After seeing the iconic Sex Pistols perform, two lads from Manchester knew they had to start a band, and after toiling through early punk for a while, they eventually regrouped and rebranded as Joy Division—a band that would go on to create multiple hits.
One of the pioneer groups of goth rock and post-punk, the band cycled through many genres while keeping the soul of the music rebellious and exploratory. Their music is known for its moody, atmospheric sound, driven by the distinctive basslines of Peter Hook, the haunting vocals of Ian Curtis, and the driving beats of drummer Stephen Morris.
There isn’t a complete consensus among fans regarding Joy Division’s best songs, and that itself is a testament to their greatness. But even if it’s a futile exercise, we’d like to make our own case for the best songs Joy Division recorded in their short but storied career.
1. Love Will Tear Us Apart
This song is perhaps Joy Division's most iconic track and one that has become a classic of both post-punk and new wave. The introspective lyrics about the breakdown of a relationship have made it a timeless and relatable anthem for anyone whose black heart stings from the fissures of love dying.
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” was released in 1980, shortly after vocalist Ian Curtis’ death, and tells the hauntingly personal tale of Curtis’ failing marriage and subsequent depression. The popularity of the song mirrors the hidden darkness that plagued this iconic frontman.
With its driving bassline, pulsing rhythm, and insistent vocals, “Transmission” is a standout track from Joy Division's early years. This song was the band’s first single, released in 1979. Its energy and urgency reflect the band's punk roots while its atmospheric production points towards the more experimental sound they would later develop.
In 2006, this Joy Division song earned a new audience when it was covered live by Bauhaus on their French tour. The lyrics strike a balance between the ills of the modern world and the secrets that are told in the darkness.
This haunting and atmospheric ballad is one of Joy Division's most introspective and emotional tracks. Its sparse instrumentation and poetic lyrics about loss and longing have made it a favorite among fans and critics alike.
Originally entitled “Chance,” the song was written and recorded in 1979, later appearing on the band’s box set Heart and Soul in 1997 as “Atmosphere.” The ethereal instrumental layering is reminiscent of some of the best songs by The Cure, particularly from their more brooding albums like Pornography and Disintegration.
4. She's Lost Control
With its relentless bassline and propulsive rhythm, “She's Lost Control” is one of Joy Division's most danceable tracks. Its lyrics, about a woman suffering from epilepsy, are dark and haunting, reflecting the band's fascination with the darker side of human experience.
Appearing on the 1979 album Unknown Pleasures,the song goes deeper than being a tribute to a third-party stranger, as Ian Curtis also had epilepsy. When he was diagnosed with epilepsy, Curtis continued to drink, smoke, and follow an irregular sleeping pattern, and with the ongoing pressures of performances and touring, his seizures became more frequent and intense. In fact, what appeared to audiences as frantic rhythm-induced dancing was often the start of his body going into an episode.
“Disorder” is a classic example of Joy Division's early sound, with its driving bassline, frenetic drums, and the haunting timbre of Ian Curtis' vocals. Its lyrics, about feeling lost and disconnected in a chaotic world, reflect the band's punk roots and their recurring themes of alienation and despair.
Another somewhat autobiographical song, “Disorder” illustrates the duality of Ian Curtis’ short life. As he battled with epilepsy and a tumultuous marriage, the lyrics he embedded into Joy Division’s songs provided a cathartic way for him to share his struggles.
Treat Yourself to Some Joy Division Therapy
There are many other Joy Division songs that we could cover, from “Dead Souls” to “New Dawn Fades,” but the above classics exemplify the band’s iconic sound, their influence, and their ongoing legacy. They’re a great place to start for newbies, and they’re worth a revisit from seasoned fans.
Whether you’re a long-time devotee or new to the world of Joy Division, it’s easy to settle into a subtle all-black ensemble and let the music speak to your soul. A Skull Button Cardigan with Velvet Leggings is the perfect uniform for letting yourself slip into the dark universe of gothic sound.
The Legacy of Joy Division Lives On
Joy Division seemingly embodied melancholy in a way that no band had before. Their lasting impression on the post-punk and goth scenes has endured for decades despite their transitory time as a band. Their songs continue to resonate with listeners today, offering a window into the darker aspects of the human experience and the power of music to connect us all.
Even after reinventing themselves as New Order upon the death of Ian Curtis, their legacy as Joy Division lived on. The dark, troubled, and unforgettable poetry of both Curtis’ lyrics and life has ensured an enduring base of devoted listeners.