I’d hardly be the first to observe that “Ceremony” is THE emblematic song of Joy Division’s sometimes shaky transition to New Order after the suicide of JD singer Ian Curtis. It was a JD song that, tragically, was never properly recorded during the singer’s lifetime; only the live version on Still—from which half the vocals are absent—and a really crummy rehearsal tape are known to have survived, but the song became New Order’s first single.
While that single is imperfect, it preserves a magnificent song that could have ended up lost. The instrumental performances and production are excellent, but vocals were handled by guitarist Bernard Sumner, who’d go on to become the band’s main singer. His tentative, mannered, flat-affect singing style was a good fit for NO’s later work, but his rookie effort couldn’t approach Ian Curtis’ expressive depth, and so lines like “I’ll break them all/No mercy shown” land weightlessly. The song’s excellence still being amply evident, it went on to become one of the most-covered songs the band ever released, and it’s a badge for their determination to persevere in the face of tragedy, however wobbly their very public march towards their own post-Curtis identity was.
In recent years, estranged from his former New Order bandmates, JD/NO’s Peter Hook, the architect of a post-punk bass style so singular and genre-defining it’s still being copied 40 years later, has eschewed original music for a while to devote himself to the project of reanimating his bands’ earliest works. He formed Peter Hook and the Light with members purloined from his prior band Monaco, and they’ve spent the last several years producing concerts in which they’ll play an early JD or NO album in its entirety. They’re currently on tour performing both bands’ ‘80s best-of compilations, both titled Substance.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: Look Blue Go Purple – “Cactus Cat”.
Formed in 1983, Look Blue Go Purple perfected their songcraft beneath a record shop in Dunedin. Taking influence from the likes of The Raincoats and The Slits, Look Blue Go Purple may now be a long way removed from the Dunedin scene, but renewed interest in the band has seen them search the archives and compile a wonderful collection of their output.
The band have dug out the video for Cactus Cat, lifted from their 1986 release, LBGPEP2. Cactus Cat serves as a fine reminder of what a great band Look Blue Go Purple were; gorgeous, complex harmonies, sweet jangling guitars and spluttering, primal drum beats.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: The Blue Nile – “Tinseltown In The Rain”.
It was released as a single from their 1984 album “A Walk Across the Rooftops”
It has been described as an “ode to the city” of Glasgow.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: The Clouds – “Tranquil”.
The Clouds were a Glasgow-based indie pop band from the 1980s, fronted by brothers John and Bill Charnley.
The Clouds had a hit on the UK Indie Chart in 1988 with “Tranquil,” (on the Subway Organisation label), reaching number 13.
The released track included John on guitar and vocals, Bill on keyboard and vocals, Gino Ionta on drums, Andy Brady on bass guitar and Norman Blake on lead guitar and backing vocals.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: Meat Whiplash – “Don’t Slip Up”.
Meat Whiplash were one of the first bands to be signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records.This was the only single the band ever released. In 1985 it spent 19 weeks on the UK Indie Singles chart and peaked at number 3. The band toured with their East Kilbride neighbours The Jesus & Mary Chain and this track sounds like it could quite easily have been on the Mary Chain’s classic album “Psychocandy”.
Meat Whiplash was an alternative rock band from East Kilbride, Scotland.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: The Pop Group – “Where There’s A Will”.
Originally released as 7” single in 1980 and unavailable for several decades, ‘Where There’s A Will’ has been remastered from original tape for reissue as the opening track of The Pop Group’s compilation of rarities ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’.
An incendiary dance, it revels as much as it rebels. The song unleashes a feral form of torn, breakneck agit-funk with its potent urgency and savagely scathing vitality undimmed since its original release. A breathless torrent of writhing deviant disco bassline and volcanic free jazz sax, the song is electrified by Mark Stewart’s vocals, a rasping blitz of politically-charged calls for defiance and solidarity.
The countercultural militant message is delivered as a hysterical, riotous spree, as Gareth Sager (guitar, sax) explains, “The group’s best attempt to mix a message with a groove plus some real free playing. If you’re really unhinged you may be able to dance to this.”
The ‘Where There’s A Will’ video, which reworks rare footage of the band performing the song on Belgian TV in 1980, has been realised by The Pop Group’s visual collaborator, NY based artist Rupert Goldsworthy,
The Pop Group formed in Bristol in 1977 out of a sense of disenchantment with the increasing conservatism of punk.
Drawing on an eclectic range of influences from free jazz, conscious funk, heavyweight dub to avant-garde experimentalism, alongside contemporaries like Public Image Limited, This Heat and Throbbing Gristle, they were at the forefront of a musical period marked out by its ground-breaking innovation.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: The Afghan Whigs – “MILES Iz Ded”
From the 1992 Afghan Whigs album, “Congregation”.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: Buggles – “Video killed the radio star”.
One of new wave’s most charming singles, the Buggles’ prescient 1979 hit “Video Killed the Radio Star” is also one of the most knowing and ironic: A pop song about pop itself, it celebrates the golden days of radio with shiny, futuristic synths and then-contemporary studio techniques.
The irony was complete when the song’s video became the first clip aired on MTV. Fortunately, “Video Killed the Radio Star”‘s ironies work in the song’s favor. With its broadcast-quality vocals and bouncy rhythm, the song plays like an extended jingle, delivering hooks and sonic flourishes at every turn, appropriately enough for the story of a singer made obsolete by TV.
The breathy, girlish backup singers, twinkly synths, and other intricate layers in “Video Killed the Radio Star”‘s arrangement and production also foreshadow Trevor Horn’s evolution into a first-rate producer.
But just as the song looks back on the radio songs of the ’50s and ’60s, now “Video Killed the Radio Star” can be looked on as a perfectly preserved new wave gem. It still sounds as immediate as it did when it was released, however, and that may be the song’s greatest irony.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: Sufjan Stevens, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith – “People Have the Power” (Tibet House Benefit).
At 2017 Tibet House Benefit Concert, also featuring Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Philip Glass, members of New Order, Ben Harper, Laurie Anderson, and more.
THIS IS OUR MUSIC: Television – “Marquee Moon”, Live At CBGB, New York City, NY 04/17/75.