Saturday, November 4, 2006

LIFT UP THE RECEIVER, I'LL MAKE YOU A BELIEVER: Our 2006 Keltner Rock Hall series continues with Depeche Mode, eligible for induction for the first time but not among the list of nine finalists.

1. Was Depeche Mode ever regarded as the best band in rock music? Did anybody, while they were active, ever suggest that Depeche Mode was the best band in rock music?

Not in this country, at least. But within the elastic genre of goth-synth-dance-pop, either these guys, New Order or The Cure (if you trended more guitar-based) was your gateway drug, and there was a time when many an adolescent thought that no one understood them quite like DM did.

2. Was Depeche Mode ever the best band in rock music in its genre?

Maybe. My bias runs to New Order, but they never had an album here with the impact that Violator did. Between "Personal Jesus", "Policy of Truth" and "Enjoy the Silence", there was definitely a moment of bigness for the band. Too, in terms of having a physical presence, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore were more there than the New Order boys, but less of a star/cult thing than Robert Smith.

3. Was any individual member of DM ever considered the best at his instrument/role?


4. Did DM have an impact on a number of other bands?

Absolutely, and if you're going to make the case for Depeche Mode it really starts here. They were part of that first big wave of "new wave"/synth-based bands, with "Just Can't Get Enough" debuting in 1982, and they definitely had an impact both in that poppy-dance realm (Erasure, Flock of Seagulls) and the darker stuff that followed, which you can see in bands like Garbage and Smashing Pumpkins.

Culturally, Depeche Mode marks the shift between the American "underground/alternative" scene being focused on American punk/hardcore bands to the wistful yearning for things British -- there's no Smiths cult, no Stone Roses cult in the US unless Depeche Mode and New Order get there first.

5. Was DM good enough that the band could play regularly after passing its prime?

They're still touring now, so, yes.

6. Is DM the very best band in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?


7. Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?

73 million records ain't bupkiss, and this is a band with a lot of hits. In addition to the aforementioned trio from Violator, let's not forget "Strangelove" (pain -- will you return it?), "Master and Servant", "People Are People" (I'll say it again: pain), and "World In My Eyes", among others. Okay, those are the only ones I know.

This is where we get into the Small Hall/Large Hall argument, and it's messy. Because in terms of hits and sales, it's more than what Blondie accomplished, for sure, and Blondie is (for me) the Rube Marquand of this hall. Seriously, if Traffic is in the Rock Hall, if The Shirelles and The Rascals are in, is Depeche Mode really out of consideration?

8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the band was significantly better or worse than is suggested by its records?

Just that this band had a significant and intense (and large) cult following. Depeche Mode was selling out arenas when they weren't getting much radio air play, and, hell, played a lot of stadiums here too. Betcha didn't know that they once sold out Giants Stadium in 1990 with Nitzer Ebb and the Jesus And Mary Chain as warmup acts.

9. Is it the best band in its genre who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

I don't believe New Order is eligible yet, but if The Cure is, it's a close call.

10. How many #1 singles/gold records did DM have? Did DM ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was DM nominated?

Three DM albums sold over a million -- Some Great Reward, Music for the Masses and Violator, with Songs of Faith and Devotion falling just short, joining three other albums on the Gold level.

Most of DM's career came before the Grammy recognized separate categories for dance music, and before synth-pop was respected by NARAS. They've only been nominated twice for a Grammy -- a long-form video nomination and a 2002 "Best Dance Recording" nomination for "I Feel Loved", which lost to Janet Jackson's "All For You" (and should have lost to Daft Punk's "One More Time".)

11. How many Grammy-level songs/albums did DD have? For how long of a period did the band dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did they appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?

A bunch of Grammy-worthies in theory, but hard to match against the lameness of the nominees during most of DM's peak era. One example: the year that "Personal Jesus" was eligible for Song of the Year/Record of the Year, both awards went to Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings", with other nominees being "The End of the Innocence", "We Didd'n't Start the Fire" and "The Living Years" (all nominated in both categories), along with "She Drives Me Crazy" (record) and "Don't Know Much" (song).

"Alternative" bands like Depeche Mode are seriously underrated by this metric.

(Quick insert about the 1990 Grammys: The End of the Innocence topped Lou Reed's New York, Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" and Neil Young's Freedom for Best Rock Vocal Performance - Male. WTF?)

No Rolling Stone covers. Peak period covers 1987-1993, which is well within the range for the Hall.

12. If this band was the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?

If you were a goth or alterna-kid, a DM concert was like a bar mitzvah where they have a cotton candy machine and a photo booth and the dj gave out t-shirts.

(No, I haven't seen them live.)

13. What impact did the band have on rock history? Was it responsible for any stylistic changes? Did it introduce any new equipment? Did it change history in any way?

Arguably yes. See above.

14. Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

It depends on whether multiple failed suicide attempts (Gahan) are a minus for these purposes, doesn't it? To me, surviving six minutes of clinical death is probably a good thing.

Conclusion: I'm more of a Small Hall guy, so I have to say "no" on this one. If you let in Depeche Mode, then there's a lot of bands with more hits and a decent cultural impact who need to get in, one of which we'll be profiling later this week. My instinct is that of this genre, New Order and The Smiths ultimately belong in, The Cure is a borderline case and Depeche Mode, while borderline, will have to enjoy the silence of being outside.

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