Everything Counts (Live) marked the end of Depeche Mode's life as one of the best kept secrets in the music world. A single recorded live in a sold out stadium at the end of a rapturously received world tour meant that the Basildon synth poppers could go one of two ways: (1) no further than that and perpetually doomed to be viewed as a comedy 80's band like Duran Duran (or more appropriate band name not entered simply to wind people up) or (2) onwards and upwards until they filled even more stadia and made a landmark album so era defining that people like me and Kevin May would ultimately write a book about it (Halo - The Story Behind Depeche Mode's Classic Album Violator.....coming soon).
It had to be number 1 didn't it? How could chicken hugging, spacehopper bouncing, leather dress wearing Depeche Mode get any bigger than the Rose Bowl? This lightweight band of chancers had surely come to an end.
Balls to that. It was option number two and, as a taster for their world conquering phase, they released a single that still sounds as fresh as a daisy, annoyed people who get annoyed too easily and that had a video in which the band (ok, just Dave) look as cool as anyone has ever looked before.
Reach out and touch Personal Jesus.
I'LL MAKE YOU A BELIEVER - PERSONAL JESUS
Personal Jesus (BONG17) was the first taste of what was to become Violator. It was released on 29th August 1989 following an interesting promotional campaign. Back in those days, unless you were very fancy, you didn't have a mobile phone, but your standard telephone could still be used to call numbers to find out information about what player your football team were signing or listen to top pop songs all at terrifyingly expensive prices. In the late of summer of 1989, newspaper adverts started appearing in regional newspapers. One looked like this:
|Picture courtesy of Michael Rose|
Imagine that you'd called Data-Mate and got nowhere and then attempted to land a job as a Trainee Travel Agent only to get rejected. You might need salvation and so, looking for some hope, you call the number in the black advert and wait for help only to hear Depeche Mode. Ok, for all of us, that would have been immense, but some people were annoyed by this faux religious assistance.
|Picture courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group|
Similar adverts appeared in the London Underground and the single got off to a controversial start, though not really by 2021 standards you have to say.
For once, the single was pretty much universally well received. Stuart Maconie in the NME said:
"A hit even as we speak, but in the frantic rush to lionise surly adolescents in black jeans and people with their caps on back to front, we seemed to have overlooked the latest release by the most subversive singles band of the decade. Depeche Mode make criminally brilliant pop records about God, death, crazy sex and alienation and as far as I'm concerned they can do no wrong. 'Personal Jesus' sounds like The Glitter Band in the throes of an intense personal crisis. Huge fun."
His co-reviewer, Martin Gilks of The Wonder Stuff, got it wrong however, saying:
"It's great that they don't play all the Radio One rules, that they remain independent and make these weird records, but I can't say I like them. I don't care if I never hear that again. It's just so cold and lifeless. I respect them but it means nothing to me"
As much as I enjoyed Hup and The Eight Legged Groove Machine, it's fair to say that the cold and lifeless Personal Jesus has perfomed a little better over the last 30 years than Size Of A Cow. The usually Depeche friendly Smash Hits didn't review the single, but it did feature the lyrics:
Record Mirror looked kindly on the song, with Iestyn George awarding it Single Of The Week on 2nd September 1989. He said:
"Basildon's finest plunder the past, dress it up in leather trousers and add a Duane Eddy guitar lick for good measure. I never thought the day would come when I would say something nice about Depeche Mode, so this is something of a personal landmark."
Melody Maker talked their usual rubbish:
"Heavy stuff from The Mode whose neat Billy Graham spoof advertising campaign has raised a few eyebrows and maybe caused the odd Grahamite passer-by to question the great man's authority. Having said all this however, it grieves me to say that musically this is the same old DM - all nasal vocals and weedy keyboards circa '81. What's more, the lyrics pack none of the ad campaign's clout and the tune is a monotonous drone. But the point is, at least they're trying. And that isn't a pun."
Oh go away. Finally, Sounds were much more supportive:
"Great stuff. A trembling hypnosis underpins Gahan's dangerously sensual, betoken voice as lingering, unspoken meanings trail off into infinity. It'll be nice to see the DM's back where they belong, breeding discontent, shitting over all else in their devout intent. It's hard to imagine this lot were ever the simpering leather-clad toy boys of yore - this reeks of evil and the satin of sweaty sheets."
Quite. Simon May made it Radio 1's Record Of The Week too and who can argue with that? Depeche Mode were getting (mainly) good press in their homeland and all that they needed to do was appear on Top of The Pops and it would be Top 10 all the way. They didn't do that of course. Instead, the video, more of which to come, was shown on Britain's top pop show and the single performed reasonably well rather than splendidly so. It entered the UK charts at number 25 on 9th September 1989 and then climbed to 13 the next week. It then stalled sadly, dropping to 14, 19, 30 and the 43, before fading away via 65, 75 and finally 86. Ok, it was the band's highest chart placing since Master And Servant, but it's yet another damning indictment on the British public that this song didn't at least make the Top 10.
They did promote it abroad however, One such appearance was on the Dutch show Countdown which was a mercifully different version of the UK programme of the same name. Here we see Dave looking exceptionally cool, Martin fully clothed, Fletch being Fletch and Alan topping the leatherometer up to a pleasing 97.64% albeit while wearing a Bob Dylan or Neil Young-like mouth organ frame thing for no reason whatsoever. Enjoyable stuff.
Personal Jesus is not a song you need me to tell you anything about because you know it and, unless something has gone badly wrong with your ears, you love it. The single version is a nice edit that ends on that perplexing noise but it is glorious. In Britain it is currently being used as the soundtrack to an advert for the series Deutschland 89 and every time I hear that first "Reach Out And Touch Faith" it is as thrilling as the first time I heard it. This song simply cannot, will not grow old. It is a masterpiece and surely one of the finest British pop singles of all time. No other band could have done this. Sneer all you want non believers, but to deny that Personal Jesus is nothing other than very special is a denial made only to prove a point and that point is that you can't accept that Depeche Mode are capable of moments this special. Admit you love it, you know you do.
The band love it too of course and not just because it has ensured that they are very famous people indeed. It has been played live 874 times, featuring on every tour since World Violation with the exception of the Ultra parties which I add only to head off pedantry. Personally, it is always a highlight of the concert. The song is one of the few that lends itself to a full band approach and, the quite dreadful slow start to the Delta Machine version aside, it never lets you down.
The B-Side to the single is Dangerous, a real gem of a B-Side. Dangerous is like a bridge between Music For The Masses and Violator era Depeche Mode, not quite slinky enough to appear on Violator but perky enough to suggest that Depeche Mode were capable of taking their purely electronic sound to new, more complex levels. It's bloody marvellous basically. It has never been played live however. perhaps because if it suddenly popped up in a set, everyone at the venue would have a pleasure induced heart attack and every fan not there would have an anger induced seizure. Literally a Dangerous song.
It's hard to cast too much of a critical eye over the Violator era videos as I am quote openly in love with every single aspect of them, but here we go.
Personal Jesus was filmed at the Texas Hollywood Theme Park in Tabernas Desert, Almeria Spain in June 1989. You can still hire the place out if you want to have a go at recreating the video - click out and hire faith
Anton returned to directing duties after sitting out the last two videos and we therefore immediately return to grainy footage, prostitutes and general sleaze. We open on a shot of the pretend cowboy town the band are storming and see a woman running to let the town's only inhabitants, a gang of ladies of the night, that Depeche Mode are arriving. Alan and Dave turn up on horseback and Fletch and Martin arrive by pick-up truck, those two still traumatised by the See You chicken incident, clearly still not ready to go near any form of animal. Alan and Dave are made of sterner stuff.
The lads variously tie up and park up their modes (ho ho) of transport and saunter into town. It has to be said that Martin does not make a convincing cowboy. Fletch kind of does and Alan looks ok, but Martin looks like he's been dressed up against his will. Dave looks incredibly cool however, taking on the Martin role of wearing a jacket and nothing underneath it. He even manages to sing beside a horse and not look like out of place.
We enter the bordello pausing to see a quite stupendous black and white shot of the band at its entry. The women inside look unconvinced. They'd just finished watching The Videos 81-85 so were clearly worried about who was going to be turning up. "Are these the guys that played space invaders while milkmen stood behind them giving them coins?"
We then get a load of shots of women and Dave all in grainy black and white, posing around with Dave singing along before Depeche Mode repair to their individual rooms. Not much happens really until we get to the breathing sample bit in the middle of the song where we see Martin miming along and what could only be called a horse's arse. Hmmm. I have resolved that if I do ever meet Martin and, presuming he doesn't quickly run away having realised I'm that oddball that writes long blogs about his singles, I'm going to ask him what inspired that middle section in this song. I'm sure there are 100 better things I could ask him ("Martin...Hole To Feed...what do you really think?) but this will be the question I was my one meeting with him on.
Anyway, horse's arse dispensed with (erm...), we're back outside and Dave is singing away again. Whatever went on in the bedrooms clearly tired the rest of them out, as we see Martin asleep in a chair and Alan sitting in the sun, cooling himself with is cowboy hat. Fletch is much perkier and, rather than sleeping, jumps onto his rocking horse and happily rocks away. There is only one member of Depeche Mode who could have handled this role and come out of it well. Once again, I salute you Fletch.
Feet are stamped and then we get hot live band action. Martin plays his guitar, Alan for thematic rather than musical reasons blows a harmonica and Fletch lazily prods at an acoustic guitar, desperate to get back on his rocking horse. Alan suddenly gets a call and literally picks up a receiver, the band play on, Dave pops back inside for a bit and we head to the end with a mic of band shots and Dave singing.
A tremendous video.
I'm starting with promos this time. They are not official formats as such and are only collected by idiots like me, but there are far more of them from this single onwards so it makes sense to look at them first. Here is the 7" promo for Personal Jesus which features the same sleeve as BONG17 albeit with a Ferret & Spanner sticker on the front telling you the release date.
Here is the rear of the sleeve which, as keen eyed readers have noticed is all black. Why, you ask?
Well, the standard issue 7" is shown above, As you can see, it features nudity and the last thing that anyone wanted was every copy of Personal Jesus being destroyed by shocked radio stations. To ensure airplay, a censored 7" was prepared and sent out. A tad over the top perhaps, but Britain was a different place then.
By 1989, radio stations had started buying CD players, so a promo CD single was sent out too. This 3" single was also censored. It features the same tracks as CDBONG17 which we'll look at shortly. The front sleeve of the CD is identical to the official release. If you fancy getting a copy of either of these censored promos, be ready to spend a silly amount of money.
A promo 12" was issued too. P12BONG17 uses the classic Mute promo sleeve so it didn't need any censoring. It features the Pump Mix of Personal Jesus and the Hazchemix of Dangerous.
The normal 7" features the single versions of Personal Jesus and Dangerous. The sleeve art is simple, yet stunning and the label really rather lovely. As we've seen above, Martin features on the rear of the sleeve hugging the nude model. No-one is entirely sure why any of that was necessary.
While we are on the 7" single, you may want to collect the Scandinavian version as it features Dave rather than Martin. I don't have it so the above picture has been kindly supplied by my friend Joeri whose Instagram account depechemode7inchheaven is one you very much want to visit.
Back in the UK, the single was released on cassette too. CBONG17 features the same tracks as the 7".
Fletch is the cover star this time. It looks like the model is having a go at him and Andy looks like he'd rather be on his rocking horse than having whatever discussion he is currently having.
There was a new format this time - a gatefold 7" with booklet. GBONG17 is a three track single and it is a really nice package.
On the A-Side, we have the single version of Personal Jesus.
The B-side features the Hazcehmix Edit of Dangerous which is an enjoyable electro take on the song and the Acoustic version of Personal Jesus which is a lovely thing. We also see the full band on the back, with Martin on hugging duty.
The gatefold section of the release features a big D and beside that we have a four page booklet stapled into the sleeve. There's Dave there on page 1.
Andy and Alan are our centrefolds.
Martin concludes the booklet and there's a big M on the inner sleeve. The Violator The 12" Singles boxset brilliantly recreated the shots from the booklet when it was released. I drooled on about that length here if you can bear even more of this once you've finished this blog.
12BONG17 is a marvellous thing. On the A-side (above), we have the brilliant Holier Than Thou Approach version of Personal Jesus.
The B-side features the Sensual Mix of Dangerous, one of my favourite remixes and the Acoustic version of Personal Jesus. Dave is the cover "star." Later versions of this 12" have red labels rather than black ones. I don't yet have one of those unfortunately.
In the same way as night follows day, where there is a 12BONG there will soon be an L12BONG and that's what we got here. L12BONG17 features three tracks and comes with a sticker telling you it's a Limited Edition. Handy. The A-side features the majestic Pump Mix of Personal Jesus.
On the B-Side we get the Telephone Stomp Mix of Personal Jesus and the Hazchemix of Dangerous. The same full band picture as appeared on GBONG17 appears here too.
CDBONG17 is a 3" CD single.
It features the same three tracks as 12BONG17 and it's where Alan finally makes an appearance.
LCDBONG17 is another 3" release, contains the same tracks as L12BONG17 and features the full band photo on the inner sleeve. Some versions, but not mine, have the same sticker the L12 does.
CDBONG17 received a 5" reissue in 1992.
The 2004 boxset version CDBONG17X brought together every single track from the original release including the Hazcehmix Edit, until that point a mix only available on GBONG17.
At this point, I'll pause and tell you that Personal Jesus was released in a lot of places and I am not mad enough to own every single format that it appeared on across the entire planet. To see a full list, head to depmod.com and get ready to collect. Here are a few of the releases I have, starting in Germany
There are two German 12" singles. The first is the same as 12BONG17
The second is of course the same as L12BONG17 other than the label.
The German equivalent of CDBONG17 is a 5" affair with a rather nice design.
The LCDBONG17 German version comes on a similarly nice CD.
The French stuck a Depeche Mode sticker on their 12BONG17, just in case the buyer had no idea what band had recorded the song.
The French L12 repeated the trick and added a sticker that said REMIX for good measure.
A slightly too large sticker was stuck on the front of the French CDBONG17 too. The CD itself is a mad looking thing.
The LCDBONG17 in France was sticker free abut the large REMIX hadn't gone away. As you can see, it moved to the CD single. On the topic of stickers and France, there are three variations of the 7" single. It has the same cover as BONG17 but either has no sticker saying Depeche Mode, has a sticker saying Depeche Mode or has the words Depeche Mode printed on it instead of being stuck on it.
Here's the Belgian equivalent of LCDBONG17. It's on a very nice 5" and comes in a thick box.
Next we move to Italy. Here is the Italian version of 12BONG17. There is also an Italian L12.
Spain released only one 12" and it features the same three tracks as 12BONG17.
In America, a 2 track 12" promo was released, featuring Personal Jesus (Acoustic) twice. Basically, a one track promo.
The US 12" famously became Warners' biggest selling 12" to date and rightly so. It's a five track spectacular. Personal Jesus in its Holier Than Thou Approach and 7" Version guises feature on the A-side.
The Pump Mix appears on the B-side together with the Sensual Mix and 7" version of Dangerous.
Th2 US CD single, the first Depeche Mode CD I ever got, is an 8 track release featuring all the tracks you find on BONG17, 12BONG17 and L12BONG17.
Want to see a Brazilian CD single? Well there you go. It features the same tracks as CDBONG17.
The Japanese CD single features the same 8 tracks as the US one. It comes with an OBI and a booklet.
The booklet features many pictures, not least this bizarre Martin hat lifting one.
This South African 12" is an odd one. On Side A, you have the same tracks as appear on 12BONG17 yet on the B-Side, you have Route 66 (Casualty Mix) and Behind The Wheel (Megamix). Goodness knows how that happened.
Finally, we come to this, one of the most sought after non promo releases - the Australian blue vinyl 12" single. It features five Personal Jesus remixes. On the A-side, there are the 7" and Holier Than Thou Approach.
The B-side features the Pump Mix, Acoustic Mix and Telephone Stomp Mix. If you fancy buying this 12", head to Discogs and get ready to spend around £1,000.
Personal Jesus showed the world that Depeche Mode were not prepared to rest on the laurels of their 1980's success and were ready to keep pushing themselves in new directions. It would be a few months until the next album was released and at that point, everything would change.
Before then however, there would be another single, a song so good that for years people would make the preposterous claim that it changed their life.
I am one of those people. I'll attempt to avoid going over the top about the greatest song that anyone has ever recorded at any time on earth now and in the future next time.