With their tenth single, released in the spring of 1983, Depeche Mode asked a question about the human condition that scored them their first top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
Penned by Martin Gore and co-produced by the band with Daniel Miller, “People Are People” was initially released as a standalone single, although it would soon find its way onto a compilation that shared its title. The LP was the brainchild of Depeche Mode’s American label, Sire Records, in an effort to shift their approach to breaking the band in the States after failing to find a larger audience with their previous studio album, Construction Time Again.
As it happens, the People Are People compilation didn’t do anything dramatic sales-wise upon its initial release, but that situation changed when “People Are People” also found its way onto the band’s next studio album, Some Great Reward, released three months later. At that point, the song slowly but surely began to catch the ear of listeners, which in turn led People Are People to eventually go gold.
But back to the song itself.
The methodology behind creating “People Are People” was decidedly unlike the way one might put together a tune in 2022, as Dave Gahan told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.
"We were using all these tape loops to create rhythms and the technology was quite advanced, but it wasn’t anything like it is today, the things that you can do,” Gahan said. “We used to go into studios, and the first thing we’d do, we’d ask where the kitchen was – literally for pots and pans and things that we could throw down the stairs, and record the rhythms they would make crashing around, and then make it into loops."
For as popular as the song ended up being, it apparently remains somewhat of an albatross for the man who wrote it: Depeche Mode hasn’t performed the song live in decades, and in a 1990 interview with New Music Express, Gore called it “too nice, too commercial.”
Yeah, but...wasn’t that kind of the point?