The single arrived without any major label push, and without much hope of mainstream radio play, yet somehow the UK music press of the time – pretty much restricted to three-month-old ship-freighted newsprint copies of the NME and Sounds et al – had sufficient clout with the less mainstream masses to ensure advance orders and pre sales were at a premium by the time it docked.
The band’s Unknown Pleasures album, also on debut, did exactly the same thing on the album charts, arriving at No.1 on the back of advance sales, with little more than the word of a select few UK-based music journalists to really recommend it. Which is quite astonishing really – more so when you consider that there was no previous reference point for Joy Division’s music in this tiny backblock, 12,000 miles away from the band’s home town of Manchester.
What is even more notable in all of this, and the source of some disappointment for a few at the time, is that neither ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, nor subsequent singles ‘Atmosphere’ (another No.1), and ‘Transmission’, were included on Unknown Pleasures.
Notable, because back in 1980 – unless you were Pink Floyd – you simply didn’t have a chart-topping album unless it was preceded or accompanied by a single of some note. In the case of Joy Division, the album came as a standalone, with no singles whatsoever lifted from it. This was standard modus operandi of the Factory label at the time.
The role played by producer Martin Hannett was pivotal to achieving Joy Division’s unique sound. It was Hannett who harnessed all of the individual elements within the band to create a truly remarkable whole; Curtis’ bleak lyrics and despairing baritone, Bernard Sumner’s prototype post-punk guitar and keys, Peter Hook’s distinctive bass, and the drumming of Stephen Morris, all working in unison to generate noise and imagery the like of which had never been heard before.
There was post-punk before and during Joy Division’s time, but Joy Division and Hannett moved the genre’s boundaries forever, and just as likely played a major part in bringing the fledgling goth-rock sub-genre into public consciousness. Hannett’s key contribution was to bring the drums and percussion to the fore, and he was able to create a sense of space within otherwise clustered and claustrophobic confines, which perfectly complemented the gloomy nature of Joy Division’s sound.
Unknown Pleasures has since gone on to become one of the more critically-acclaimed releases of the past 30 years. Ian Curtis’ suicide in 1980 – just prior to the release of band’s follow-up album, Closer – has doubtlessly contributed to the band’s wider mythology over the years but there is no denying that Joy Division’s place in post-punk legend is well deserved, and Unknown Pleasures still stands as a landmark release.
Best tracks: ‘New Dawn Fades’, ‘She's Lost Control’, and ‘Shadowplay’...
And here’s a little something that didn’t make it on to the album: