In just four years, Depeche Mode had come a long way. They started by instantly mastering synthpop and, despite the sudden departure of the man behind most of that mastery, changed songwriter, invented leather and hammers, finished off synthpop and turned into gloomy purveyors of experimental pop meets industrial music. All in four years. It really was a remarkable journey.
As 1985 dawned, Depeche Mode had a break after the Some Great Reward tour ended. They met up again in Berlin (obviously) and recorded a new song, Shake The Disease.
Shake The Disease is the moment Martin moved from a great songwriter to become one of the songwriting Gods. It's a glorious song that should have been number 1 forever but, because people wouldn't know good music if it bit them on the arse, it performed badly. I'm annoyed about that, you probably are too, so let's get annoyed together as we look at Shake The Disease.
|Press release - courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group|
I'VE TRIED AS HARD AS I COULD - SHAKE THE DISEASE
Shake The Disease (BONG8) was released on 29th April 1985. The Depeche Mode Information Service newsletter told everyone the good news in its April 1985 edition, adding the blatant lie that no limited edition 12" would be released.
The band and producer Gareth Jones don't like how the song ended up. Alan said that despite the track being one of his favourites, the band did not "get the best out if it." Gareth meanwhile felt the session hadn't gone as well as the band and his previous sessions. The reviews however were more positive. Number 1 magazine said "Shake The Disease...is a moody, melancholy track with a haunting chorus - it's deceptively simple but completely charming." Rip It up meanwhile said this:
"I've always thought Depeche Mode made interesting records. The fact the elusive big hit avoids them hasn't induced them to write the number one single still swelling inside them. In five years time when people only vaguely remember Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode will be selling more records than ever."
The reviewer was right about selling more records than ever as the 1990 blogs will prove. Sadly, he was wrong about Tears For Fears as people still remember them and indeed celebrate their quite dreadful music to an extent that confuses and terrifies me in equal measure. A dreadful, tedious band. Anyway, back to a song with the word disease in the title that the public failed to embrace.
Shake The Disease crawled into the charts at number 32 on 11th May rising to 25 the next week and 21 the week after that. The they appeared on Top Of The Pops (above) on 23rd May and that managed to send the single flying up the charts to...erm...the same number it was at the week before. The next week it climbed 3 to 18 before falling to 29, 31, 44 and 67 and then out of the charts, not even remaining there in spirit.
The Top Of The Pops appearance is interesting showing them on the way to their Black Celebration look. Martin of course has no top on, just a leather jacket and is wearing a dress. People always mention this in a "ooh it's funny he dressed like a lady" type way but what Martin chose to wear should be of no consequence. Let us not forget SandleGate - Dave is the real clothing villain in Depeche Mode's poorly dressed past. Alan bangs drums, Martin appears to play the side of a shopping trolley and Fletch, as ever, looks like he's having a lovely time.
Ok, Shake The Disease is certainly not the band's poppiest moment and perhaps the world wasn't ready for this new type of sound from Depeche Mode but NUMBER BLOODY 18? How on earth did this song not do better? The lyrics are perfect, the melody glorious and the strange noises you'd expect from a Depeche Mode song of that era are strange and therefore magical. In the week that the song reached its peak of 18, the Top Ten was littered with oafs like Jimmy Nail, Billy Ocean and, yes I'm saying it again, Duran Duran with their typically bafflingly rubbish Bond song. Shake The Disease takes each song in the Top Ten that week outside and single handedly kicks the crap out of them. Number 18 for goodness' sake.
Happily, the band didn't ignore the song live. As well as 8 dates on the festivals tour in 1985, it featured at every gig on the next three tours including the adorable 101 version. From 2005 it became a Martin solo set song and featured on Touring The Angel, Touring The Universe, Delta Machine Tour and twice on the Global Spirit Tour. All in all, Shake The Disease has been played live 392 times.
The B-Side was the much poppier Flexible. The song talks about the effects of fame in a way, although whether being flexible when the boat comes in is a sin is another matter. Martin told Record Mirror in 1986 that the song was written as a joke and you can very much see that. Still, it's fine as B-sides go.
The band have never been flexible enough live to play it however.
Quick - someone sound the "Good Video" horn. We have a good video on our hands
Directed by Peter Care and filmed in London's Docklands area, then still derelict and free from overpriced housing, the video for Shake The Disease is wonderful at least in comparison to the videos that had gone before it. It starts in a dreadful looking bathroom, the sort you find in a serial killer's house, before 13 seconds in what appears to be a large poodle enters the picture. It is of course not a large poodle - it's Martin with his exploding hair. He's dressed just he was on Top Of The Pops although he's not had the benefit of a make up artist as he did on that show. He appears to have attempted it himself.
This being a Depeche Mode video we are never that far away from our first visual metpahor. 25 seconds in, the noise that sounds like someone running a bit of metal on a fence is illustrated by someone running a bit of metal along a fence. Fair enough. Dave appears in the serial killer room singing the first line of the song and we seem to be all set for the usual Depeche video when....wait a minute....there's Fletch falling down. And there's Dave doing it. What is going on?
We're then back to Dave singing until the chorus kicks in. Fletch again appears, this time with a camera shoved basically up his nose as he sings the chorus. His hair is terrifyingly blonde. Martin gets the same treatment before we see the unasked for return of Basildon Boyzone, thankfully not performing any dance moves. Alan gets hit in the face with the camera, swirling around the room before the "understand me" part when Martin comes into his own, singing those beautiful lines looking part bored and part angry. Alan hits something with a hammer and we're off to verse two.
Verse two is all Dave's bar a couple of shots of a falling Alan and Martin with Martin having sensibly zipped up his coat to avoid catching a cold. Dave even gets the chorus to himself before we are returned to Martin And His Exploding Hair's Understand Me Bathroom.
And from there, we get more falling, more in your face cameras, a bit more fence hitting and that's that. The falling of course was the result of a rotating pole up the back of each member's jacket. Clever looking stuff and probably the first Depeche Mode video that you would happily watch again rather than punching your laptop until the screen broke. Good work.
BONG8 featured the two tracks we've already read about. The artwork is baffling really. I don't know what it's meant to symbolise and the label on the A side (above) seems to show the hairy character from the sleeve attempting to perform an obscene act on the letter A.
The label on the B-Side is much more straightforward.
12BONG8 features only two tracks both advertised as Remixed Extended Versions and that is very much what they are. Shake The Disease (Remixed Extended Version) is a superb remix and one I recommend to everyone. The label is again troubling, especially if you consider where the hole is.
The remix of Flexible is fine and the label mercifully free of obscenity. If anyone can tell me why the hairy chap is falling while being chased by a turtle as displayed on the artwork, then do please get in touch.
For reasons I can't recall, I was obsessed with getting hold of a copy of L12BONG8 (above). I finally tracked it down in a second hand section in a record shop in Aberdeen in 1994 and literally ran home to play it. I was nearly 20 at the time. Despite the Depeche Mode Information Service saying so, a limited edition did pop out and it is a fantastic record, full of splendidness. The A-Side features the Edit The Shake version of Shake The Disease. It is a monster of a remix that is one of my all time favourites. It's accompanied by a blistering live version of Master & Servant recorded live in Basel on 30th November 1984. The artwork is nice too, with the hairy chap confined to a box. The "Special Edition" on the cover is an oddly pleasing touch.
We get two more tracks on the B-Side. There's the Pre-Deportation Mix of Flexible which is again fine and then a stunning remix of Something To Do named Metal Mix. It's noisy, tinny and immense in every sense. Many people dislike it and while no-one can ever dictate anyone else's music taste to them and it would be wrong to do so, they clearly need to take a long look at themselves and admit the error of their ways.
The 1991 CD single reissue CDBONG8 features the 7" and standard 12" tracks adding Edit The Shake and the Metal Mix of Something To Do from L12BONG8.
As ever, let's now head to Germany. We have the usual red 7" which copies the single artwork but not the label artwork.
It features the same tracks as 7BONG8.
The coloured vinyl 12" (standard black vinyl editions are also available) is a marbled affair.
A beautfiul thing that features the same tracks as 12BONG8
There is an equally marbled and equally lovely version of the L12 too.
It features the same tracks as L12BONG8.
The German blue stripe CD single features the same tracks as L12BONG8 and calls itself CDL12BONG8. There was no blue stripe CD version of the 12".
The French CD single features the L12BONG8 tracks plus the Single Version of Shake The Disease
There was a cassette version of the L12 in France too. One variation features above, the other has a different sleeve which is a cassette sized version of the L12 sleeve.
As ever, there are formats from all over the world. Let depmod.com be your guide. I will happily accept free copies of both Phillipines versions.
Number 18. Ridiculous.
So that was Shake The Disease. Depeche Mode would busy themselves with some tour dates before finishing another two new songs ahead of their first compilation album.
Fly On The Windscreen was one of those and it is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, due to what I can only imagine was an error in the pressing plant with the letters A and B, It's Called A Heart was chosen for the next single and we'll overanalyse that next time.