Rank and File

Ranking: Every Joy Division Song in Honor of Ian Curtis

on May 18, 2020, 12:00am
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40. “From Safety to Where…?”

Like “Auto-Suggestion”, “From Safety to Where…?” was culled from the Unknown Pleasures sessions and later handed over (graciously) to Fast Product’s 1979 compilation Earcom 2: Contradiction. One of the more political anthems in Joy Division’s catalogue, the track digs into the fallibility of society and how it’s always sabotaging itself. Nihilistic? Sure, but he’s not wrong. –Michael Roffman

Tattoo This: “Just passing through, ’till we reach the next stage”

39. “Wilderness”

A commentary on the ways religion divides and delineates progress, “Wilderness” feels like a catacomb of confusion, thanks to the interplay between Hook and Sumner. Curtis’ use of repetition — particularly, “What did you see there?” — only adds to the hallucinatory feelings, making this Unknown Pleasures deep cut a bewildering experience. –Michael Roffman

Tattoo This: “Tears in their eyes”

38. “The Sound of Music”

The anxious mind often rebels by cutting everyone and everything off. Yet this is unwieldy and often dangerous, conclusions Curtis comes to on “The Sound of Music”. Not to be confused by the iconic film, this latter era track — recorded during the sessions for “Love Will Tear Us Apart” — finds Curtis at a tragically sobering moment: that only love and life can lead to any kind of resolution. For many, that simply feels impossible. –Michael Roffman

Tattoo This: “Love, life, makes you feel higher”

37. “Incubation”

The other B-side to “Komakino” — and arguably the best of the three — “Incubation” and the entirety of its instrumental performance prove that Joy Division could have easily diversified their catalogue. Similar to Italians Do It Better, they could have operated as a band front and center, or they could have worked behind the red velvet curtains. –Phillip Roffman

Tattoo This: Nada.

36. “In a Lonely Place (Detail)”

It doesn’t get any more explicit than that. One of the last songs to be written by Curtis, “In a Lonely Place (Detail)” was actually salvaged by Hook from a rehearsal tape, which explains the muddy quality. Given the chilling lyrics — “The hangman looks ’round as he waits” — the audio quality only adds to the track’s mounting dread. Look for a killer cover by Bush off The Crow: City of Angels soundtrack. –Michael Roffman

Tattoo This: “How I wish we were here with you now”

35. “Warsaw”

“3 5 0 1 2 5 Go!” That’s a weird way to count into a song, right? Well, ”31G-350125” was Adolf Hitler’s Deputy Führer’s prisoner of war serial number. The man behind the number? Rudolf Hess, aka the piece of shit who signed “The Nuremberg Laws of 1935.” You know, the laws that stripped Jewish citizens of Germany their rights in the lead-up to the Holocaust? With each scream of “31G” we are reminded of his atrocities. –Phillip Roffman

Tattoo This: “31G!”

34. “Candidate”

Curtis marries politics with the personal on “Candidate”. The somber Unknown Pleasures track uses the titular figure as a way to tread through the instincts, conceits, and conflicts of a relationship, mirroring a fractured relationship with that of an aspiring politician. Given the rocky tensions involving Curtis’ affair outside of his marriage, there’s a lot to glean from the meditations in this one. Voyeuristic is one way to put it. Confessional is another. –Michael Roffman

Tattoo This: “Oh, I don’t know what made me”

33. “Walked In Line”

Originally carved out for Unknown Pleasures, “Walked the Line”, well, walked right off the album until it found shelter in Still. Probably a smart idea. It’s clear they were still shrugging off their Warsaw energy, and that level of aggression really has no place on their debut. Neither does a track with haunting Holocaust imagery (at least this explicit). Alas, as you’ll soon learn, a number of their sharpest songs are without albums. –Michael Roffman

Tattoo This: “They carried pictures of their wives/ And numbered tags to prove their lives”

32. “Something Must Break”

I made a playlist in college to accompany my journey to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and you can bet that “Something Must Break” made the cut. The books follow an inter-dimensional cowboy who travels through wastelands and past monsters in his pursuit of the titular beacon, while the song’s frenetic and warbling synths elicit the feeling of a man on the run, chasing after something he’ll never comprehend, and making decisions along the way without realizing their impact. Both the story and the song maintain the steady hum of circumstances being wrong. They also remind their respective audiences that we cannot maintain this pace forever and must await the inevitable tipping point. –Dan Pfleegor

Tattoo This: “Had thoughts for one/ Designs for both”

31. “The Only Mistake”

Out of all the outtakes for Unknown Pleasures, “The Only Mistake” feels like a true outcast. It’s a bridge track between the band’s two studio releases, falling somewhere between the minimalism of their debut and the colossal swells of Closer. Sumner’s performance is incredible, though, and he never lets up. He rips right into his guitar as Curtis’ vocals bubble underneath. It’s shoegaze before shoegaze; it’s an intriguing piece of their puzzle. –Michael Roffman

Tattoo This: “Strain, take the strain, these days we love”

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