Editor’s Note: This feature was originally published in January of 2014. We’re revisiting as the band releases a new live album this week.
That the band existed at all is a triumph. Not many groups can carry on and find much success after the death of their lead singer, but somehow Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris (with the addition of Gillian Gilbert) were able to do so. They changed their name from Joy Division to New Order. They added more synths, more dance. And the rest of the ‘80s was history.
We are long removed from the days and nights of The Haçienda, but not too distant to break down their best songs and rank them accordingly. No songs past 1993 made the cut, but bear in mind that Get Ready highlight “Crystal” and Waiting for the Sirens’ Call’s “Krafty” just missed. So, give into temptation, await the perfect kiss, and read our perfect list. (Just couldn’t resist.)
10. “Dreams Never End”
Album: Movement (1981)
“Dreams Never End” was a perfect opening track for New Order’s debut album. It bridged two distinct eras of music by paying tribute to what the band once was and offering a hint of what lay ahead. Bernard Sumner was ultimately selected as the group’s frontman, in part because his ethereal vocals stood in contrast to the late Ian Curtis’ distinctive baritone croons. But “Dreams Never End” found bass player extraordinaire Peter Hook, still fresh from his stint in Warsaw and Joy Division, stepping in to channel his inner Curtis with somber lyrics and a voice full of grief, fear, and ennui. The song’s instrumentation is also prophetic, sauntering in a New Wave of dancey playfulness that would rule the decade. –Dan Pfleegor
Bonus Track: The fact that “Dreams Never End” predates The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” by more than a decade. Compare those guitar riffs and you’ll see what I mean.
09. “Your Silent Face”
Album: Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
The opener to side two of Power, Corruption & Lies, “Your Silent Face” is a dazzling bit of darkly comedic juxtaposition. “No hearing or breathing/ No movement, no colors/ Just silence,” Sumner coos over an audible, bouncy, multicolored swath of electronics. The grandiose wash of organ swooping in over ping-ponging rhythmic synths, coupled with a patch of melodica here and a jangle of guitar there, makes for a majestic mix, but there Sumner sings in its middle, of apathy, of emptiness, of vacuum. But Sumner’s not a passive observer, ending the song on a bit of bile. “So why don’t you piss off,” he murmurs, before wrapping that smirk around another simplistic melodica line to complete the biting, darkly beautiful picture. –Adam Kivel
Bonus Track: Want further proof that there’s some humor at work here? Before it became “Your Silent Face”, the tune was referred to as “that Kraftwerk one.”
08. “The Perfect Kiss”
Album: Low-Life (1985)
“Then I knew it from the start/ This friend of mine would fall apart/ Pretending not to see his gun.” Cue chorus about a land of love. Follow with slightly altered second verse. Repeat chorus about a land of love. Evaporate into a kitchen sink’s worth of synthesizers, electronic drums, and ribbiting frogs. This is “The Perfect Kiss”, which is made perfect by its contrasting combination of dread and upbeat dance. Picking the single version with the ending to the story or the open-ended Low-Life edition likely depends on your environment (home alone vs. in the club, respectively), but either direction you head is the right one. Ribbit. Ribbit. –Justin Gerber
Bonus Track: The perfect kiss is based upon one’s specific experience. This song suggests the perfect kiss is the kiss of death. I think the perfect Kiss is “Beth” (you’re welcome, Gene).
07. “Blue Monday”
Album: “Blue Monday”/”The Beach” single (1983)
After decades of growing accustomed to Sumner’s warm vocals, it’s a bit shocking to listen to earlier records by the band, most notably “Blue Monday”. Joy Division’s guitarist was now New Order’s lead singer, and escaping the Curtis comfort zone would be years in the making. Fortunately, the hypnotic dance floor anthem is an ‘80s staple — a marriage of both live instrumentation and synths. “Blue Monday” was the band beginning to define what they were becoming and what they were no longer. While not their best track, it’s maybe their most recognizable. –Justin Gerber
Bonus Track: I was at a club where it was ‘80s night. I went to the DJ to request something by The Smiths. He shook his head and shouted back over the loud music that they are “too depressing.” He did go on to honor my request of “Blue Monday”, though, which didn’t make any sense to me.
06. “True Faith”
Album: Substance 1987 (1987)
“True Faith” never appeared on a proper full-length studio album, but it still stands as a favorite among sun lovers and drug addicts alike. The band is well known for their ironically playful song titles, and “True Faith” is no exception. Here, the juxtaposition of Sumner’s dour outlook should clash with his charming hymns, just as Gillian Gilbert’s lively keyboard could be gut-punched by Stephen Morris’ hard snares, but it all works, somehow. Like The Velvet Underground before them, New Order were never a group to shy away from tunes about substance abuse. But, based on the era, the tempo, and the song’s protagonist actually being awake to catch the morning sun, you’ve got to assume the drug of choice here is cocaine and not heroin. –Dan Pfleegor
Bonus Track: The appearance of “True Faith” in the first five minutes of the film American Psycho is the perfect backdrop to Patrick Bateman’s threats about playing with the rude bartender’s blood. I mean, come on, she won’t accept his drink tickets? That’s enough to push anyone over the edge.
Album: “Ceremony”/”In a Lonely Place” single (1981)
Though it may have been conceived as a Joy Division song (at least three recordings of the song exist taken prior to Curtis’ suicide), the first official release of “Ceremony” marks New Order’s bold step out on their own. Those three recordings left Curtis’ vocals nearly indecipherable, and legend has it that his bandmates couldn’t locate any written lyrics and struggled to transcribe what they could. That act is an incredible symbol of the phoenix that is New Order, Sumner stepping in and doing what he could with the pieces left behind. From this song alone, the transition would seem nearly seamless, thanks to Morris and Hook’s rhythmic effervescence and Sumner’s mesmerically loping guitar line. –Adam Kivel
Bonus Track: While its synth-less shimmer clearly marks the song as a Joy Division original, Sumner’s low-slung, sincere delivery gives the tune a spacy patience that the live Curtis version all but burns off.
04. “Age of Consent”
Album: Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
Stephen Morris is ridiculous. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during the “Age of Consent” sessions and witness a human being drumming with such precision. In addition to the Morris miracles, there is yet another highly memorable bit of work courtesy of the bassist of the ‘80s. Whenever you listen to a New Order song, whether for the first or 99th time, you aren’t necessarily waiting for the guitar medley or lyrics to take you in, but Hook’s bass line, and this song is no exception. Not many bands from the era can say that, but, of course, they didn’t have Hooky. –Justin Gerber
Bonus Track: According to the always reliable Wikipedia, it is legal for a 29-year-old to have consensual sex with a 16-year-old in Delaware. Long story short: lock up your sons and daughters, Delawareans!
03. “Bizarre Love Triangle”
Album: Brotherhood (1986)
Penned in 1986, the themes of jealousy and an eager yearning for the past in “Bizarre Love Triangle” have become even more relatable since the dawn of social media, where breakups are never clean thanks to online photos and news feed updates. At least back in the day you could avoid the ex by staying indoors and stashing your Polaroid pictures in a shoebox under the bed. Sumner’s confession of feeling “shot right through with a bolt of blue” captures the throbbing pain of a life that can’t be left behind, while the whirling synths and Hook’s crooked bass add a windy sense of confusion to it all. –Dan Pfleegor
Bonus Track: Like Alanis Morissette’s mystery man in “You Oughta Know”, no one is quite sure who actually inspired this twisted love affair. The rumor mill has churned out names for decades. My professional guess? Funnyman Dave Coulier is somehow to blame for both songs.
Album: Republic (1993)
It’s been said there are no regrets in life, just lessons. And while certain CoS staffers might disagree, the sentiment isn’t lost on producer and writer Stephen Hague, who pitched in his creative talents on this top single off 1993’s mostly forgettable album, Republic. The song seems marred in dissatisfaction and grief, as Sumner announces his desires and dreams for a better life and a private place to call his own. But what makes this track great, aside from the catchy guitar riffs and dance-floor bass lines, is how it dwells on issues of anger, one of the biggest triggers of regret: “I was upset you see/ Almost all the time” … “I was a short fuse/ Burning all the time”. –Dan Pfleegor
Bonus Track: Anyone else regret purchasing that Orgy cover single of “Blue Monday” back in 1998? Woof.
Album: Substance 1987 (1987)
“Temptation” is much more than New Order’s finest moment. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest songs of the ’80s. Multiple versions have been recorded by the band over the years, but we’re going with the ’87 studio recording from the Substance compilation (the one you have on your Trainspotting soundtrack). In a single swoop, they were a thousand miles away from Joy Division, or even earlier Ian Curtis-influenced New Order releases. “Temptation” removed any remaining eyeliner from the band’s identity and brought them out into the sunlight. Pat yourself on the back if you’ve ever danced straight through its entire runtime. You’ve earned it. –Justin Gerber
Bonus Track: Moby’s lovely cover, featuring vocals by Laura Dawn, is slowed to a crawl and was recently played in an episode of The Vampire Diaries, proving that, like vampires, “Temptation” will never die.