English rock was forever changed in the 70s when Joy Division jumped onto the scene. Nostalgia doesn’t even remotely come close to describing what it’s like to listen to this band today. Joy Division’s music was way ahead of its time. The band pioneered the post-punk movement of the era and became known for their emotive style. After the band fell apart and after the formation of New Order, Joy Division has cultivated a cult following that still goes strong to this day. Here are the 10 best Joy Division songs out of their small catalog.
Maybe it’s the minute-long intro, but this song sounds like it could be the soundtrack to many lives. There’s a darkness to the song that’s unnerving, an almost lonely premonition on what’s to come for the band. Written by former lead singer and lyricist Ian Curtis, Ceremony is one of the band’s strongest lyrical work. It’s obviously one of the best songs to come from that era.
The robotic melody and thick synthesizer make Decades an unforgettable song. It’s almost haunting, and the lyrics show proof. The song talks about the kind of suffering soldiers go through after service—what we now know as PTSD. There’s so much sadness related to this album given that it’s the band’s final studio album for several reasons. It’s an immsersive tribute to life that only the talent of Curtis and the band could fulfill.
Although less haunting sonically compared to the previous song, Isolation is just as heavy lyrically. Exactly two months after the suicide of Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis, the two remaining members of the band decide to release their last album. Isolation is one of the songs in that album, and it’s as dark as you can imagine. Curtis sings, “Mother I’ve tried please believe me; I’m doing the best that I can; I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through; I’m ashamed of the person I am; isolation, isolation.” That burden is heavy, and the music could only carry it so much.
Probably with one of the best baselines ever, Disorder is an easy song to jam to. Joy Division is not the band for everybody’s taste, but this is one song that even the world of today could appreciate. It’s a simple song on the surface that’s full of so much complexity underneath. Disorder is from the band’s 1979 album, Unknown Pleasures.
6. Dead Souls
It’s been rumored that Curtis dabbled quite a bit into classic literature. It’s no wonder he named one of his songs after a Gogol novel, possibly his best. Dead Souls is completely underrated and definitely underplayed. The instrumentals on this song probably could’ve just kept going on and on without any vocals. Yet every time the vocalist came into play, the song felt complete. That’s a skill that’s rare in the industry—to have such amazing talents that sound so well alone and equally well together.
Here comes that bassline again. Both Bernard Summer and Peter Hook interchanged on the bass, and to have gone this far and not highlight the bass is a crime. Joy Division is nothing without its wicked and haunting instrumentals, and Shadowplay is just the track to admire for its guitar work. There isn’t anything extremely flashy here. There’s just good solid riffs that don’t try too hard. There’s no overproduction. There’s just a song doing what it’s supposed to do—make us feel.
4. She’s Lost Control
Another song from the Unknown Pleasures album, She’s Lost Control is a good example of how Joy Division was ahead of its time. The phrasing and progression on the song are totally distinctive. But then again, it’s hard to not identify the lyrics as dark. Curtis sings about a girl that suffers epilepsy, a condition that he suffered as well. It’s interesting how Curtis wrote about the intricacies of life that are unique to so many. The song starts you off really high, and it manages to let you go at such a low.
Many believe that Atmosphere is Joy Division’s best song. It’s definitely a favorite for many. It’s a beautiful song that chronicled what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression. Curtis wrote, “People like you find it easy.” His ability to put these kinds of feelings into words is just breathtaking. No one could’ve sang it better. Joy Division was probably one of the most relatable and authentic bands ever.
Transmission is a little more fast-paced and has a higher energy than many Joy Division songs. It’s a vision, truly. This kind of music at the time when it came out was just unheard of. Joy Division was on their own platform, singing about things nobody sang about either. It’s an electric performance that also highlighted Curtis’ vocal range a bit. Great song; great vibe.
1. Love Will Tear Us Apart
Probably the most popular Joy Division song, Love Will Tear Us Apart is a dichotomy of a song. The band does well with balancing polar opposites of lyrical meaning and instrumental sound. This song is the perfect example of that. The song is happy, but the song is not. There’s joy, yet there’s division. It’s the paramount explanation for this band’s existence. Love Will Tear Us Apart is Joy Division’s best work hands down.