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The 10 best Joy Division songs

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Today, would have marked Ian Curtis’s 59th birthday.

In many ways the iconic singer's epilepsy, relationship troubles and tragic suicide aged 23 now overshadow the body of musical work he was responsible for as the lyricist and vocalist of Joy Division.

But the Manchester (via Macclesfield and Salford) four-piece changed the musical landscape paving the way for post-punk, goth and the band's rebirth as New Order in the eighties. At the helm was Curtis' strange, gloomily assured vocals and poigniant lyrics.

In his honour, we look back at the top ten of Joy Division’s contributions to music.

Love Will Tear Us Apart

The last song the band ever recorded, and their first chart hit, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is the perfect embodiment of love in a relationship breakdown. It is dark but shots of synth make it catchy and, still to this day, iconic. It was the band's biggest hit and set them up as a contender for real stardom before the singer's demise.

The title was written on Ian Curtis’s headstone, which was stolen in 2008.

Disorder

The first song off debut album Unknown Pleasures, 'Disorder' is perhaps the song that kick started Joy Division. With a bassline praised left right and centre, uplifting rhythms contradict cathartic lyrics ‘I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand, could these sensations give me the pleasure of a normal man?’

Thought to provide insight into Curtis’s struggle with epilepsy. Despite this, Joy Division didn’t write any lyrics on the album sleeve to not influence what listeners hear.

Shadowplay

Reaching powerful emotional depth, ‘Shadowplay’ takes heavy, repetitive riffs and pulsing drums. Curtis’s haunting vocals drive with force a stripped back gothic atmosphere fuelled with angst and passion. Martin Hannett’s production stamp was well and truly marked here as he steered Joy Division’s most notable sound.

Transmission

A frenzy of a song if you will, ‘Transmission’ unravels swirling bass and punk vocals. Curtis angrily commands ‘dance dance dance to the radio’ to a regulated beat. If you can keep up with the drums from Stephen Morris, you’re onto a winner.

She’s Lost Control

The epitome of loss, the post-punk classic captures emotions Curtis felt towards a girl he worked with who died from an epileptic seizure. Revolving around the famous bassline, Curtis’s vocals seem calm though would be much wilder when performed live. The frosty atmosphere is no accident, producer Hannett used to have the air conditioning to freezing during the recording of Unknown Pleasures.

Heart and Soul

Rhythmic drums set the base for this track, opening to an eerily beautiful atmosphere. Effortlessly chilled vocals drift between a fast paced beat with a ghostly riff.

Twenty Four Hours

Acting as the calm before storm a mournful melody accompanies Curtis’s meaningful lyrics ‘So this is permanence, love’s shattered pride. What once was innocence, turned on its side.’ A poet from a young age, Curtis pursued literature and philosophy attaching these to his writing.

Isolation

A nod in the direction that influenced New Order following the loss of Ian Curtis, ‘Isolation’ is perhaps the most upbeat of the lot. Higher vocals dance alongside a joyous beat and white noise, ingeniously contradicting the raw truths.  

Atrocity Exhibition

The opening track on the second and final album Closer, it was a bleak choice. Dramatic building weirdly doesn’t lead anywhere but to a break of instrumental noise that sounds vaguely tribal. Long and boisterous, its repetitiveness carves into the subconscious.

Atmosphere  

Written as ‘Light and Blindness’ newly named ‘Atmosphere’ features Curtis’s hopeful crooning against mesmerising synth and lyrical vulnerability.  Smooth and elegant, it’s a relaxing piece being both happy and sad.

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