Joy Division

Joy Division's Official Website!

By Marilyn Roxie

WHEN: 1976-1980

CULPRITS: Ian Curtis (vocals, occasional guitar), Bernard Sumner (guitar, keyboards), Peter Hook (bass, backing vocals), Stephen Morris (drums)

ALBUMS: An Ideal For Living (EP; 1978); Unknown Pleasures (1979); Closer (1980) / Compilations: Still (1981); Substance (1988)

HOW: I had heard New Order, the group formed from the remaining post-Joy Division members — post-Ian Curtis’ suicide — many years before I had even heard of Joy Division. My mom liked New Order and had their Power, Corruption, & Lies album on vinyl, as well as the Substance compilation, so I remember hearing them around, though I don’t think I properly appreciated New Order until getting their stuff on CD much later on (2005 or so). Like many of my other mid-00s musical adventures, this was spurned on by someone posting an Mp3, at the Killers Network forum in late ’04/early ’05 when I was 15 — in this case, of “Blue Monday” — and I remembered how cool they were! It didn’t take long, in the midst of questing after all the New Order material, that I encountered Joy Division. I’d heard “Love Will Tear Us Apart” somewhere before, but, not being familiar with any of the other music, I bought the Joy Division Substance compilation on a whim … and then tracked down the rest of everything they had done immediately afterward.

WHY: Some of the reasons I love Joy Division are the same for why I love New Order — I think it is important to bring up both bands together because, after all, three of New Order’s members were in Joy Division!

I’ve found that sometimes Joy Division fans have an aversion to New order (though those who’ve heard New Order first, and then Joy Division tend not to have this quirk!) because of the direction that they ended up going ultimately (“poppy dance music,” even “rave,” I suppose, on 1989’s Technique), though I personally can hear a danceable element there (on tracks like “Interzone” and “Isolation,” especially) all along, and hearing one of the last tracks the band recorded, “Ceremony,” it would appear that the transition in style would have been inevitable, even if Ian Curtis would have remained with them. The darkness, occasional sarcasm, and bitter-tasting reflections on life carried through to the New Order framework as well.

Joy Division was important as an entire band. Upon listening closely to the music, sure, Ian Curtis’ unique (possibly bizarre!) delivery, coupled with lyrics that paint bleak pictures of life philosophies and human behavior, were the core of what Joy Division was, but check out that music happening there! Peter Hook, easily one of the greatest-ever bassists, defined to countless bands what was to be the post-punk sound of the era (and beyond, carrying off into the mid-80s, and of course, in the work of New Order as well). Bernard Sumner’s guitar has a non-traditional element here, playing like a secondary, rhythm instrument to Hook’s bass, though occasionally charging to the forefront (“Shadowplay“). Stephen Morris is one of my favorite drummers, who is a bit like a human drum machine in his style, sometimes with military-stomp elements (“A Means to an End“), sometimes tribal (“Atrocity Exhibition“). For me, it’s impossible to listen to Joy Division without thinking of the people involved with the music (particularly Ian), which is the case with all of my most-favorite bands.

I have sometimes wondered what it would’ve been like hearing Joy Division in the late 70s, before the shadow of Ian Curtis’ death cast a different light over their music, since in the aftermath people have continued to examine the tracks as foreshadowing and indicative of real-life events in his life and unraveling enigmatic lyrics. Closer, recorded months before his suicide, and released just a couple months afterward, shows a very different side than, or perhaps an extension of, the one of Unknown Pleasures, like the sonic depiction of tunneling into an abyss — this sound is unparalleled anywhere else in music.

SONGS: I’ve attempted to stick with the two studio albums, Still (compilation of rarities and live performances) and Substance (singles compilation), because those are the essential releases. Also recommended are Peel Sessions and what else is missing from the aforementioned on the Heart and Soul box set. I’ve got most of the songs lined up thematically (“Transmission” is what I think is the perfect first Joy Division song to hear, “Shadowplay” was one of their early, rare TV performances, “No Love Lost” shows their initial, punkier side, and so on).

Some tracks I think are better appreciated in the context of the original album, and/or were too long to include here. For instance, hearing “The Eternal” and “Decades,” around 6:00 each, at the end of Closer … nothing beats the sheer power of that, after all the rest of the album, as a finale! This is a selection of what the general consensus appears to be of their best tracks (I checked out top-song charts and polled Tumblr users to determine peoples’ favorites), and only got a bit biased with one track that I feel is overlooked: “Interzone” from Unknown Pleasures. Though the edges of gloom are still all around it (you can’t escape that with this band), there is something that is more fun and free-spirited about this song — you wouldn’t think this was possible to say about Joy Division perhaps, but … just listen to it! Also, it is a common misconception that both voices in the song are Ian Curtis, when in fact the left-channel voice is Curtis, while the right-channel voice is Peter Hook, who happens to sound incredibly similar! Hook also ended up singing lead on “Dreams Never End” and “Doubts Even Here” on the first New order album, Movement (1981), where you can hear the traces of Joy Division still very apparent throughout.

LINK: Click on the list below to hear JOY DIVISION for FREE on!

Click the list to hear JOY DIVISION on!


Marilyn Roxie is a 19-year old music blogger at A Future in Noise and an electronic, instrumental composer. She’s just released her first single “Zug der Krautrock” (a tribute to the genre that Can and Kraftwerk both share) and is getting ready to launch her own record label, Electronic Angel.

~ by Patrick Gosnell on October 13, 2009.

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