I have been planning a series of posts where I propose my own best-of compilations, since the record labels routinely botch the job and often there are licensing issues between labels that can prevent a compilation from providing a thorough overview of an artist’s career. This way, a casual fan could put together a compilation based on my unerring judgment without being hampered by the fact that Sony wouldn’t license a crucial song to BMG.
In the case of Joy Division, that won’t do. They only had two albums, and these are albums–they are meant to be listened to as a whole, and they are nearly perfect. Removing the individual songs from their context robs them of much of their power. Joy Division had a lot of other material–non-LP singles and posthumously released songs, often of very high quality and deserving to be heard.
The existing box set, Heart and Soul, claims “with few exceptions, everything Joy Division recorded and released is contained here.” Unfortunately, some of the exceptions would be important to anyone shelling out a decent amount of money for a box set. There were other poor decisions–it makes no sense to stick Closer in a sandwich of other songs, for example. It needs to start with “Atrocity Exhibition” and end with “Decades.” Putting six songs in front of it and two songs behind it dilutes it.
So I’ve assembled my own box set, and you can, too. This lengthy article will serve as both a guide to assembling the perfect Joy Division box set and fairly minimal liner notes for that box set. This was a time-consuming labor of love, painstakingly put together over several weeks, so I’m eager to share it with anyone who, like me, is frustrated with how the Joy Division catalog has been managed to date.
This collection contains every song Joy Division recorded, sensibly organized with no duplication (except as noted below). It gathers the two studio albums, EPs, singles, contributions to various-artists compilations, and posthumously released songs. Many Joy Division songs exist in several versions—I have chosen the ones I like best, which in most cases are the best-known versions. There are lots of dodgy live and alternate recordings out there–they are not included here, although you will acquire some of these in the process of putting the set together. They’ll provide you with a good start for assembling appendices if you are so inclined.
The songs are more-or-less in chronological order.
You’ll need the following. Unfortunately, much of this is not available for purchase digitally so you’ll have to buy CDs for now, even though you won’t be using every song from any one of them:
- The Warsaw bootleg
- The Heart and Soul box set
- Still (available for digital cherry-picking from Amazon. Cherry-picking recommended.)
- New Order–Substance (available for digital cherry-picking from Rhapsody but you really ought to (and probably do) own at least disc 1)
- Inside The Line [Warsaw]
- Gutz [Warsaw]
- You’re No Good For Me [Warsaw]
- At a Later Date [Warsaw]
Their first recordings. They were calling themselves Warsaw when these tracks were cut in July 1977. Let’s just say they got a lot better, although it’s pretty amusing to hear them do the generic punk rave-up “You’re No Good For Me”—not what you think of when you hear the name “Joy Division.”
After this inauspicious beginning, it’s amazing how quickly they improved and how much good material they produced between then and Ian Curtis’ death less than three years later.
These tracks are, at best, semi-legally available, but I got them from the easy-to-find gray market CD linked above. There was one more track recorded at these sessions, “The Kill,” which I guess was deemed good enough to salvage although it was not released during the band’s lifetime. It appears later in this collection in a different version.
With the possible exception of “At a Later Date,” these songs aren’t very good, so if you only want the best of their non-LP material, this can be skipped. However, we will need the Warsaw CD for one more song a little further down the line, and if you’re fan enough to go through this exercise, you probably want this stuff. You’ll need tracks 13, 14, 15, and 17.
(There is a supposedly-killer live version of “At a Later Date” on a various-artists compilation called Short Circuit–Live at the Electric Circus. So far as I know, this is only available on vinyl and the LP costs between $30 and $60. If anyone knows another way to get this song, please let me know. It was left off the box set for some stupid reason. I’ve never heard it, so I can’t tell you if it should replace the Warsaw version or not.
Update: You should indeed get the Live at the Electric Circus version if you can find it. One avenue for finding it is listed in the comments. It’s smokin’.)
- No Love Lost
- Leaders of Men
This is where the good stuff starts. These tracks comprise their first official release, the EP An Ideal for Living. They were recorded at the end of 1977 and released in 1978.
In 1977, a band called Warsaw Pakt released an album, so Warsaw changed its name to Joy Division to avoid confusion. The name was from the concentration camp memoir (which some believe to be fictional) House of Dolls by Ka-Tzetnik 135633, in which the Joy Division was where young women were kept for the pleasure of Nazi officers. The book must have had quite an impact on Curtis; he recites a passage from it in “No Love Lost.”
You’ll be getting these from the Heart and Soul box set (disc 3, tracks 1-4).
- The Drawback
- Walked In Line
- The Kill
- Ice Age
“The Drawback” and “Walked In Line” were recorded in May 1978 for RCA during sessions for what was supposed to be their first album. None of the material was released. “The Drawback” comes from the Heart and Soul box set (disc 3, track 5). I think it’s the same version as the one on the Warsaw bootleg, but the mastering is so different it’s hard to tell and the Heart and Soul version is superior.
Pull “Walked In Line” from the Warsaw bootleg (track 3). It sounds less like Joy Division than the officially released versions on Still and Heart and Soul, but the legal releases sound unfinished and lack the military/marching feel that the song was obviously intended to have.
The recordings we are using for “The Kill” and “Ice Age” date from later, but the age of the songs and their general sound make them more a part of this era. “The Kill” is from Heart and Soul (disc 1, track 17) and “Ice Age” is from Still (track 2)–finally a song you can buy online!
These two songs were recorded in October 1978 for the EP A Factory Sample, the first release by the newly-formed Factory Records. They can be found on Heart and Soul (disc 1, tracks 1 and 2).
- From Safety to Where…?
- Exercise One
- The Only Mistake
These songs are from the Unknown Pleasures sessions. “Autosuggestion” and “Safety” were released on a various-artists LP. The other two were released posthumously.
You can get all four of these on Heart and Soul (disc 1, tracks 20, 21, 14, and 18). “Exercise One” and “The Only Mistake” can also be acquired from Still (tracks 1 and 5).
Disc 2: Unknown Pleasures
- Day of the Lords
- New Dawn Fades
- She’s Lost Control
- I Remember Nothing
All tracks available on Heart and Soul.
- Something Must Break
“Something Must Break” was recorded during failed sessions for the “Transmission” single. “Transmission” and “Novelty” were successfully re-recorded in the summer of 1979 and released that year. Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio!
All three songs are available on Heart and Soul (disc 1, tracks 19, 15, and 16). “Something Must Break” is also available on Still (track 8).
- Dead Souls
The A- and B-sides of a single that was released only in France for some reason. I’m pretty sure “Atmosphere” is the primary inspiration for “Plainsong,” the first track on the Cure’s Disintegration. “Dead Souls” is probably best known because Nine Inch Nails covered it on The Crow soundtrack.
You can get these songs on Heart and Soul (disc 2, tracks 3 and 4). You can also get “Dead Souls” from Still (track 9).
- The Sound of Music
Recorded while making the first attempt at “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” This is available on Heart and Soul (disc 2, track 2) or Still (track 3).
- As You Said
These songs were recorded at the Closer sessions and released as a flexi-disc freebie. “As You Said” is pure filler, but I think it makes a nifty intro to “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Strangely, they recorded it more than once even though it sounds like nothing but studio noodling.
All three of these songs are on Heart and Soul (disc 2, tracks 5 and 6, and disc 3, track 22).
- Love Will Tear Us Apart
- These Days
A- and B-side of the famous single. The B-side also included a lousy alternate version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
These are available on Heart and Soul (disc 2, tracks 16 and 17).
- Ceremony [New Order]
- In a Lonely Place [New Order]
These songs were written by Joy Division. After Curtis’ death, New Order recorded them for their first single. The New Order versions are included because the Joy Division versions only exist in demo form and are inferior (see below). It’s amazing how much Bernard Sumner sounds like Ian Curtis on “In a Lonely Place,” since on everything else I know of he doesn’t sound like Curtis at all.
“In a Lonely Place” seems to indicate that Joy Division’s next album would have been even more depressing than Closer if that’s possible. The song is not best known for being covered by Bush on the soundtrack of The Crow: City of Angels.
These songs are available on New Order’s Substance, not to be confused with Joy Division’s Substance (disc 1, track 1, and disc 2, track 1).
- Sister Ray
The Velvet Underground song and the only cover I’m aware of them doing, live from one of their last gigs. There’s something I find very funny about ending a Joy Division compilation with Ian Curtis saying, “You should hear our version of ‘Louie, Louie’!”
This is disposable, but if you want it, it’s on Still (track 10).
- In a Lonely Place (Detail)
The last two songs Joy Division recorded, included for the sake of completeness. I don’t imagine you’ll want to listen to these songs more than once since you have the superior New Order versions, but this way you’ve got options.
“Ceremony” is a demo that sounds like it was recorded in someone’s closet. The live version from their last show on Still (the only time it was performed by Joy Division) sounds marginally better, but Curtis’ microphone was apparently not working during the first verse. “In a Lonely Place” ends early. The band says the tape ran out, but some believe they cut out the last verse because it contains the lines:
The hangman looks `round as he waits
Gullet stretches tight and it breaks
I think this is unlikely, since New Order included this verse when they recorded it. In any case, it’s a shame that it’s incomplete because it sounds pretty good for a demo.
These are available on Heart and Soul (disc 3, tracks 23 and 24).
Disc 4: Closer
- Atrocity Exhibition
- A Means to an End
- Heart and Soul
- Twenty Four Hours
- The Eternal
All tracks available on Heart and Soul.
And there you have it–the complete Joy Division, with all of the best takes and no inferior alternate or live versions to get in the way, logically sequenced and superior, if I do say so myself, both as a historical document and as a listening experience to the commercially available Joy Division box set, the various “best-of” compilations, the odds-and-sods Still, or the singles collection Substance.
Of course, you can always tweak my version with your own favorite takes and track order, or make your own discs five, six, and so on with the other stuff that is out there. On the off chance anyone is actually crazy enough to do this, I’d love to know what you come up with.
Am I going to do it? Yes I am. I rate my own compilation: