“Personal Jesus” is a song by the English electronic band Depeche Mode, released on 28 August 1989 as the lead single from their seventh album, Violator (1990). It reached No. 13 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was their first to make the US Top 40 since 1984’s “People Are People”, and was their first gold-certified single in the US (quickly followed by its successor, “Enjoy the Silence”).
In Germany, “Personal Jesus” is one of the band’s longest-charting songs, staying on the singles chart for 23 weeks.
In 2004, “Personal Jesus” was ranked No. 368 in Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and in September 2006 it was voted as one of the “100 Greatest Songs Ever” in Q magazine.
“Personal Jesus” was rereleased as a single on 30 May 2011 for the Depeche Mode remix album Remixes 2: 81–11, with the leading remix by the production team Stargate.
The song has been covered by numerous artists, including Johnny Cash, Marilyn Manson and Sammy Hagar. “I was never a huge fan of synth music in the eighties,” Hagar remarked, “but that song has a badass groove and a cool lyric.”
The song was inspired by the book Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley. According to songwriter Martin Gore:
It’s a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care. It’s about how Elvis Presley was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships; how everybody’s heart is like a god in some way, and that’s not a very balanced view of someone, is it?
“Personal Jesus” is written in the key of F♯ minor with a tempo of 130 beats per minute in 12
In mid-1989, the band began recording in Milan with record producer Flood. The result of this session was the single “Personal Jesus”, which featured a catchy bluesy riff and drum-based sound, radically different from anything the band had released thus far. The song became a big hit across the world, and is one of Depeche Mode’s most successful songs, along with the single “Enjoy the Silence”. Although not the first Depeche Mode song to feature guitar parts (“Behind the Wheel” and their cover of “Route 66” featured a guitar; “Love, in Itself” from Construction Time Again featured an acoustic guitar), it was the first time a guitar was used as a dominant instrument in a Depeche Mode song.
Prior to its release, advertisements were placed in the personal columns of regional newspapers in the UK with the words “Your own personal Jesus.” Later, the ads included a phone number one could dial to hear the song. The ensuing controversy helped propel the single to No. 13 on the UK charts, becoming one of Depeche Mode’s biggest sellers. The single was particularly successful commercially thanks to the fact that it was released six months prior to the album it would later appear on. Up to that point, it was the best selling 12″ single in Warner Brothers history.
“Personal Jesus” had a plethora of remixes, almost unprecedented for Depeche Mode at the time. While most other Depeche Mode singles prior to “Personal Jesus” usually had band-made extended mixes, Depeche Mode started to invite more DJs and mixers to the fold, which would become the mainstay for all future Depeche Mode singles. François Kevorkian (who did the mixing for the Violator album, in general) mixed the single version, the “Holier Than Thou Approach”, the “Pump Mix”, and the lesser-known “Kazan Cathedral Mix” (which was not available on any of the singles), while producer Flood mixed the “Acoustic” version and the “Telephone Stomp Mix” as well as the single version and “Sensual Mix” of the single’s B-side “Dangerous”, a more disco-electronic track. The “Hazchemix” and “Hazchemix Edit” of “Dangerous” were mixed by Daniel Miller.
The back-cover of “Personal Jesus” features one of the band members and the back-side of a naked woman. The band member she is with depends on whether it is the 7″ Vinyl (Martin Gore), the 12″ Vinyl (Dave Gahan), the Cassette (Andy Fletcher), or the original CD (Alan Wilder). On some copies she does not appear at all, such as the 2004 CD re-release, and on promo copies. On some limited releases, like the GBong17, all four photos are available plus one photo of the full group (Martin is hugging the woman).
The Anton Corbijn-directed music video for “Personal Jesus” is his first Depeche Mode video in colour, and features the band in a ranch (suggested to appear as a brothel), placed in the Tabernas Desert of Almería, in Spain. MTV edited out some suggestive mouth movements of Martin Gore during the bridge and replaced it with some other footage from the video.