I've never been in love before," before we obviously move to a shot of 60's children's puppets Pinky & Perky dancing around. By this point, you have no idea what's going on anymore.

Dave then starts eyeing up the dancer from a park bench in a park where she is somewhat inexplicably dancing. His whole head then turns into a pie which is just baffling. There is no such phrase as "Pie Headed." Dave loses the pie and hands the dancer flowers and they fall in love. Pinky & Perky return, this time operated by Dave in front of the other band members who have another sing and jiggle around, before we head home to Dave And The Dancer, now married and very much out of love. They have a row and she throws things at Dave, presumably having just been played the Hole To Feed demo. Quite brilliantly, and I genuinely mean that, a piece of debris flies towards the TV on which we see the band in action and they all duck. Very good that. The one positive thing to emerge from Dave And The Dancer's marriage which was no doubt the talk of the tabloids by that point ("All Gahan Wrong" etc) was their child which is probably a boy (that haircut makes it hard to tell). He has worked out that love has its ups and downs and, noting his parents' behaviour, Child Of Dave And The Dancer, calmly uses his building blocks to spell out the song title. 

Just goes to show you eh? Or does it? I have no idea. There's a lot packed into that video and I've just watched it three times in a row. I wrote more than I intended to about it and now need a lie down.

The Formats

Once again, there were only two formats released in Britain.

Firstly, there's the 7" which remarkably enough features the A-Side and B-Side described above. The sleeve (above) is different to the 12" which is a nice touch I always think and, like See You before it, takes a very literal approach to depicting the song title. 

The labels are a nice touch too. Here's the A-Side

Here is the B-Side

There are 7 different variations of the 7" if you're the sort of troubled soul who needs them all. See depmod.com for details.

The 12" (front cover at the top of the page) features two remixes. On the A-Side, the literal interpretation theme of the video and sleeve is followed with the Fairly Odd Mix of The Meaning Of Love. It's just under 5 minutes long and lives up to its name. Much in the way remixes do now, it adds a few extra beats and ambles along before going all bleepy and odd about 1 minute 30 in. It's the sort of thing that people would proclaim revolutionary if the Aphex Twin released it on its own. The song returns and we get back on track with the middle 8 of the song before the Aphex Twin re-emerges. 

Once again, and this is all getting a bit annoying now, we go back to the middle 8 of the song. All of a sudden, someone (maybe Martin? I imagine a lot of you know the answer) says "What do you want to do then? What can we do" which is something of a surprise. The last of the Aphex Twin returns with Dave trying to sing over him before the song we all know and partially love appears in a seemingly different key to the remix and the whole experience ends. Not fairly odd, very odd. Very odd indeed.

The B-Side is Oberkorn (It's A Small Town) (Development Mix). Not only is it a much better remix name, but it is also a much better track. It's 7 minutes 39 seconds of quite glorious instrumental goodness and is yet another B-Side from that era that you really must familiarise yourself with.

The UK CD Single reissue campaign in 1991 assembled the 4 tracks from the release in the one place:

As ever, there are a couple of nice foreign formats to have a look at. The German red vinyl 7" is a lovely thing, both on the A-side

and the B-Side

The 12" was released on yellow vinyl too.

If you want one, the cheapest currently on Discogs is £64. Pricey.

Once again, the Intercord blue stripe CD from Germany is a must have. No-one ever knows why that is the case by the way. I certainly don't yet I collect them. 

There were also various releases in Belgium, France, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Australia.

And with that we leave The Meaning Of Love. Its place in Depeche history is secure, not because of the video (THAT MUST HAVE BEEN BOOK 101 - THIS IS EXTRAORDINARY etc) but because of the single that followed it. Leave In Silence clearly signposted the way Depeche Mode were heading but only after The Meaning Of Love showed us the way out of the first phase of the band's career.

We'll have a look at Martin's first go at making "violence" rhyme with "silence" next time.

1 comment:

  1. I always wondered if the "scar" reference was related to Dave's decision at the time to get his tattoo removed (it left a scar). I keep meaning to ask Jo 😄