Before we got a taste of Music For The Masses, Depeche Mode released the second single from that album, no doubt hoping that the chart position for Strangelove was nothing more than a blip.
Booming drums courtesy of Led Zepplin, a guitar riff mistake type think turned into a noisy, powerful opening and a song filled with high after high - they couldn't fail right?
Wrong. Instead of bowing down at the majesty of Never Let Me Down Again, everyone said "houses and trousers? What?" and bought records by Wet Wet Wet and Bon Jovi instead.
Honestly, what more does a band have to do eh? Let's explore BONG14.
SEE THE STARS, THEY'RE SHINING BRIGHT - NEVER LET ME DOWN AGAIN
|Picture courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group|
The world was introduced to Never Let Me Down Again on August 24th 1987. The single garnered the usual mixed reviews that one expected of Depeche Mode releases of this era. Smash Hits liked it, saying "So often The Mode thump out the same old synthesized ploddings but this one's definitely more memorable because it's... well, it's creepy. Shiver your spinal "column" to the hollow, jaggy and sinister toots, shake in your sandals at the eerie 'n' horrible choir-sound searing over the top of it all, and then ponder the sentence "Promises me I'm as safe as houses/ as long as I remember who's wearing the trousers". The b-side of this is quite a good disco belter too." More of the "disco belter" B-side shortly.
The NME disagreed: "Never Let Me Down Again is oddly conventional and I wouldn't be surprised if it had something to do with drugs, man." They then quoted the first line adding "...Sarge, the sniffer dogs." Hmmm. The NME's "rival" Melody Maker was slightly less dismissive with Paul Lester saying the song was "(n)ot as pervy as their greatest moment (A Question Of Lust) but still possessing that uncanny ability to peel bakc the first couple of layers of contempt without shouting too loud." Business as usual then.
In Germany, Bravo magazine was very much in favour of the song, especially the Split Mix which I will come on to praise effusively in a bit. Of that remix they said "To my ears it's the most exciting piece of music DM has ever released! The new Depeche sound is unbeatable, as is the melody." Quite right.
For once, Depeche Mode didn't appear on Top Of The Pops in the UK. Instead, they appeared on ITV's short lived and not as good as TOTP show The Roxy. It only takes 9 seconds for a number of questions to arise. Firstly, Dave's top. You'd like to think that the black t-shirt he was wearing got caught on a nail on the way to the stage thus causing it to unravel in a comic book style, leaving only half of it on him by the time Dave "Kid" Jensen got the band started. Sadly, it looks as if that's the top he chose. On the positive side, just look at Alan. That is peak Wilder right there. Hair taller than most houses, sunglasses and 142.5% leather. Well played Mr W. Dave then ruins this good vibe by playing air guitar. Stop that now Dave. Stop it immediately. The Jagger like hands on hips pose he pulls seconds later, revealing his top in all its "glory" is something I'm prepared to say he did in jest. It makes me feel better.
It's only a full minute in that we properly see Martin. He's fully clothed and is actually wearing white. This is very, very odd indeed. The big Bong Megaphones on the stage look good mind you. Fletch is up the back doing that aggressive synth prodding he does so well.
The single's performance in the charts is yet further proof the British public had temporarily lost their minds in the late 80's. Instead of Never Let Me Down Again going into the charts at Number 1 and the Split Mix being declared the new national anthem, it entered the charts at 22 on 5th September and then fell to 26, 29 and finally 55 before popping on its chart trousers and leaving the chart house (erm..) for good. That's right, the highest it got to was number 22. I give up.
You don't need me to tell you how good Never Let Me Down Again is. It is a staggeringly good track, as loud and blustery and as powerful as Depeche had sounded to that point. A huge, booming beast of a song that is a guaranteed highlight of any live show. Oddly, the band disagree with that as they've only played it live once in Zurich at the Hallenstadion on 12th November 1987.
I am, of course, being hilarious. It's been played 963 times by Depeche Mode and why the hell not eh? The arm waving section as the song builds to its crescendo is one of the great live experiences and, despite some slight odd arrangements in recent years, specifically the Exciter tour version (2001 is still recent - leave me alone) it is always a great, unifying moment at any Depeche gig. You feel as if the venue is moving as one, swept along on a communal high as arms fly around all over the place. Never Let Me Down Again live is a very, very special thing.
The B-side is Pleasure, Little Treasure,a song that is my Mum's joint favourite Depeche track with Enjoy The Silence. These are the type of facts you need to know. It's a really good song but rightly more B-side than album track as it would have stood out a bit on Music For The Masses. It was played on 95 dates on that album's tour which I've always found to be rather brave of them. As you will see from the Rose Bowl footage, Dave once again treats us to his air guitar moves on this song. Oh Dave.
Anton returned and gave us a cracking video. Rather wonderfully, it starts as Strangelove ended with the orange Bong Megaphone fading it, only it's been abandoned by the four chairs it made friends with in Paris and has ended up in a field in Denmark. That must have been quite a night out. The orange fades to black and white and off we go.
We see some blurry, arty fields before we find Dave with his head down on a table looking like he was on the night out with the Bong Megaphone. An old man, real name Valdemar Christensen fact fans, joins him and enjoys his cup of coffee, ignoring Dave who continues to sit, face down. Suddenly though, Dave bursts into life and sings "I'm..." before promptly forgetting the rest of the sentence and looking sorry for himself again. He'll never go drinking with the Bong Megaphone again. He manages the second line before deciding he prefers coffee to singing while Valdemar minds his own business, ignoring the lightweight popstar beside him, Dave has enough and jumps in his wee bubble car, leaving a visibly relieved Valdemar to get on with his day.
There then follows quite a bit more driving before Fletch suddenly pops up in a field. Hello Fletch. And look, here's Martin too playing an accordion standing beside some logs as you do when on holiday in Denmark. Dave drives past them both and, as I can guarantee each and every one of you has done, drives along singing the second verse, drumming on the steering wheel. Admit it. You know you have.
Alan pops up, 132.8 % leather with hair slicked back in that way that only Alan ever thought was fashionable before things get very serious indeed. We see Martin free of logs and accordion pointing somewhere and Fletch running through his field pointing too. Even Valdemar gets in on the act, shouting, pointing and waving his stick. What's going on? Had Dave forgotten to get the Danish equivalent of an MOT and they were trying to warn him that the Danish Transport Authority were after him? (They deal with all vehicle roadworthiness tests in Denmark and are known as Faerdselsstyrelsen - FACT MODE!) Martin and Fletch keep running (very odd seeing Martin run) yet Dave just keeps on going. At 2 minutes 25 seconds, we have one of the legendary Depeche video moments where Alan runs around the corner like a black, leather clad giraffe and he looks sensational. Nothign can stop Dave though.
Suddenly, and inexplicably, Alan falls over in a field. Perhaps his hair was so slicked back that time itself slipped. Things get worse for Alan when he floats past us as if he's dead which is very bad news for the international leather industry. And then there it is.....
2 minutes 50 seconds in we see the field of wheat waving. Suddenly, something from a video becomes a very big thing in Depeche Mode world. Pause there and remember just what it feels like to be at a Depeche Mode concert. We'll be back there one day.
Anyway, back in Denmark, it's all kicked off. Dave is out of the car and doing an odd crucifix pose. Despite that though, we then have a shot of the car door opening from the inside. As you're mulling over the continuity issues there, it's suddenly dark and the no longer dead Alan and Fletch are lifting Dave out of the water he's ended up in while Martin comes over and peers in the car like a very odd man. There's footage of Fletch running and then footage of Fletch holding Dave which is impressive work on Andy's part before we see Martin heading off on a night out with the Bong Megaphone, no doubt ready to show it how to properly drink. By this point, Dave has been abandoned by the rest of the band and is seen stumbling up a banking, singing. As Martin sings his part by lamplight, we see Dave fall over in a manner that would embarrass most footballers. Alan and Andy rescue him again before Dave once again takes a dive again and, having been booked for the first dive, gets a second yellow and thus a red card. That was later appealed meaning he wasn't suspended for the Behind The Wheel video.
Alternatively, it's a superb video and deserves to be watched over and over again.
There were five formats plus a few promos in the UK. The picture above for example is a promo 7" version of the 7" although there is no difference at all between that and the standard one.
The artwork on 7BONG14 is fantastic. The A-side label too is an absolute joy.
The rear sleeve is just as lovely though the label's information crammed appearance means it's not as striking as the A-side.
The second ever Depeche Mode cassette single appeared with this release. CBONG14 features the three tracks you can see above which we'll look at in a bit.
The cassette comes in a sleeve that it presses into rather than in the usual cassette box.
12BONG14 is home to the Split Mix of Never Let Me Down Again. That is all you really need to know. There should be a law that punishes people who don't like this remix such is its quality. If they had used this in Apocalypse Now rather than Ride Of The Valkyries, the film would have been improved. It is astounding and I will fight you if you say otherwise. Sadly, this was the last time the band would be directly involved in a 12" remix. The end of an era, but what a way to end. The label on the 12" is a work of art equal to the song's indescribable majesty.
The B-Side gives us the Glitter Mix of Pleasure, Little Treasure which is a nice mix and the Aggro Mix of Never Let Me Down Again which is entirely oustanding and gloriously loud. Brilliant.
L12BONG14 is a curious chap. The artwork and labels are, naturally, splendid. Later pressings came with labels that were disappointing however as they looked as if they'd been photocopied. Anyway, the A-Side features the Tsangarides Mix of Never Let Me Down Again. Chris Tsangarides was a British producer famed for working with rock and heavy metal bands. His remix however is an oddly bland affair that takes away the rough edges and power of the original. I've never quite got it.
The B-side features the Join Mix of Pleasure, Little Treasure and the Spanish Taster version of To Have And To Hold.
There was a CD single too. CDBONG14 which, like Strangelove, came with a curious textured inner sleeve.
The CD features four tracks - the Split and Aggro mixes of Never Let Me Down Again, the Join Mix of Pleasure, Little Treasure and To Have And To Hold (Spanish Taster). The four track CD was reissued in a jewel box in 1992.
1992 also saw an 8 track CD single released that took all the songs from 7BONG14, 12BONG14 and L12BONG14 and put them in one safe place.
The 2004 box set featured the same 8 tracks on CD.
There are two 12" promos if you fancy those. 12BONG14 (above) features the 12BONG14 tracks.
P12BONG14 features the single versions of Never Let Me Down Again and the Split Mix.
In Germany, we once again got a red 7" single but sadly this was the last of that particular series. The coloured vinyl 12" singles would carry on for one more release however.
The record features the same two tracks as 7BONG14
The first of two coloured vinyl 12" releases is this lovely orange version of 12BONG14.
It features the same tracks as 12BONG14 and thus includes the Split Mix meaning that it is a must have record.
The L12BONG14 coloured vinyl version is a marbled vinyl release.
It houses the same three curious tracks the standard L12BONG14 houses.
The German blue stripe CD features the same four tracks as CDBONG14.
The French CD single features those same four tracks too.
Moving away from Europe, the Japanese releases were on 7" and 12". The 7" is pictured above.
As with previous Japanese 7" releases, the cover is a thin, shiny sheet. On the back it you can find the lyrics to Never Let Me Down Again and Pleasure, Little Treasure in English and Japanese.
In America, a promo 12" was released featuring the album version of Never Let Me Down Again on each side.
The US 12" features 5 tracks. The A-side has the Split and Aggro mixes and is therefore possibly the greatest side of vinyl ever.
The B-Side contains the two remixes of Pleasure, Little Treasure from 12BONG14 and L12BONG14 and the Tsangarides Mix of Never Let Me Down Again.
Finally, there is a rare 4 track promo CD from America. It features the Split, Aggro and Tsangarides mixes alongside the CHR Single Edit of Never Let Me Down Again which is the single version. There are bootlegs of this CD out there which seem to be more common than the original so watch out. You are looking for a CD that has a black ring around the disc edge and a smaller black ring around the matrix area. The bootleg has no black ring around the disc edge so check before you buy.
What an odd single. A towering giant of a song, a remix that stands among the band's finest and the start of a one of the great Depeche Mode live experiences.
And it got to Number 22.
Shortly after this single came out, the band released Music For The Masses and everything started to change for them. There would be one more single from the album and "wheel" have a look at that next time.