March 1986: Depeche Mode Release BLACK CELEBRATION

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

It was the album Depeche Mode had steadily been moving towards from the moment founding member Vince Clark left the band. As Martin Gore assumed primary songwriting duties, his lyrics had moved into darker and more existential directions. Following the stark industrialism of Some Great Reward (1984) would be no easy feat; Depeche Mode's fourth studio album featured the band's first big hit in America, "People are People," which peaked at #13 on the Hot 100 in August 1985. The follow-up, "Master and Servant," also hit the charts (#49 Dance Club Songs), and become a huge dance-floor favorite on the underground club scene.

The group pushed those same themes to an extreme on Black Celebration. Recorded in a brutal four-month slog in Berlin and London, the tense and claustrophobic nature of the sessions can be felt in the album's dense and dramatic sound. The LP was preceded by first single, "Stripped," in February 1986. The bleak, ominous track featuring a sample of singer Dave Gahan's Porsche went top 15 in the UK, and solidified the band's sleek and leather-clad image with a violent music video.

Martin Gore took the microphone for second single, "Question of Lust." The sweeping BDSM ballad became another fan favorite, and even hit the top 10 in Germany. The single arrived with a non-LP B-side: the menacing instrumental, "Christmas Island." The track was used as the opening music when Depeche Mode took the stage on the Black Celebration tour.

The next single from Black Celebration was another question. "A Question of Time" was the musically upbeat follow-up, with somber lyrics concerning the loss of innocence. The music video paired Depeche Mode with photographer Anton Corbijn, marking the start of a long-running artistic relationship. 

It was the B-side to "Stripped," the emotive "But Not Tonight," that came back around as the final Black Celebration singe, but only in America. The track served as the theme song of 1986 coming-of-age movie, Modern Girls, starring Virginia Madsen and Daphne Zuniga. The movie's tagline: "Cool people have feelings too."

"Martin Gore once complained to me that DM had to put this song on the 'Black Celebration' album because we played it so much as a B-side on 92.7 that it became so popular that they were told they would be crazy not to put it on the album," shared DJ Denis McNamara on his Facebook page. "So they put it on as the last song and the rest is history. I've heard no complaints from him since."

Released on March 17, 1986, Black Celebration didn't exactly set the US charts on fire, peaking at #90 on the Billboard 200 over the week of May 17, 1986 (the #1 album in America that week: Whitney Houston's self-titled debut). It did, however, set the stage for a massive world tour that helped propel Depeche Mode to the upper echelon of concert attractions across the country. In the UK, the record peaked at #4. In Switzerland, it climbed all the way to #1.

"Yeah, it does (sound morbid)," singer Dave Gahan admitted in 1986 about the album's title and mood. "But it's a common thing. At the end of a working day, you go out and drown your sorrows, no matter how shitty you feel or how bleak your future looks."