After the death of lead singer Ian Curtis, post-punk Band Joy Division was doomed. The years of building the band up were crumbling away for Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris. But rather than giving it all, they decided to move on and renamed the band New Order. With Gillian Gilbert joining to complete the line-up, New Order went on to achieve success and influence beyond Joy Division. The beautiful combination of post-punk and electronic music is what made New Order a stand out band in the 1980s. And with that success, they become something greater than they were in the past. Here are ten great songs from New Order.
Spotify Playlist to play along with:
‘Ceremony’ – (Non-Album Single 1981)
Technically, this song was written during the final days of Joy Division. “Ceremony” was soon carried over when Joy Division became New Order. It was New Order’s first single, released months before their debut album “Movement” came out. This was the track to be released that featured Sumner singing. While each member took turns singing, Sumner was ultimately chosen as he could sing while not playing guitar.
With “Ceremony” it’s very clear that the band was still rooted in their post-punk sound from their old band. In many ways, it was Joy Division minus Curtis. It’s not a bad thing, but you can tell they were still reeling over Curtis’ death and struggling to move on. “Ceremony” is their glorious end to one era of their lives and the start of a new one. You can even apply that in the lyrics; “I’ll break them down, no mercy shown. Heavens knows, it’s got to be this time.”
‘Age of Consent’ – (“Power, Corruption & Lies” 1983)
The beautiful opening track off of “Power, Corruption & Lies” is where New Order completely break free from their Joy Division past. It’s more upbeat with Hook’s bass playing being more melodic, the increased tempo of Morris’ drumming and Sumner’s vocals showing more confidence.
Lyrically, it’s about the desire to break free of a relationship that has become controlling for one partner. It’s filled with heartbreak and shocking revelations in which Sumner finally sees what his former lover truly is. It’s that feeling of being free from the blindness of being in love with someone and noticing their flaws that begin horrify you. A brilliant showcase of New Order coming into their own.
‘Temptation’ – (Non-Album Single 1982)
In the time between “Movement” and “Power, Corruption & Lies,” the band visited New York City and became fascinated with the local club scene. This prompted them to make songs such as “Temptation” and “Everything’s Gone Green.” Here they started to infuse drum machines and add more synthesizers to their music. The results lead to a danceable track that was unprecedented for fans of Joy Division.
“Temptation” is one of my personal favorites because it shows how the new instruments and the band’s old sound were blending perfectly. I love the intricate guitar and bass riffs contrast with the sturdy drum machine and the spastic synth melodies. The best part of the song is Sumner’s singing “Oh, you got green eyes. Oh, you got blues eyes. Oh, you got grey eyes.” I can’t help but tilt my head back and forth to that part.
‘Blue Monday’ – (Non-Album Single 1983)
For anyone who is new to the band, “Blue Monday” is their most famous song. It is the best selling 12-inch single of all time and was a major moment for the band. Designed by Peter Saville, the single featured a die cut that was supposed to resemble a floppy disk (old technology, I know). The big problem was that the band’s record label, Factory, would lose money when each copy was sold due to how expensive it was to produce the sleeve.
The song was the culmination of the band’s fascination with synthesizers and dance. Their love for Kraftwerk and the New York club scene was at its peak. The rapid-pace kick drum that leads to the melody of the synthesizers to come to ease listeners in before the rest of the band explodes to bring the song to life. Sumner’s cold vocals, the brief choir vocals, the erratic drum beats and the eerie synths gave the song the perfect balance of being danceable, yet brooding.
‘Love Vigilantes’ – (“Low-Life” 1985)
“Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” the rifle-like drum beat kicks off one of the most poignant tracks off of “Low-Life.” “Love Vigilantes” is supposedly New Order’s attempt at a country song with its usage of a harmonica and lack of synths (although I barely hear the influences of country as common elements from New Order’s music remain dominant).
“Love Vigilantes” tells the tale of a soldier who participating in the Vietnam War and eagerly awaiting his chance to return home. He tells how much he wants to see his family and the joy he felt when he was allowed to go. However, the ending was left up to interpretation when he finally returns home. This prompts you to go back and read the lyrics to the whole song and wonder what really happened in the narrator’s mind. It’s a tale that many people who have gone to war or have loved ones who went can easily relate to.
‘The Perfect Kiss’ – (“Low-Life” 1985)
Here comes one of the most danciest from New Order’s catalog. At this point in New Order’s history, the band had already refined the sound they have settled with and show their full mastery with “The Perfect Kiss.” This song is full of life with Hook’s bass going up and down the neck, the drum machines putting the grooviest beat it can provide and the synths blaring with pride. It all climaxes to a wonderful instrumental jam that seems to never end.
The build-up to this track is great, each member slowly puts in their part to help get the song going. It’s like the moment when you are slowly going up that first hill of a roller coaster and once you go down fast, that is when the song bursts into life. It’s the best analogy you can make with “Perfect Kiss” and it shows how amazing New Order became. I recommend playing the eight-minute version as you get the full experience.
‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ – (“Brotherhood” 1986)
“Bizzare Love Triangle” is another dance floor favorite that once again encapsulates what New Order is about. The bass playing, the dance beat and Sumner’s flawed and passionate vocals. You can’t really go wrong with this song. However, the original version found on the “Brotherhood” album doesn’t take the cake for me. It’s the remix version by Shep Pettibone that I prefer the most. This version is more vibrant and longer than the original which adds to a level of fun that lacks in the original version. It’s more chaotic and makes the track more of a match to “Perfect Kiss” or “Blue Monday.”
‘True Faith’ – (Non-Album Single 1987)
My favorite New Order song, this is one of the most perfect nightclub songs you can play. The booming beats, eerie synths and the flowing vocals give that nightclub atmosphere. “True Faith” wants you to move your head and dance along nonstop. Every time I listen to this song there’s a sense of euphoria once the synths kick in. You’ve entered a state of mind where nothing else matters in the world but the song guiding you in the moment.
It shouldn’t be surprising, as the lyrics describe someone who has a horrific drug addiction and how it is affecting them. The music and the lyrics are strongly connected to each other as it gives these “good feelings” once the drugs kick in and the subsequent desire to find more. Once the song ends, you just want to play it over and over. Just like a drug habit.
‘Round and Round’ – (“Technique” 1989)
What’s immediately noticeable in “Round & Round” is that the band had begun to implement Acid House and Balearic Beat music into their sound. The band began making “Technique” in Ibiza where the local Balearic clubs had made an influence on their music. Concurrently, their hometown Manchester, England was developing the Acid House scene with bands like 808 State that rose to prominence.
“Round & Round” immediately shows those influences. The entire song is driven by the exotic drum beat that shows a different New Order than the ones who made “Blue Monday.” It’s the sound of the band updating themselves while retaining key characteristics from their old sound. And “Round & Round” is an example of the new sound featured in “Technique.” When describing the album, Morris describes it as a “last day of school feel about it.” That atmosphere of when summer break is around the corner.
‘Regret’ – (“Republic” 1993)
In his book, “Substance: Inside New Order” Hook describes the awful experience of creating their sixth album, “Republic.” Their nightclub, The Hacienda, was closing down and none of the band members were interested in working together. They were forced to make this album in order to prevent Factory going bankrupt. By now, Sumner had become very controlling over the making of the record. This was a departure from the collaborative effort New Order would usually do and made the album feel more like a Sumner solo album.
With that context in perspective, “Regret” was the last good New Order song according to Hook. It was one of the only few tracks where all four members worked together. The song gives a sense of a bittersweet ending to a group who had defined a generation. All of the characteristics of New Order are here, loud and proud; reminding us how amazing they were. The song was a major hit in the US and in a sense was a final hurrah to New Order just like it was with “Ceremony.”
Honorable mentions: “Everything’s Gone Green”, “Confusion”, “Dreams Never End”, “Your Silent Face”, “Sub-Culture”, “Thieves Like Us”, “1963”, “Dream Attack”, “Crystal” and “World in Motion”