It's Called A Heart was released on 16th September 1985. Only five months later, Depeche Mode released a single that sounded unlike anything the band had ever done before. It set a new benchmark - this was the new Depeche Mode sound and this is what their future would sound like.
It's hard not to talk about that new single in anything other than reverential terms. This was no longer synthpop - this was something very different indeed, something darker, something ominous yet utterly thrilling. This new single was the point Depeche Mode grew up and it set them on the road to fame the likes of which scarcely seemed thinkable prior to its release.
The single was Stripped. Come with me then, into the blog and let's see how once again the British public failed to spot something quite brilliant in their cloth eared midst.
TAKE MY HAND - STRIPPED
The February 1986 Depeche Mode Information Service newsletter bore brief but factual news about the new record:
"New single entitled "Stripped" c/w "But Not Tonight." Release date 10th February."
Fair enough. Reviews of the single were more effusive than the band's own newsletter. Number 1 magazine loved the song, saying:
"Depeche Mode must rate as one of the most consistent if not one of the best pop bands of the 80s. They have a distinctive sound, but not so much so that each release sounds like the last one. Their lyrics actually mean something without being pretentious and over the top. Yet they never seem to get the adulation that their competitors get. Strange that. Let’s hope that the haunting stillness of ‘Stripped’ puts them up where they belong, before Frankie and Spandau reappear."
Pretty much spot on really. A shame to see Spandau Ballet mentioned there however as that's never a good thing.
Smash Hits again proved to Depeche friendly:
"Depeche Mode were becoming very predictable but this is the best thing they've done in ages. "Let me see you stripped," sings Dave Gahan and bang goes their appearance on Saturday Superstore. Actually, I think it's all about going back to nature and "discovering yourself". Slow and atmospheric, even though you can't work out what he's going on about."
They even announced the record in a typically Smash Hits way in their 12th February edition:
The advert at the start of this section above and the single review appeared in the same edition.
Finally, Stripped was so good that it even won over Melody Maker as they called it "a real crackerette." NME disagreed, reviewer Cath Carroll saying the song was "morose" adding that it was however "perversely soothing."
After that decent enough set of reviews, how would BONG10 do? Well, it entered at number 23 on 22nd February, a number I imagine the band were disappointed with. The band appeared on the 19th February episode of Top Of The Pops with a view to getting the song flying up the charts.
Don't they seem more grown up than they did only a few months before when they were gooning around with high rise xylophones and tribal drums? OK, the motorbike is taking the "look we sampled this" approach slightly too far and it does look rather odd on stage with them, but this is a decent TOTP performance. Martin has started wearing clothes again and has tamed the Exploding Gore-do and Fletch is having as lovely a time as ever, battering the crap out of his wee drum kit, and Alan is by this stage 83% leather. What matters though is the music - just listen to that song.
In a move that should have told us once and for all that the British public have no taste, Stripped did climb up the charts the following week, but only as far as Number 15. From there, it went to 22, 40 and then 56 before falling out of the charts forever. 5 bloody weeks on the chart. 5. In the week Stripped hit its chart peak, the top 10 featured a song by Sue Pollard. Now, I appreciate I have many readers who aren't from Britain, so you are to be forgiven for thinking "Wer ist Sue Pollard?" She was an actress famous for playing a poor character in a very poor comedy basically. She was more musically appealing to Britain than Depeche Mode however.
Stripped is a staggering song and if you're a regular reader of this blog, you don't need me to tell you that. It has been a permanent fixture in my own Depeche Mode Top 5, just squeezing out Hole To Feed, for as long as I can remember. Since its release it has thrilled gig goers at every Depeche tour with the exception of the Exciter tour for some reason. It has been played 751 times, probably most memorably at the Rosebowl with the 101 version one of their most spine tingling live moments. That metal bashing....perfection. The Devotional version is obviously stunning too and the last version I saw live at Waldbuhne in July 2018 was incredible. What a song.
The B-Side is of course jaunty pop number But Not Tonight. Famously and, of course, oddly, the band's US record label Sire chose that as the A-side due to its appearance on the soundtrack of, erm, legendary film Modern Girls. Rather beautifully, Martin brought But Not Tonight back to live in his solo set during the Delta Machine tour and it was a magical moment, one that brought me to Guinness fuelled tears at the Dublin gig on that tour. It was played 59 times on that tour and appeared once more on the Global Spirit Tour at the Hollywood Bowl on 18th October 2017. I wrote a bit more about the song during 2016's Black Celebration special. Read it until your eyes go red here - click not tonight.
Sound the Good Video Klaxon! In fact, break out the Very Good Video Klaxon!
Peter Care was forgiven for the It's Called A Corncob shambles and was summoned to Berlin in January 1986 to make a video for Stripped, filming it around the corner from Hansa Studios. Famously, the engine we hear being turned on at the start of the song is Dave's Porsche of the time but here we see a much less ostentatious car providing the soundtrack as the video opens. The literal interpretation of the lyrics continues as Dave sings the first line literally standing among some trees. It looks more like he's going to murder you than anything else. Perhaps "Let me see you stripped/down to the bone" is actually a lot more sinister than we've ever thought, meaning more Jeremy Dahmer than pervy love song. Good Lord - Martin is a serial killer.
Perhaps not. We then see grass when he sings "grass," Dave's hands when he sings "hand" and off we go. Curiously, Alan then appears, slowly waving an exhaust pipe around. What on earth is going on? Oh hang on, he's repairing the car we saw at the start. The now fixed exhaust pipe smokes away before Fletch tempts us in with a bunch of flowers. But then, all of a sudden, after the first time we hear Martin sing "Boooooooooonnnnnne," we see Alan smashing a car with a hammer and, to be quite honest, from this point on it's bloody brilliant. The other three members of Depeche Mode Autos & Repairs join Alan in not doing a very good job at all of fixing a car.
The band then turn their attention from car mechanics to ending the Cold War as Martin and Alan carry a huge projector screen featuring Fletch up some steps to the Berlin Wall. Quite what the Border Guards made of it we will never know. Images of gig crowds and band members flicker here and there before a fully leathered Dave standing in front of the car the band have redesigned once again asks us to take his hand, raising of course, his hand in case we didn't understand the line.
Fletch's image had failed to bring about the collapse of Communism, so he's sacked from the projector screen and we instead see Alan on it, this time being carried about by Martin and Fletch. Dave doesn't shirk his duties and we soon see he and Fletch carrying the projector screen right into the path of oncoming traffic as a bewildered Martin half grins on it. Alan is by this time busy blowtorching a television just as, that's right, the word "television" is mentioned in the song.
As the song ends, Dave sings in front of the projector screen which is showing Alan and Martin then sings his lines in front of the screen this time showing Dave. Fletch has a go at Dave's lines in front of the screen now showing Martin and then Alan takes the next Dave line, this time the deliberate lead singer as opposed to the accidental one we saw on Get The Balance Right. The song plays out with Depeche Mode Autos & Repairs once again smashing the bejesus out of another poor customer's car.
For the first time, we have a hugely enjoyable video. The sheer quality of the song no doubt helps, but the Stripped video is the first Depeche video in their career with no moment where you shudder and think "Oh lads...what are you doing?"
7BONG10 is a lovey thing. The band logo and the big DM are great and the megaphone with a red arrow coming out of it inside a triangle thing a baffling but iconic logo. The cover art is great though I have no idea what it means. But that's the thing about art isn't it?
The B-side is a simper affair, the label containing the on fire hooter getting fired out of a bow from the front sleeve.
A 12" promo was released prior to the single's release and oddly its lead track was Breathing In Fumes, more of which in a minute. The B-Side which we'll also come to was the Highland Mix of Stripped. RRBONG10 comes with a hand stamped label. Mine is a bit faded but you get the idea.
The actual 12", 12BONG10, is a work of genius from top to toe. As you'll have seen on the advert at the top of this blog, it was IMPORTANT to note that NO FURTHER EDITIONS OF THIS SINGLE WILL BE RELEASED. Crikey - the 12" was all we were going to get. The advert also curiously says that a 5 track, 25 minute 12" would be released and the front sleeve (above) repeats this and I love that. What a bloody weird but quite brilliant thing to do. Initial pressings of the single came in an embossed sleeve showing the megaphone thing and I've done what I can with my limited photographic talents to show you that above. I take pictures, poorly posed pictures.
Later pressings of the 12" didn't have the embossed business as you can hopefully make out above. The art on the cover looks a bit like an extended version of the 7" art and the title of the Stripped remix, the Highland Mix, perhaps gives a clue what it's meant to look like? I've never seen hills like that in Scotland but who knows? Anyway, the Highland Mix is by Flood and it's great, a highland touch added by the very, very vaguely bagpipe sounding noise we hear at the start. The second track on the A side is the Extended Remix of But Not Tonight which is really rather lovely.
We were promised 5 tracks and we get out remaining three on the B-side. First up is Breathing In Fumes which is of course a riotous deconstruction of Stripped that is first class in every respect. It's also the name of the best Depeche Mode podcast there is and one that you really should check out if you haven't already. The next track is another remix of Fly On The Windscreen - the Quiet Mix. It lives up to its title too and it's really rather good. Finally, Alan reappears as a songwriter on the fifth and final track Black Day joined by Martin and Daniel. The three of them muck around with a verse from Black Celebration and what sounds like a harmonica but is no doubt a lump of concrete being hit by the roof of a shed sampled backwards through a synclavier so that it is made to sound like a harmonica. It's a curious track but oddly enjoyable.
The band then made fools of everyone who believed there would be no more formats of Stripped made available. Ok, it was released 5 years after the single and, ok, it was part of a reissue campaign, but the existence of CDBONG10 makes liars of them all. It contains all 7 tracks that feature on 7BONG10 and 12BONG10.
We begin the rest of the world section where we always begin it - Germany. There's the standard red vinyl 7" first of all.
It features the same two tracks as 7BONG10.
We then have the first of two coloured vinyl versions of 12BONG10. This blue and white splatter vinyl one is the easier of the two to get hold of.
It features the same tracks as 12BONG10.
Those same tracks also feature on the second colour vinyl 12".
This is the rarer of the two 12" singles and it can command mad prices. According to Popsike, a verison sold for £650 on 1st February this year. On Discogs just now, you can grab one for "only" £527. Do keep an eye out though as it doesn't always sell for such bizarre prices.
The German blue stripe CD features all 5 tracks from the 12"
The French CD single does too. It also has a rather nice inner sleeve.
There's a French cassette single too.
In Poland, the Tonpress label released the single on 12" (above) and 7" (not pictured as I forgot to do that). There is also a lovely Japanese 7" which I once again forgot to photograph. Amateur hour.
As ever, let depmod.com guide you through the many other releases available. They range from Australia to the Philippines, to New Zealand and Japan and beyond.
Stripped was something new. It was darker than Depeche Mode had ever gone before and its richer, compelling sound seemed destined to be played and heard in the biggest of venues. From this point, Depeche Mode started becoming a very big deal indeed. Ok, they were ignored in their homeland to a great extent, but the rest of the world was ready for them.
And no wonder. Stripped is one of their greatest tracks, If this was how Depeche Mode were now destined to sound, who couldn't fail to fall in love with them?