Spotlight Exhibit: Joy Division / New Order

Friday, February 3: 5 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Joy Division / New Order bassist Peter Hook in front of the Spotlight Exhibit with his bass

The members of Joy Division were post-punk visionaries. In contrast to the raw fury of the British punk scene that gave birth to the band, Joy Division created a more nuanced, expressive template for emphatically projecting discontent. Tortured lead singer Ian Curtis' introspective lyrics and melancholic worldview were reflected in the band's manic live performances and moody arrangements. This motif was captured in songs like "Disorder," "Transmission" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart." In addition to Curtis' vocals, Bernard Sumner's angular guitar work and Stephen Morris' frenetic drumming, the band's signature sound owed much to the bass of Peter Hook, who cultivated a lead-bass style that rejected the notion of a bassist's sole role as being backup. "I never did really play bass, because I always found it intensely annoying whenever some twat of a guitarist would turn around to you and say, 'could you play the root note?' said Hook during a 2010 interview at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. "Luckily, I found a style."

That signature style involved playing lead lines high on the fretboard, creating melodies that were often mimicked in the vocals. “That came about early, when I paid £10 for my first bass cabinet," said Hook. "It sounded dreadful, so I played high up [on the bass' fretboard]. And Ian Curtis, God rest his soul, said ‘That sounds great when you do that. Let’s work on that. Right, Barney, you do some chords. Steven, you do those jungle drums.’ And there you have Joy Division.”

Among their more pop-oriented efforts, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was released on April 18, 1980. With its waves of synthesizer and midtempo pace, the song's indelible melody was countered with Curtis' haunting lyrics on faded love – a despondent declaration that preempted Curtis' tragic suicide a month later, on May 18, 1980."[Stephen Morris] and I had done the drums and the bass," recalled Hook of the recording session that yielded "Love Will Tear Us Apart." "We did it one Saturday afternoon – how weird is it that I can remember doing it? – and Ian was writing. We were rehearsing the next day for another hour, and Ian said 'oh, I'll have some words by tomorrow.' And he came in, and we played it again, and he started singing 'Love Will Tear Us Apart,' and that was it, it was finished – it was done in like three hours." It was the last song the group ever recorded. Rather than disband, the remaining members – Sumner (vocals, guitar, synthesizer), Hook (bass, synthesizer), Morris (drums, synthesizers) – persevered as New Order, adding keyboardist Gillian Gilbert.

Their debut single was the brooding "Ceremony" in 1981. Early recordings continued in the vein of Joy Division, but the band's sound found inspiration in German electronic innovators, Kraftwerk, and New York's underground club scene, ushering in an era of arrangements that embraced sequencers and synthesizers as lead instruments. The proposition resonated with audiences and critics worldwide, as New Order became one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands, uniting an infectious synthesis of New Wave sensibility and dance hall grooves that ignited packed crowds at at the Haçienda,  the legendary nightclub founded by New Order and their record label boss, Tony Wilson. Originally packaged in a 12-inch sleeve designed by Factory Records designer Peter Saville that cleverly replicated a floppy computer disk and included little information about the band (neither the name of the group nor the single title appeared), 1983's "Blue Monday" was a smash. Although rumored that the cost of producing the sleeve represented a loss on each single sold by Factory, the seven-minute-plus track would become among the best-selling 12-inch singles of all time.

"Blue Monday" was driven by a host of sequencer and synthesizer effects, including the throbbing synth bass line (overlayed with Hook's lead bass stylings), and drum machine beat. The song contained no chorus, instead revolving around a series of verses. "It does come down to songwriting," said Hook of "Blue Monday," which took nearly four months to record. "Whilst everyone may have the equipment in their little box, not everybody [has] the ability to write a song like 'Blue Monday.' It was quite odd, because we never thought 'Blue Monday' was that great. It was just another song. The vocal was done last – there was no vocal written, everything was on the song, even the bass guitar. It wasn't a huge hit when it came out." 

Ian Curtis' handwritten lyrics to "Love Will Tear Us Apart," Peter Hook's Hot One 335 custom bass by Christopher J. Eccleshall that he used on various recordings, onstage with New Order and side projects Monaco and Revenge; the original "Blue Monday" 12-inch sleeve designed by Peter Saville and Bernard Sumner's 1987 Washburn D-12-12N acoustic guitar that he used on the 1989 sessions for Techniques are among the artifacts featured in the Joy Division / New Order Spotlight Exhibit in the Rock Hall's main gallery.



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