I have long stated and I truly believe that one of the most influential bands of all time are the Sex Pistols. They had a short life span, less than three years, recorded only one album and never played to a crowd more that 500 or so. They were vilified, made out to be an enemy and inspired hundreds of youth worldwide to pick up instruments and play their heart out. They are often overlooked when talking about the great rock and roll bands, quite honestly the Clash is seen as a much more influential band yet few recognize that without the Sex Pistols the Clash doesn’t exist. They too were influenced and inspired by the Pistols.
So too was the band Warsaw. Wait, what? I heard every one of you do a discount double take. Who the hell is Warsaw?
In 1976 3 friends from Salford, England saw the Sex Pistols in Manchester England. Stephen Morris, Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner decided that they would form a band and so they began without even knowing how to play an instrument but that’s what the Sex Pistols were about. The three decided they needed a front man and asked a local youth they all knew. It took some convincing but soon Ian Curtis became their lead singer and lyricist. They were soon playing a few gigs in the area and even made an early recording. Their name and early artwork using Nazi symbolism used on a single convinced the band to change their name and they were soon Joy Division. Over the next few years they began building a solid base of fans mostly in the Manchester area and released several singles and the album Unknown Pleasures. They began touring more and more in England and the wider Europe and Curtis was stricken with an adult onset of Epilepsy. He was also married, with a child on the way and carrying on an intense friendship and possible sexual affair with another woman. It all depends on which version of the story you believe. The band set to working on their next album Closer and their schedule only grew more intense. Curtis began having more and more seizures some of which occurred on stage and began sliding into a deep depression related to the personal battles he was fighting. He seemed to be looking forward to the upcoming American tour but he and his wife had split. Ian Curtis hung himself on May 18, 1980 ending his promising life and the dreams of a band. Long before the four bandmates had made a decision to never carry on as Joy Division if someone left the band.
Fast forward please. That’s what we used to do in the old cassette days. In 1993 my world was pretty good. I was having fun, still young but old enough to have learned some lessons. I was dating a girl that by every standard should have been perfect for me. She was cute, could be attentive, very attentive, had a really easy going nature that made everything seem so easy going and nice. She never got too disappointed, appreciated small things as well as big things and for whatever reason we just could not connect. We did okay, there just was something missing and as usual I was pretty sure that what was missing was somewhere inside of me. One night we had been out and we had been having a good time when a song came on the radio and I said “There, there, that’s the song I am looking for. Who is that band?” She didn’t know and she said we were close to Sound Warehouse and they were open so off we went to find out. We got there about 10 minutes to closing. There were still a few customers in the store and I started asking one of the sales guys about this song. He shook his head and said you’re going to have to sing it. Now as I have said I am kind of shy but if I am going to make a fool out of myself I am going to go big, I am going to make it memorable. It’s why I don’t sing Karaoke or anything that requires me to do something in public. Once I know I have humiliated myself I will just go for it. So I start singing and while I am singing I start dancing. The sales guy is laughing, the girl is laughing hysterically and I am singing so everyone in that store can hear:
I would like to find a place I can call my own
Have a conversation on my telephone
Wake up every day, that would be a start
I would not complain ‘bout my wounded heart
Now at this point I play air guitar dud da duh da and the sales guy had all he could stand and said, “New Order, New Order,” pointing to a rack of cds. And that’s how I bought my first New Order cd. It seems weird that it took me that long to discover them. They had been around for several years, but of course I live in Texas and there just were not radio stations that played that kind of music. Regret is actually my second favorite song from the band but it will always have a special place in my heart. Regardless from that point on New Order became one of my very favorite bands and have remained so to this day.
Flashback to 1980 please. Oh crap you went too far, okay a little forward, bam there you go. Remember those three friends reeling in the aftermath of their friend and bandmate Ian Curtis’ death? Well they reformed and started rehearsing and playing music and while it felt awkward playing Joy Division songs and working on new material with rotating vocals to see who could do the job they stumbled forward and eventually changed their name to New Order. They would add a keyboardist Gillian Gilbert who later married Stephen Morris. They began building a new repertoire of music slowly rebuilding their new band name and recording. They hit it big in 1983 with the song Blue Monday. By then they had clearly settled that Bernard Sumner would be their vocalist. Their history was defined by poor management, poor financial decisions and horrible infighting mostly between Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner. They would have large gaps between albums and claim they were done, yet be dragged back by financial demands to record just one more album. Eventually they restructured, and relieved themselves of horrible debt, their longtime manager died but the damage they did to themselves was harder to repair.
They are the epitome of English bands from the Manchester area that recorded singles and albums separately. Most American and even English bands record albums and release singles from those albums. It makes buying some albums a joy as there may end up being four of five hit songs on one album. The singles that were hits for New Order weren’t on an album until the greatest hits album was released. It ended up being a monster album for New Order to have all the singles on one album.
I have always thought that New Order was a better band than Joy Division because I think Sumner is a better vocalist although he is not nearly as dynamic as the often bizarre Ian Curtis. Sumner’s problem is that he is just too arrogant to see any other way other than his own. New Order fans now fall into two camps the Sumner camp or the Hook camp. I might be a rarity but I think they are better together than they are apart although I side with Hook. Sumner fired Hook in 2007 and for years there were legal battles between Hook and the band that were for the most part amicable. Most of these are all over but maybe one day the two will sit and talk things out and pave a way for Hook to return. Me, I will just keep listening to the band I love, and loving the old songs and exploring the new ones as long as they keep putting albums out I will keep buying them although I doubt I will ever dance and sing in front of a sales guy again and we should all be thankful for that.
One last thing, Regret remains one of my all-time favorite songs but only my second favorite New Order song. Crystal is my favorite. It’s a crank up the volume song but we’ll get there when we start exploring the music.