August 1989: Depeche Mode Release PERSONAL JESUS
Depeche Mode songwriter Martin Gore was in an Elvis state of mind when he wrote "Personal Jesus," the lead single from the band's seventh studio album, Violator (1989). Gore was inspired after reading the book Elvis and Me, written by Priscilla Presley.
"It's a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care," Gore explained to SPIN in 1990. "It's about how Elvis Presley was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships; how everybody's heart is like a god in some way, and that's not a very balanced view of someone, is it?"
Musically, Depeche Mode was ready for change. After the high water mark of Music for the Masses (1987) and the victory lap that was live album 101 (1989), Gore and company knew it was time to evolve or die.
“We had perfected a formula by then, and it came to fruition on Music For The Masses," Gore explained to Select in 1990. "But our sales had become stagnant. We’d sold exactly the same number of albums as A Broken Frame. We realized that if we were going to advance, if we were going to make another record at all, then we would have to change. We needed a new approach; otherwise, we wouldn’t have been challenging anything."
Decamping to Milan, Italy, to work with producer Flood, Gore's Priscilla Presley fascination and a bluesy guitar riff evolved into "Personal Jesus": "Everybody was feeling each other out, because they wanted to try working in a different way," Flood revealed of the initial sessions. "The idea was to work hard and party hard and we all enjoyed ourselves to the full."
Preceded by a series of provocative personal ads in UK newspapers, "Personal Jesus" was released August 29, 1989. The track rocked the British singles charts, peaking at #13. The song was also a hit in America, peaking at #28, making it Depeche Mode's first Top 40 hit on the Hot 100 since 1984 single "People are People."
"Personal Jesus" made a strong impact on the dance floor, with the single reaching #12 on the Dance Club Songs chart, and getting all the way to #3 on the Alternative Airplay chart.
The resonance from "Personal Jesus" has been so strong that it's been covered by multiple artists, including Def Leppard, Nina Hagen, and most famously, Johnny Cash.
“That’s probably the most evangelical song [I’ve] ever recorded,” Cash once said of the tune. “I don’t know that the writer ever meant it to be that, but that’s what it is.”