My 10 best Joy Division songs

Joy Division - Subway by Anton Corbijn (pinterest.com)

Introduction

Some bands and/or artists are hard to write about, I think. On The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, others, also within my own circle of friends and acquaintances, are far more qualified than me. Joy Division is hard for another reason, although I can’t really pinpoint what it is exactly, there’s something that held me back. In this year, the fortieth anniversary of Ian Curtis’ self-inflicted death, it has become inevitable.

The first article was published earlier this month: The first posthumous Joy Division release: Love Will Tear Us Apart.

My love for Joy Division started somewhat later, well after the suicide of singer Ian Curtis. I did have some of their music on cassette, but the first item I owned was the 12-inch of Love Will Tear Us Apart, given to me by both my sisters.

Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures, Closer & Still (discogs.com)

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures, Closer & Still

Joy Division

After witnessing a concert by The Sex Pistols on August 20th, 1976, friends Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook decided they wanted to form a band. It wasn’t before long they recruited singer Ian Curtis. Some drummers came and went until the band settled upon Stephen Morris. The band had already recorded some demos under the name Warsaw, before they renamed themselves to Joy Division in early 1978.

In April 1978 the band caught the eyes of music producer Tony Wilson and manager Rob Gretton. Gretton proposed to be the band’s manager on the spot. In June 1978 Joy Division debuted with the single An Ideal For Living. Tony Wilson introduced the band for their first television performance. Meanwhile, Wilson had started his own record label, the infamous Factory Records. The band made a deal with the label and released two songs on the compilation EP A Factory Sample, the first vinyl release by the new label. By the end of 1978 Ian Curtis suffered his first serious epileptic seizure, resulting in hospitalization.

Early 1979 the band recorded their first Peel Session for the BBC radio program by the influential dj John Peel. In April 1979 the band’s debut album was recorded. Martin Hannett produced the album and created the distinct Joy Division/Martin Hannett sound. On June 15th, 1979, Unknown Pleasures was released, which was met with enthusiasm, particularly by the press. After having done a few tv shows and a tour as a support act, the band released the single Transmission on October 7th, 1979.

In January 1980 the band toured Europe. In March they recorded their second album, entitled Closer. On March 18th, 1980, the single Licht Und Blindheit was released in France. During the months of April and May Curtis’ epileptic seizures intensified which resulted in many cancellations. On May 2nd, 1980, the band played their last show at High Hall in Birmingham. The setlist that evening:

  • “NEW ONE” aka Ceremony
  • Shadowplay
  • A Means To An End
  • Passover
  • New Dawn Fades
  • Twenty Four Hours
  • Transmission
  • Disorder
  • Isolation
  • Decades
  • Encore:
    Digital

N.B.:
The entire concert was released in November 1981 on the second disc of the double album Still.

Ian Curtis (redbull.com)

Ian Curtis

Ian Curtis

Ian Curtis was born in 1956 and married Deborah at the early age of just 19. In April 1979 they had a daughter. In October 1979 Curtis met Belgian journalist and music producer Annik Honoré and they developed a relationship. It left Curtis feeling guilty towards his wife and daughter. Early 1980 Deborah announced she wanted a divorce.

At the end of 1978 Curtis had seizures, which were officially diagnosed as severe epilepsy on January 23rd, 1979, followed by prescription to strong doses of medication. Despite the medication his health suffered. Tensions from touring didn’t help matters. Besides the show’s intensity, he kept on smoking and drinking, which didn’t sit well with his medication. The many side effects weighed heavy on Curtis’ mood (and therefore his family).

By 1980 the extreme seizures came as frequent as two times a week, at times even during shows. The light operators were instructed to never use flashing lights during the concerts. Occassionally those instructions were ignored, leading to an almost instant epileptic shock with Curtis.

On April 6th, 1980, Curtis tried to commit suicide. On the eve of the start of the band’s first American tour, May 18th 1980, Ian Curtis hung himself in his own kitchen. He was just 23 years old.

Joy Division - Heart And Soul - Boxset (amazon.com)

Joy Division – Heart And Soul – Boxset

After the suicide

The band was left behind feeling shocked and immediately decided to disband. Without Curtis the band was no more. In June 1980 the single Love Will Tear Us Apart was released, followed by album Closer on July 18th, 1980. The posthumous Still was released on October 18th, 1981, a double album containing songs never before released on album and the recordings of the very last show the band had played.

The remaining band members founded a new band: New Order. The band’s debut single was Ceremony, the song that was debuted at the last Joy Division concert.

Later, multiple Joy Division compilations were released, as well as a number of live concerts. The 1997 boxset Heart And Soul is worth mentioning. It contains almost every studio recording ever done by the band. A beautiful tribute to the band that almost single handedly invented the post-punk genre.

Top 10

Up next is my personal 10 best Joy Division songs, in order of the date of release and the position on the released medium (mention cursively). The images with the songs stem from single covers. Only four of them are from the band’s official discography. The rest are covers of bootleg(single)s, many of them only released in Russia.

 

Joy Division - Insight (discogs.com)

Insight

June 15th, 1979 (Unknown Pleasures)

The first song on the debut album that really hit me. The song sounds (and is) heavy, melancholy and resigned, yet still hopeful. The amazing world of Joy Division in 4.5 minutes.

And all God’s angels beware
And all you judges beware
Sons of chance, take good care
For all the people not there
I’m not afraid anymore

 

Joy Division - New Dawn Fades (discogs.com)

New Dawn Fades

June 15th, 1979 (Unknown Pleasures)

Crushingly beautiful. The best song off the debut album. I prefer the live version on Still.

We’ll share a drink and step outside
An angry voice and one who cried
“We’ll give you everything and more
The strain’s too much, can’t take much more”
Oh, I’ve walked on water, walked through fire
Can’t seem to feel it anymore
It was me, waiting for me
Hoping for something more
Me, seeing me this time
Hoping for something else

 

Joy Division - Transmission (discogs.com)

Transmission

October 7th, 1979 (single)

Up-tempo, danceable, great production. I can’t get enough of this song.

Well I could call out when the going gets tough
The things that we’ve learnt are no longer enough
No language, just sound, that’s all we need know
To synchronise love to the beat of the show
And we could dance
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio

 

Joy Division - Atmosphere (discogs.com)

Atmosphere

March 18th, 1980 (A-side Licht Und Blindheit single)

Beautiful, moving doom, that was re-released as a single in 1988, accompanied by an Anton Corbijn clip.

Walk in silence
Don’t turn away, in silence
Your confusion
My illusion
Worn like a mask of self-hate
Confronts and then dies
Don’t walk away

 

Joy Division - Dead Souls (discogs.com)

Dead Souls

March 18th, 1980 (B-side Licht Und Blindheit single)

The best Joy Division song? I think so. The build-up, the music, the desperate cry They keep calling me. Astonishing beauty.

Someone take this dreams away
That point me to another day
A duel of personalities
That stretch all true realities
That keep calling me
They keep calling me
Keep on calling me
They keep calling me

 

Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart - Maxi single (normanrecords.com)

Love Will Tear Us Apart

June 1980 (single)

See The first posthumous Joy Division release: Love Will Tear Us Apart.

 

Joy Division - Passover (discogs.com)

Passover

July 18th, 1980 (Closer)

Rhythmically great, beautiful lyrics and an atmosphere that has everything that made Joy Division so addictive.

This is a crisis I knew had to come
Destroying the balance I’d kept
Doubting, unsettling and turning around
Wondering what will come next
Is this the role that you wanted to live?
I was foolish to ask for so much
Without the protection and infancy’s guard
It all falls apart at first touch

 

Joy Division - A Means To An End (discogs.com)

A Means To An End

July 18th, 1980 (Closer)

My favorite when I was young. I sang it all the time, everywhere. One time I was going down the stairs in my family’s home singing I put my trust in you, with both of my parents, simultaneously, saying : “yes well, that’s something you never should do!”.

We fought for good, stood side by side
Our friendship never died
On stranger waves, the lows and highs
Our vision touched the sky
Immortalists with points to prove
I put my trust in you

 

Joy Division - The Only Mistake (discogs.com)

The Only Mistake

October 8th, 1981 (Still)

I played this over and over and over on my walkman, at night, riding my bicycle, on my way home. The wall-of-sound guitar is awesome.

Made the fatal mistake
Like I did once before
A tendency just to take
Til the purpose turned sour
Strain, take the strain, these days we love
Strain, take the strain, these days we love

 

Joy Division - Ceremony (discogs.com)

Ceremony

October 8th, 1981 (Still)

Debuted at the very last concert by the band. Recorded by New Order. But this live version is superior. What a way to open a show!

I break them down, no mercy shown
Heaven knows, it’s gotta be this time
Avenues all lined with trees
Picture me and then you start watching
Watching forever, forever
Watching love grow, forever
Letting me know, forever

 

For your listening pleasure and comfort, here’s the playlist for the top 10.

In closing

What’s your opinion on Joy Division? Do you miss any songs, and if so, which ones? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: My 10 best Joy Division songs. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.