On 28th December 1987, Depeche Mode gave their fans a last Christmas present ahead of the UK leg of the Music For The Masses tour. Behind The Wheel was released in remarkably unsatisfactory remixed form featuring a new B-Side that fitted the vehicular theme of the single perfectly.
Some nice artwork, a couple of fancy formats and an insanely rare 7" promo would surely see this song return Depeche Mode to chart success in their homeland, especially in the low sales post Christmas period wouldn't it?
Of course not. Here is the story of Behind The Wheel.
PULL MY STRINGS - BEHIND THE WHEEL
The new Depeche Mode single, BONG15, didn't attract too much attention from the music press who were more concerned with their usual end of year best of lists and reviews. Smash Hits didn't let the single go ignored however, with Sue Doyle saying this in the 30th December edition:
"Not unnaturally since this is, after all, Depeche Mode, several odd noises immediately come into play here, not least the sound of a car hub cab falling off to begin proceedings. A door opens and closes and then - zwoom! - we're off at fairly moderate speed, Dave Gahan in the passenger seat and some weird girlie (not only weird but no doubt a bit of a perv on the quiet since Martin Gore wrote the thing) driving. And that's all that happens. Dave's "voice" travels no more than three notes up or down the scale, and the bumping one finger synthesizer beat surrounding the "jaunt" fares not much better. A bit weedy on the whole, and not much cop."
In other words, Sue didn't like it. The same edition featured a poster of the band. It actually broke the leatherometer so high is the leather percentage here:
You can almost hear the picture creak.
Bob Stanley, not yet then of St Etienne, reviewed the single in the NME in the January 2nd edition saying:
"Beind The Wheel is standard Mode fare, Dave Gahan's voice a virtual monotone while he drones on about rumpy pumpy on the back seat - the B-side's another game entirely. Route 66! This has been completely Mode-ified with twinkling keyboard noises, but there's still a chugging guitar line in there trying to break loose. Startling stuff."
Startling indeed, especially when he praises the music that is actually from the "standard Mode fare" on the A-Side.
Once again, Depeche Mode ignored Top Of The Pops and instead headed to ITV to play on The Roxy, appearing on the 5th of January 1988 show.
Interestingly, they used the DJBONG15 version here. That version is an edit of the Remix that was released and does nothing to improve it really. It is however a version of the track that is much sought after by collectors as we'll see. The Roxy performance is fine with Dave on particularly jolly form, grooving along to Martin and co's mimed performance. Dave must have been chilly however as he appears to be wearing at least three layers. Fletch is hammering away at his synth as usual and Alan is just what you would expect a January 1988 version of Alan to be. It seems that he and Fletch are both playing the same synth line - Alan, stop copying Andy. Finally, it's rather nice to see the video play behind the band on stage.
The single entered the UK charts at a poor 32 on 9th of January but rose the following week landing at number 21. That was the highpoint however as it then fell to 24, 47 and 75 before driving off into the sunset.
The single version of the song is a remix by Shep Pettibone. I've never quite understood this version really. The original version of Behind The Wheel is a dark, majestic and, to use Smash Hits language, perv track that is quite brilliant. It doesn't need fiddled about with in 7" form as the album version is spot in, This remix removes the layer of darkness that envelops the original version and makes it tinkly and, well, frankly a bit rubbish. The Remix version has been ignored entirely when it comes to live performances. The song has been played live 598 times by the band appearing 101 times on the Music For The Masses tour, 88 times on World Violation, 97 times on Devotional, 60 times on the Exotic tour, 11 times on the Singles tour, 124 times on Touring The Angel, 68 times on Tour Of The Universe and 49 times on the Delta Machine tour.
The 101 version is of course legendary. The moment above where Dave looks at Martin as his eyes say "What the fuck have we done booking a stadium?" is marvellous. The Devotional version is wonderful too. Ok, the roaring guitar part may be very Dave 1993, but it's bloody marvellous
The B-Side is a cover version of course, the Martin sung Route 66. It's great and fits the whole car theme nicely. The remix by The Beatmasters is where the song first came to my attention in the section that it pops up on. Depeche have of course played the song live too, using it alongside Behind The Wheel to close off all the gigs on the World Violation tour in a section that was called the BONG15core. Actually it wasn't but it should have been. Dave of course took lead vocals on the live version for all of its 88 appearances.
It's 1987, it's Anton, it's therefore black and white, grainy and contains highly unsubtle sexual suggestions,
We open with Dave looking said because his bubble car has in fact let him down (again) and he is forced to sell it for a few coins to a strange looking man on a tractor. Dave must really regret ever going to Denmark - he's had a rough time since he arrived there what with the trying to drown while wearing leather trousers business. Never fear though because Dave is soon on the move. Armed only with a pair of crutches and a map, he manages to escape his Danish hell and land in Italy, although quite how he managed that is beyond me.
We see him, map in hand on an Italian road wondering what his next move is when suddenly a moped driving by Italian model Ippolita Santarelli appears out of nowhere. This good news sees Dave regain the use of his legs and, in a hugely irresponsible move, throw his map and crutches to the ground. Honestly, English tourists abroad - they just don't care what mess they make. Dave hops onto Ippolita's moped and off we go with Dave the passenger and Ippolita Behind The Handlebars.
Ever the romantic, Dave takes the chance to sing Behind The Wheel to this complete stranger using the "Now" at the end of verse one as a disguise for rather forwardly placing his hands around her waist. They motor on and are spotted by a priest around 1 minutes 37. He doesn't attempt to intervene at all but instead stands there and rather curiously licks his lips as the moped meanders past. All very Anton.
Our intrepid duo then arrive at a tree and immediately hop off the moped and head in different directions, both looking fairly sheepish. What happened on that journey? I imagine Ippolita mentioned that she though the Remix version of Behind The Wheel was grossly inferior to the album version and Dave took offence. The time apart does them good though and, relations repaired, they head off again, next stopping to refuel the moped. Ever the gentleman, Dave wanders off and poses moodily, leaving Ippolita to do all the work.
All this Dave chat is fine but where are the other three? We last saw Martin singing by lamplight in Denmark so what has become of him? Well, here he is along with Alan and Andy and they're having a sing song. Martin has lost the odd hat he had when we last saw him, found a pair of sunglasses and is standing outside a cafe singing the sampled vocal line in the middle of the song. Fletch and Alan do the same albeit while they sit and enjoy a drink. What anyone randomly coming across that scene must have thought eh?
The Bong Megaphones make a brief appearance and then we return to the cafe scene to find Martin annoying the neighbours having picked up his guitar. Dave and Ippolita appear too and the bandmates who left Dave abandoned on a Danish beach no doubt did their best to make amends. "Look Dave, the last me and Alan saw was you and Martin on the beach while he was singing. We thought he would get you to the bus. Honestly." Martin then brings out his accordion again to remind everyone of better times but that mood is killed by Fletch and Alan attempting to play along on what look like a mouth organ and recorder respectively. None of the three of them offer Ippolita a seat, leaving her to sit on her moped. Depeche Mode as a whole have behaved appallingly here.
1987 was of course the pre-internet era so you very much had to make your own entertainment. If you went on holiday, you might take a game or two to help you while away the hours. Ever resourceful, Fletch has taken care of this for the Depeche Mode On Tour Basildon Banter Holiday of 1987, by bringing along a massive gameshow style wheel covered in numbers. Why? Well, can only be one reason. As Fletch's Wheel of Misfortune spins, Dave pops his arm round Ippolita's waist and, would you believe it, the wheel stops on number 69. Ho, ho etc.
Dave and Ippolita pop into the cafe to book a room as the Depeche Mode Wandering Minstrels (a darker version of the Basildon Boyzone) continue to ruin a small Italian village's tourist industry by bellowing Behind The Wheel outside. The subtletyy continues as we see the (possibly) happy couple look out a window over a silhouette of the Bong Megaphones, before we find Fletch standing behind a Bong Megaphone from which lots of things are emanating. Ippolita and Dave then emerge from the room looking dishevelled and in what can only be described as the most alarming thing in the video, Dave has grown his Spirit era pencil moustache. Good lord. He and Ippolita then dance as the Depeche Mode Wandering Minstrels play on and then finally wander off to hassle more people outside a different cafe in the village.
Or at least that's what I make of it. I could have just said "it's a good video" right enough.
Not too many formats this time around, but a bigger headache for collectors than normal. 7BONG15 wis straightforward enough. Behind The Wheel appears on the A-side in remixed fashion. The artwork and labels are again top notch, though I don't know how the word The is meant to be pronounced when it has an umlaut over the T.
The B-side label is a bit cheerier with the Bong Megaphone creeping into view.
|picture courtesy of depmod.com|
Now, how do you an annoy a Depeche Mode collector? Tell them you have the UK 7" promo of Behind The Wheel and that you got it either at a charity shop or as part of a job lot of singles from a seller who didn't know what they had. Both of these things have happened to me, This is insanely rare and it is the only official place where you can hear the edit used on The Roxy above. commonly known as the DJBONG15 mix. It is called that because the matrix on Side A of the record says DJ BONG-15 A-1. If yours says that, you have a rarity which I will happily give you £10 for. I'll even pay the postage. If you want to get your hands on one just now, you could hand over nearly £1700 on Discogs. Alternatively, you could do what I do and but every single copy of the 7" that you find at record fairs or in charity shops, run home and check the matrix only to once again feel disappointed. I have a nonsensical number of Behind The Wheel 7" singles. I'm actually surprised that it hasn't gone back into the charts.
While we are talking promos, there were two promo 12" singles released. The first is DBONG15 which features the album version and Shep Mix of Behind The Wheel which is actually the Shep Pettibone remix from the standard 12". It also contains the 7" version of Route 66.
The other promo is a promo of L12BONG15. It has a gorgeous label and contains two tracks - the Beatmasters Mix of Behind The Wheel and the Casualty Mix of Route 66.
12BONG15 is a lovely thing. The design of all the Music For The Masses era sleeves really was superb. It features two tracks. The A-Side is the fairly underwhelming but better than the 7" version Behind The Wheel (Remixed by Shep Pettibone).
The B-Side is the much better Route 66 (Remixed By The Beatmasters) which brings back all those 101 memories. "They come from everywhere to take the challenge....if they can name it, they can claim it" and so on.
L12BONG15 contains the same two tracks as the promo. The A-side, Behind The Wheel (Beatmasters Mix) is fine but once again, the cover and labels are the real stars of the show.
The B-Side has the Casualty Mix of Route 66 which is an enjoyably noisy version. It's also over 10 minutes long.
The new found love of cassette singles continued. CBONG15 looks rather lovely as you can see.
It comes in the videocassette style packaging again and features three tracks - the two remixes from 12BONG15 and the album version of Behind The Wheel.
There was also a CD single. CDBONG15's four tracks are the two 7" tracks, the album version of Behind The Wheel and Behind The Wheel (Shep Pettibone Mix) which is the remix from 12BONG15 with an annoyingly different name.
A 7 track CD was released in the UK in 1992 bringing together all seven tracks from the various 1987 formats.
The 2004 boxset reissue repeated that 7 track trick.
The German coloured vinyl 7" singles ended with Never Let Me Down Again and with Behind The Wheel we got the last of the coloured vinyl 12" singles.
This orange vinyl release features the same two tracks as 12BONG15.
The yellow vinyl version of L12BONG15 is fantastic.
It will surprise no-one to learn that it features the same tracks as L12BONG15.
The Intercord blue stripe CD contains a tracklisting identical to CDBONG15.
A nice item is the German 3" CD single. It features the two 7" tracks and the Beatmasters Remix of Behind The Wheel.
The 1992 German CD single reissue mirrored the UK one from the same year but it's not orange which means it doesn't look at nice.
Finally, in Random European Format The Boredom Of Lockdown Made Me Buy Corner, here is the French CD single with the same tracklisting as CDBONG15.
In America, there was yet another garishly sleeved promo 12", On Side A we have Behind The Wheel (Extended Remix) which is the Shep Pettibone 12" version and Behind The Wheel (Dub) which is fairly uninspiring.
The B-side features the 7" DJ Remix of Behind The Wheel which is not the DJBONG15 mix as far as I know. It also features the Beatmasters Mix of Behind The Wheel.
The standard 12" has a much better sleeve thankfully. On the A-Side we have the...shudder...Behind The Wheel/Route 66 (Megamix) and Behind The Wheel/Route 66 (Megadub). Neither are one what might call mega.
The B-Side is much more sensible featuring the Beatmasters Mix of both Behind The Wheel and Route 66.
There is a 6 track promo CD if you fancy it. It contains: Behind The Wheel (7" remix), Behind The Wheel/Route 66 (mega-single mix) (STOP IT), Route 66/Behind The Wheel (mega-single mix) (I SAID STOP IT), Behind The Wheel/Route 66 (megamix) (ARGHHHH), Behind The Wheel (Beatmaster Mix -the s is missing on the sleeve, don't write in) and Behind The Wheel (Extended Remix). There is also a 7" and cassette single from the time.
Let's end in Japan. This is a lovely item - a 3" CD single featuring I Want You Now and Behind The Wheel (Remix).
The lyrics and photos of the DM "lads" feature on the rear of the sleeve.
Isn't that a beautiful CD? The version of I Want You Now is an edit exclusive to this release. The pack this CD comes in is called a snap pack as it can be folded in half to form a neat little case. Only buffoons do that however. Get yours unsnapped and keep it that way. There is also a 7" promo of this which was issued in Japan. It is one of those items that will forever be on my wantlist as it goes for insane prices. You can buy one for just under £1,250 on Discogs if you are rich enough to have nothing better to spend your money on.
And with the release of Behind The Wheel, Depeche Mode set off on a European and American tour. I wonder how that ended up going?
Actually, before I hilariously lead on to the next review being Everything Counts (Live), I'll stop myself. The next one will be Little 15 even though I'm not sure as to whether or not it counts as a UK single. I don't think anyone knows really. For the sake of completeness, I shall have a look at that next time.
I'm off to Italy to pick up Dave's rubbish. Thanks for reading and see you next time.