Tag Archives: joy division

1001 Songs – 1980: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

The Winner Takes It All – ABBA

‘The Winner Takes It All’ is one of the greatest pop songs made – one of the greatest pop acts of all time. It’s difficult to take the band members at their word that this song about the destruction of a marriage is not about them. If not about them directly, it was clearly shaded – their own experiences and was a massively cathartic song to both be written and sung.

The lyrics brilliantly mix the metaphor of life as a game versus the stark reality of having judges and lawyers decide the outcomes of a divorce. Then there is is Agnetha’s solo vocals from the point of view of a woman who apologizes to her ex-husband for having won everything in the divorce settlement. It’s such a different perspective, the guilt of a winner, compared to a normal break-up song about someone who has ostensibly lost everything. She’s still lost so much, but in the eyes of others she has won. It’s here on the list because of this wonderful song production and who else has made a song that breaks your heart from the point of view of someone who just won their divorce settlement. It’s genius that makes me cry.

Rapture – Blondie

‘Rapture’ is in all the quiz trivia books to be the first song to top the US Billboard Charts with a rap element. Listening to it now, this fusion of disco and hip-hop – a new wave group, is like nothing else that I’ve heard on the list. It’s not really like anything else that I’ve really heard released since. Debbie Harry’s rap skills aren’t great, as she has said since, but let’s also appreciate that the first song with rap elements to top the charts was fronted – a woman.

At this point in musical history, rap had yet to become as big as it was – let alone have a whole song constructed around a rap rather than using an existing backing track. It helped raise awareness of a then more underground genre as well as contribute to paths later pursued – hip hop artists. So yes, an interesting part of music history right here.

While You See A Chance – Steve Winwood

Something has clearly changed in 1980. This is a song that I can’t imagine really existing in 1979 – a rock song with synths and an ABBA-inspired piano line. There’s also part of this song that screams Paul Simon and Randy Newman to me about elements of it too. This… this is early electro-pop. Not the kind of moodiness you get in Gary Numan, but a lighter mood to it. Like this is the sort of song where I can see the beginnings of a branch of pop music that would eventually lead to the work that Xenomania did in the 2000s and 2010s.

With the rise of the New Romantics and more electronic instruments coming in, this is going to be such a cool decade to be listening to. Especially since punk has exploded and we’re left with the remnants fighting it out for innovation.

Heartattack and Vine – Tom Waits

Compared to his last song of his on the list, ‘Heartattack and Vine’ is closer to the Tom Waits that I was enjoying in swordfishtrombones. That voice is the song equivalent of a whisky on the rocks. Literal rocks. Driveway gravel kind of rocks. This is still not as experimental as I have later seen him, but it’s very much him setting up his own cabaret stage and waiting for us to settle in to whatever he is going to deliver.

Kings of the Wild Frontier – Adam and the Ants

So, rather than ‘Prince Charming’ or ‘Stand and Deliver’, the book has decided to go for this earlier single. Now that I’ve heard it, yes the book made the right choice. After all, this isn’t meant to be the 1001 best songs, but down to other factors including their influence.

All the elements that I know from other Adam and the Ants songs are here. The powerful Burundi drum line. The flamboyance of the vocal delivery. The cheers and response vocals from the rest of the group. Sure, it is not as catchy as the later singles that have become staples on Best of 1980s collections – but it’s weirdly powerful. This has yet to veer off into the new wave and pop direction, instead this is one of the many routes that post-punk chose to go down. It makes for a very interesting song.

Redemption Song – Bob Marley & The Wailers

This is not like any Bob Marley song I have ever heard. This isn’t even reggae at this point. It’s an acoustic ballad where the only thing that is remotely reggae is Marley’s delivery. Other than that, this is a folk song. A type of folk song whose background I have heard in folk artists like Bob Dylan and in some country music (the one that immediately came to mind being the title track of ‘All American Made’ by Margo Price, who name checks Tom Petty).

It’s a song of quiet power which is given more power – how close to death he was when writing and recording it. Makes me a bit glad that I still have one Bob Marley album to listen to for the albums list – now I can have this in mind when giving it a go.

Dead Souls – Joy Division

‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is coming up in a future 1001 songs post, but before that it’s a song that got right under my skin.

‘Dead Souls’ as a piece of goth rock is unsettling. Hearing Ian Curtis sing this song about past lives and being ripped apart as they call you is even more unsettling when you know that he will have killed himself within a few months of recording this. There is an intense eeriness when you mix these odd lyrics with his tortured delivery and the dark drive of the guitars and bass. It’s a weird one to end the section of songs on, but I think I need a break after this.

Progress: 533/1021

1001 Songs – 1979: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Hammond Song – The Roches

It’s nice to be back in the 1001 songs list. Weird how with the coronavirus lock-down we have somehow not been having time to do these – then again this is only the second weekend of what might be a long time. Anyway, let’s go back to 1979 as a bit of a temporary escape and wrap ourselves in the stunning harmonies of the Roche sisters. Not since doing the Mamas and the Papas have I heard such incredible harmonies in a folk song in this songs list.

Hammond is a place and not, as I thought, a reference to a Hammond organ. The production is minimal with the volume of the harmonies occasionally overwhelming my speakers and, probably, the causing the recording equipment to peak. With them, a guitar and another backing instrument I am not sure of, the voices of the sisters truly shine. It’s a stunning piece of folk that has a beautiful simplicity that you just don’t see nowadays.

Heaven – Talking Heads

I liked Remain in Light and have liked a number of other things that David Byrne has done before or since this song. However, I am at odds as to why this song would be included. It makes sense if you are making a list of David Byrne songs you must hear in order to hear his different facets, but there are any number of produced secular visions out there so I am not sure why this was chosen for the list. It’s fine and might make more sense in the context of the parent album, but not so much as a standalone.

The Eton Rifles – The Jam

I didn’t know this song by name, but the moment the chant of ‘Eton Rifles’ came in I had this big moment of recognition. As a genre work, ‘The Eton Rifles’ has definite punk leanings but feels very sixties. Guess that this is the sort of music that was another off-shoot of the punk implosion and a song that, given the lack of testing for coronavirus for those unable to pay for it, feels relevant once again as a poke at the upper classes playing pretend. I can see how Paul Weller would be apoplectic that an Etonian like David Cameron would love the song he wrote – but then again it’s a good shout song no matter your politics.

London Calling – The Clash

Man, it’s been years since I wrote up the parent album as part of my Acclaimed Albums list. This is an actual apocalyptic song and I am listening to it at a time when people are using that word rather cavalierly. Good grief, so many of these songs are making me think of the coronavirus pandemic happening in the world outside the apartment. The apocalypse in here is more about nuclear apocalypse because of this being written during the Cold War – not being devastated by some sort of awful virus.

Like ‘The Eton Rifles’, ‘London Calling’ is another song whose genre is a concoction made in the wake of punk. This time, it’s a punk feeling with a reggae beat in the back – which I guess as a genre would soon start to crystalise into ska. I would hope that the next song would help take me away from coronavirus, but it’s Joy Division.

Transmission – Joy Division

Ah yes transmission, like the transmission of coronavirus. Sorry, I’ll be good. This has absolutely nothing that can make me think of the pandemic other than the need to sometimes just accept and dance like no one’s watching until we all fall down.

‘Transmission’ is amazing. Like a proper amazing post-punk song that is so cavernous in it’s sound that it makes me think of the xx if they ever decided to go punk. There is a truth in this song that sometimes ignorance is bliss, so just dance to the radio and what you are being fed. In modern times, where we are more and more inundated with all the information available on the internet, a song like this can still apply to the echo chambers we create online that have helped create flat-earth and anti-vaxx movements. For me, it might become a good song to make me stop checking news constantly through the lock-down and just dance.

Voulez-Vous – ABBA

Okay, I am always happy to see ABBA on a list like this. I adore them as a band to the point of having gone to the ABBA museum in Stockholm and will play their albums every now and then. Maybe it’s because I love them that I am interested as to why ‘Voulez-Vous’ is one of the three songs to end up on the 1001 list. Like, I really get ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’, but this feels like a more normal song of theirs.

Then again, this is a song that marks the end of disco. It’s the only song of theirs that I can think of that has a prolonged dance break – let alone a disco dance break. And, unlike the disco breaks elsewhere, ABBA knew how to pitch the timing perfectly so you didn’t get too bored or too tired. Sure, there is a mix out there with a longer break for the clubs but thank you ABBA for making a good at home version.

Beat the Clock – Sparks

Right, so I adored ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’ because of the glam and gun shot ridiculousness. I don’t know why, but I never went outside of that song to explore more of their discography. With ‘Beat the Clock’ that is going to change. Listening to this I had two main thoughts – firstly how amazing is it that synthpop is finally here in the 1001 list. Also, holy hell this is exactly what you consider 1980s music and the Sparks managed to pre-date thanks to this collaboration with Giorgio Moroder. It never ceases to amaze me when this list throws up a song like this which pre-dates what you expect, but this one in particular has given me so much joy.

Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello & The Attractions

A new wave song with ABBA keyboards and a catchy chorus that is in fact a comment on The Troubles in Northern Ireland – the titular Oliver being a reference to Oliver Cromwell and his army who invaded Ireland in the 1600s. I am always a fan of a song that sounds cheerful but, under the surface, is a darker side – so ‘Oliver’s Army’ is right up my street. The melody is upbeat and so well written as a counter-point to the lyrics which reference The Troubles as well as the Berlin Wall and acts of British imperialism. It’s radio-friendly almost pop, that slam you when you read the lyrics – plus the cover of the parent album is glorious to look at.

Tusk – Fleetwood Mac

Ending the first third of 1979 with the first single released by Fleetwood Mac after the cultural juggernaut of Rumours. This is something that is utterly different and you have to appreciate the risk that a song like this would have been for a band who were having to make a follow-up to one of the biggest albums of all times.

It’s pretty much all drums and the occasional brass interruption. Sure there are some lyrics in here, but they’re secondary to the relentless drumbeat – based on the music that was used when they would come out on stage when on tour. The change in direction is interesting and I would like to see where this more avant-pop leads them on an album, as a standalone song I am yet to be convinced.

Progress: 509/1021

Acclaimed Albums – Closer by Joy Division

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 210/250Title: Closer
Artist: Joy Division
Year: 1980
Position: #45

Right, so some false starts with my Sonos connecting to Spotify made Closer a more difficult listen than it really had to be. Doesn’t help when you end up cutting out in the middle of a track on a album you are listening to for the first time and you then have no idea of where you were. Given how great Unknown Pleasures was, I knew that this album would be worth the perseverance and, with the Sonos going bye bye, a second go on something more reliable.

Few bands can make the claim that 100% of their albums have received massive acclaim. Sadly, the reason that Joy Division can was because lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life two months prior to Closer‘s release and the band re-tooled themselves into synth-pop pioneers New Order.

Closer is a development on their debut in pretty much every way. Everything is that much more mature, dark and very much different to everything else that was out at the time. Given how, in the 1001 songs list, I am now in the first era of post-punk – I cannot help but be impressed at the direction that New Order took on this album.

Innovative is a term that is used a lot when I talk about albums on this list (mainly because innovation is a key way to have the critical opinion that gets you a high placement on lists like this) and I am going to use it again for Closer. Where Unknown Pleasures innovated and provided almost a statement of intent of what this band would be – Closer starts to delve into beat-making that will later form parts of gothic rock and trip-hop.

To think that, from recording this album, their next move was ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ cannot help but make you wonder what would have been the band’s next move if Ian Curtis hadn’t have killed himself. The fact that New Order were able to regroup and still have a hugely successful and influential career is astonishing. Once I finish this cut of the list (which I sadly wasn’t able to do in 2019) I cannot wait to wait to listen to what one of their albums sounds like.

Acclaimed Albums – Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 122/250Title: Unknown Pleasures
Artist: Joy Division
Year: 1979
Position: #60

I cannot count how many times I have seen Unknown Pleasures’ cover art on a t-shirt.  It is easily one of the most iconic album covers ever made and I don’t know if it so eye-catching because of the use of negative space of because of the unusual design in the middle. Still, this cover would have not kept it’s fame if it were not for the contents of the album.

With Unknown Pleasures I find myself back in the post punk world that I last basked in during my listen of Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain. When I was in the world of Psychocandy I remarked on how I could see the progression between that album and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Having listened to to Unknown Pleasures I can extend that line of progression back even further.

Going into Unknown Pleasures the only prior experience I had of Joy Division was ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and the work of successor group New Order. As such, the fact that this was more Sonic Youth than Gary Numan took me a bit by surprise. In a good way though.

Honestly, this week I have been almost exclusively listening to the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend soundtrack and other songs by Rachel Bloom. If you haven’t watched it… well you need to watch it. I mention this because Unknown Pleasures kinda acted as my musical counter-balance this week.

For every song about heavy boobs and stealing pets that I was listening to this week there was the atmospheric guitars on this album on songs like ‘Interzone’ and ‘Disorder’. It made for a weird mix of music to do my job to… but it worked for me this week.

If it sounds like I am trying to make light of what is widely seen as one of the best debut albums of all time that is not my intent. Looking at this compared to some of the other hugely acclaimed debut albums like Is This It and Franz Ferdinand I can see how this would rank up there.

It feels like the work of a band that had been honing their sound for a very long time… but no, Ian Curtis would have been about 21 when making this. So they were a young band making an album that was almost a reaction to punk. What was I doing at 21? Well, training to be a teacher and donating my ukulele to a charity shop. It really is an impressive work.