Sunday, 13 March 2016

FLY ON THE WINDSCREEN - THE ONE THAT NEARLY GOT AWAY

Of all the songs on Black Celebration that weren't released as singles, Fly On The Windscreen has to be one of the most popular among Depeche Mode fans. We've already read Gareth Jones' views on the song and I certainly share them. A driving, dark, moody masterpiece, Fly On The Windscreen is a classic Depeche track. This is the story, at least the story as I see it, of this hugely important song.

To consider Fly On The Windscreen, we must first go back to 1985. Depeche decided to release a singles compilation, and so they set about recording new tracks for use as new singles for the project which ultimately ended up, of course, as The Singles 81-85. For the first new single released for that record the band got it 100% correct - the glorious classic Shake The Disease was released, backed with the very B-side like B-side Flexible. Shake The Disease is simply one of Martin's finest ever tracks and would have been entirely welcome on Black Celebration. The fact it only got to number 18 in the U.K. remains one of the great mysteries of all time. The second new single the band released was the entirely unwelcome anywhere near Black Celebration overly poppy and generally shoddy It's Called A Heart. If, as I presume you have done, you have seen the Black Celebration re-issue dvd, you'll have heard the band's general contempt for this song. For numbers fans, it also got to 18 in the U.K. charts, equalling Shake The Disease. There is no justice.

"But David," you say, "this month is apparently all about Black Celebration. Why are you telling us things we already know from your excellently written In Spirit I'll Be There - The Singles 81-85 and 1985 piece?"

You're right. Whilst you may still wish to read that article (http://almostpredictablealmost1.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/depeche-mode-singles-81-85.html), this is a Black Celebration thing. The reason I mention It's Called A Heart is its B-side, Fly On The Windscreen. It was a track the band preferred, but one that, again according to the Black Celebration  re-issue dvd was rejected as the A-side because the first word was "death." It wasn't rejected because it was a worse song that its A-side - nobody would have thought that in any event.

So what is it about Fly On The Windscreen that appeals so much? The first thing to consider is the context in which we first heard the song. It was easily the darkest Depeche track released to date. Ok, you could argue that there's a darkness in Blasphemous Rumours, but that's offset by what is essentially one of Martin's poppiest choruses. The songs on Construction Time Again and Some Great Reward have an edge to them certainly, but that speaks more to Depeche Mode's bold experiments with pop and their fusion of industrial elements, sampling and so on to that genre. Going further back, Satellite from A Broken Frame talks of being "(a) satellite of hate," but that was more just teenage stroppiness than anything else. Fly On The Windscreen is where Depeche Mode first found the power, and the darkness, that drove them to global success. The dark, death filled motif of the song is beautifully counterbalanced with the hope of the "Come here...kiss me" section however. Yes, we're all going to die eventually, as the flies on our car windscreens remind us daily, but let's be in love while we can, because that's the best thing you can do isn't it? There's a certain poetry in the fly based image too as we can all relate to that.

The B-side version isn't that much different to the Final version that appears on Black Celebration. It has fewer samples and sounds a bit rawer, but other than that it's pretty much the same. It towers over its A-side brother on the single, and I guess hearing it at the time must have been a sensation. The song is a world of joys, but one of its highlights must be Dave's "Come here...kiss me" backed with Martin's "Touch me" which is the first recorded evidence of Depeche having sex appeal. The proto-acid bassline is also a joy and the punchy, driving rhythm of the track a precursor to so many Depeche highlights. It's a truly wonderful track all told. The Extended Mix on the 12" single has a distinct appeal too. Its percussion heavy start is tremendous and, like all good extended mixes of the time, you get a sense of all the sounds that were used in its production and that's never a bad thing.

Rear Sleeve of the Double 12" single


Until the Hole To Feed/Fragile Tension double 12", Depeche Mode's only previous double 12" release was the limited It's Called A Heart one. Their two worst singles and they both get the double 12" treatment - how's that fair? Anyway, the double 12" contains the Extended Mix of Fly On The Windscreen and another new Gareth Jones mix, the record company defying Death Mix. This one is filled with samples with phrases like "Death," "We overdid it a bit right there" (which sounds a lot like Gareth himself), "The Holy Ghost" (in a scary, shouty voice) and "The blood of nations" (at least I think it's nations) appearing throughout. It has an element of Yazoo's I Before E Except After C about it with all the samples and it's really quite enjoyable. It's certainly a billion times better than the Slow Mix of It's Called A Heart which is something you never want to hear. The whole mix focuses on death, highlighting the death based parts of the lyrics, albeit that morose sense is offset by the appearance of the "Come here...touch me" etc section.  It's a really interesting, experimental remix and one I'd recommend to you all. Note too that the "I don't care how you feel" sample from the album version pops up right at the very end too.

At that stage in the band's career, that would be the last we'd hear of a Depeche Mode B-side. I don't imagine, for example, that Flexible was ever on the list on songs for potential inclusion on Black Celebration. Fly On The Windscreen didn't just vanish there though. It was deemed to be an obvious choice for the album (see Gareth Jones interview) and it also appeared on the Stripped 12" as one of that 25 minute long record's five tracks. There it turns up as the Quiet Mix and it's a beauty. It's quiet because a lot of the track's muscle is stripped away, leaving only (by my count) 6 or 7 tracks plus the vocals. It still has a definite edge to it and it's somehow spookier when rendered down to the minimal take we see on this release. Excellent really.

But they weren't done with Fly On The Windscreen even then. What was apparently the last ever mix of it appeared on Black Celebration in its most famous and, to my ears, most wonderful guise - Fly On The Windscreen - Final. I've already covered this track, and Gareth Jones has said so much more about it than I ever could. All I'll say now is that it is one of the key Depeche Mode tracks and, if for some reason you haven't heard it, and let's be frank, if you're THIS far into an article about that song you probably have done so, but if you haven't heard it, go and sort that out right now.

So, by the time Black Celebration came out, we had five different versions of a song that was originally only deemed fit to be a B-side. Bear in mind that, at that point in Depeche Mode's career, only the likes of Everything Counts and Master & Servant had had 4 (or possibly 5 if you count the last track on Construction Time Again) versions each released over different formats and singles. Stellar B-sides like Ice Machine remained under represented (two appearances only) and certainly didn't appear on any albums. Fly On The Windscreen bucked the trend. The song was one of the standouts on the Black Celebration tour too where it was played 76 times. For me, there's a hesitancy in certain key tracks from the album on that tour, where their power doesn't quite transfer to the live arena, but Fly On The Windscreen doesn't fall into that trap. Powerful, intense, a few bits of metal being hit and Martin's REMARKABLE run of "Touch Meeeeeee"'s towards the end make it a must hear. And you can hear, and see, it now:



How cool is that? Bonus points for the electric fans beside the keyboards and Martin's stage wear.

After that though, Fly On The Windscreen disappeared for a few years. It first popped back up on the Devotional tour and it was revelatory. There are tales of tracks that were planned and rehearsed for that tour including Nothing and the-I-Can't-Believe-They-Didn't-Do-This Leave In Silence. There was clearly an eye on playing older classics that never quite took off (see Something To Do's one and only appearance) but Fly On The Windscreen was a near constant on the Devotional leg of the tour. Something To Do replaced it on the second night in Brussels (25 May 1993) so perhaps it was the intention to rotate the songs, but that never came to pass. Of the 98 gigs on the Devotional Tour, Fly On The Windscreen  featured all but 15 times, either because of a run of multiple gigs (the five L.A. Forum shows from 20th to 26th November saw Somebody replace it on the 23rd and 26th) or, as was common at the time, "other" problems. Interestingly, it was dropped for the Dublin show and all four of the U.K. shows that ended the tour, with Somebody again standing in. Its last appearance was in Sao Paulo, Brazil on the 4th of April 1994, where it appeared for the one and only time in the 1994 shows.

The thing is this though. The version of Fly On The Windscreen on the Devotional tour was a sex charged, throbbing love beast of a song, all slinky beats and gyrating Dave and, as can be seen from the Devotional video, it drove the fans crazy. Alan and Steve Lyon turned it from a dark, brooding track, to a lust filled perv of a track and it worked magically. I don't want to annoy Depeche Mode any more than my writing about them incessantly does already, so I'm not posting the Devotional version here. Instead, here's a bootleg from the Orlando gig on the tour where Dave invites some fans onstage. To see the full thing, watch Devotional, or to hear it that version in all its sexy glory, get either the limited edition 12", the limited edition cd single or the reissue cd of In Your Room all of which contain a live version from the show in Lievin, France on 29 July 1993.




Post Devotional, the song disappeared again until it was resurrected on the first couple of legs of the Touring The Universe, in support of the sleep inducing Sounds Of The Universe. In keeping with that album's lack of spark, the song lost most of its punch and felt a tad flat really. It was officially released on the tour's live DVD, so again, I'm not posting the official version. The version you're about to see is from Tel Aviv on 10 May 2009. There's no sexiness, there's no darkness - there's just Dave's singing/shouting ("toonaaaaaaaaiiighhhhhhttttaahhhh") and the HORRIFIC trumpet sound that somehow replaces the original. Some of the samples make it sound like a cover band playing a bad version. Oh and there's the never welcome live drums too. Sadness all around. That it didn't survive on the setlist to the end of the tour perhaps says something.




I don't want to end on such a negative note though. I don't think Depeche are beyond criticism of course, and the 2009 version of Fly On The Windscreen deserves criticism, but that version is just a footnote to what is an exceptional Depeche Mode track, and one that is key to the band becoming the band we all love today. Fly On The Windscreen showed that there was another side to Depeche Mode and, thankfully for us, they seemed to realise that it was a track worth sticking with. I would argue that Fly On The Windscreen is as important as any other track on Black Celebration and it is one that I think the vast majority of Depeche Mode fans hold very dear indeed.

Here's to you Fly On The Windscreen  - the one that nearly got away.






1 comment:

  1. Great article as always. I do have to say though that, appalling and totally pointless Slow Mix aside, I think It's Called A Heart is actually a decent track. Listening to it now, you can hear real drive in the bass line, the rhythm is quite sexy and the intro is rather good too. I get why Fly On The Windscreen takes the plaudits. I just wonder if I'm alone in liking Its Called A Heart?!

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