March 1986: Depeche Mode Releases "Black Celebration"

Black Celebration
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(Mute)

It was the album Depeche Mode had slowly 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. That album had featured the band's first big hit in America, "People are People," which would peak at #13 on the Hot 100 in August 1985. The follow-up, "Master and Servant," would also hit the charts, and become a 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 was felt in the album's dense and dramatic sound. The album 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 the album's second single, "Question of Lust." The sweeping BDSM ballad became another fan favorite, and even hit the top 10 in Germany.

The single version of "Question of Lust" arrived with a non-LP B-side: menacing instrumental, "Christmas Island."

The next single from Black Celebration was another question: "A Question of Time" was the musically upbeat follow-up with somber lyrics about the loss of innocence. The music video found Depeche Mode working 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 was 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 wouldn't exactly set the US charts on fire, peaking at #90 in May 1986. It did, however, set the stage for a massive world tour that helped propel Depeche Mode to the upper echelon of concert attractions.

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