Max’s vinyl trip: Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division

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the cover. spacey shot but had to rotate because i took the picture with the cover upside down.

My last review was about Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ made by already well established posh people that have had success before, while this album is made by a bunch of Manchester guys that just started a band and accepted any applications. It’s kind of a right place right time thing. Both are from 1979 but of course they are very different.

Joy division was started by Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner in 1976 after seeing a Sex Pistols concert in Manchester. The concert was only attended by a few dozen people but somehow started the Manchester new wave scene. The reason they started the band was simple, The Sex Pistols were so bad that they took away the myth that you had to be talented to start a band. So they went out , got a guitar and bass and that was it, band formed. They called themselves Warsaw. A different band had the same name so they changed their nam and Joy Division was pasted on the band. Joy Division was a group of Jewish women forced to be prostitutes in concentration camps (catchy name).

Even though you can be a band without knowing how to play your instruments you do need a drummer and a singer. Some bloke called up and asked if he could be the singer in the band. Sumner said yes and Ian Curtis was in. Later they put up an ad for a drummer and only one person responded: Stephen Morris. Now they had a complete band.

Joy division was mostly a live band and when making songs what normally happened was that the band would make a song and then Ian would have some lyrics somewhere and if they matched they had a song. This was very spartan but it worked for them. They got noticed by RCA records and in if they did a cover of a song they could get stereo time. Ian liked the RCA label because one of his favorite artists Iggy Pop was on that label. The deal didn’t work out.  Joy Division got studio time but they were disappointed by the work RCA did on it and asked to be dropped.

During a concert where they were supporting The Buzzcocks, Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson caught notice of the band . Rob became their manager and later the band was signed to Factory Records, the equivalent of an indy label these days.

I got the album from a normal music shop that only sells a few vinyl and it cost me 20 Euros.


The center sticker. note that Side A is called 'outside' and Side B is called 'inside'.

Unknown Pleasures was their debut album and It’s weird. You would think that a band like this would sound old and punky. None of these apply. Even now 30 years from release the album still sounds fresh. It makes me wish music sounded so fresh these days. Even weirder for me is that when I listen to this album it trances me, the lyrics are dark, the instruments are spacey but what happens is that I don’t notice the lyrics and I don’t notice the instruments. It’s hard to explain. I don’t even know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I do know it’s a good album when I concentrate on the lyrics and how the two combine as a whole. If you consider that the band was started out of nothing and assembled like Chinese pizzas, it’s really good. The producer of the album was a part time audio machine engineer. He didn’t have the title but he knew what he wanted a machine to do. So the album has a spacey sound to it because the producer wanted to use the machines he helped to make on the album. At first the band was unhappy with the producer’s work because the band was very different live, but they eventually agreed on keeping it that way.

The album has two songs that stand out for me. These are the first two songs on the second side which are Shadowplay and She’s Lost Control. Both are single worthy but were not released as such. Not one song on all of the Joy Division albums were released as singles. She’s Lost Control has a simplistic drum line and a very distorted guitar going over the same chords. Some would say that it’s musically simple and therefore bad but the way it works is really weird. The lyrics are sung with a bit of a flat voice that echoes and haunts the song. Shadowplay on the other hand shows the talent. It starts with a simple bass line drums build up. Guitar then comes rushing in then  and the lyrics are once again spot on from Ian. The sound is dark in most of the songs and they’re very different than what you’d expect if you saw them but if you saw the city of Manchester with the bleek grey buildings and poverty, then you’d understand.

The album didn’t sell so well and it didn’t even make the top 100 in the UK at it’s initial release. These days it’s in loads of top lists. It shows that little bands can make it. Something that is being demonstrated these days with the indy uprising.

Now about the vinyl itself. I was fairly disappointed by this re release as the cardboard inner sleeve is in poor condition, even though the record is brand new. There is also a little tear on the edge of the outer sleeve. The rest of the packaging is nice. The front graphic is a 7 by 6 cm graph of the first discovered pulsar. It’s very recognizable but if you don’t know the cover you will not find the album. The inner sleve has a picture of a door on it and on the another side it has the track list and credits. It’s simplistic but effective packaging. I dont like the cardboard inner sleeves though and I dont trust how abrasive the cardboard is. The pressing itself is as far I can hear up to quality but the cut edges are pretty bad. As far as I have looked at my brand new records the pressings are really over the place while some of my vinyl are twice as old as me and haven’t even got a dink.


Side A of the album.


Overall it’s a good album that inspired a lot of other musicians and a lot of the Manchester music scene. If you don’t know about Joy Division , my opinion is that this is the easiest album to get into from their two album catalog, even though the 20 Euros price is a bit steep for me because I’m not made of money. The album is also very hard to find second hand so you are pretty much forced to buy new. I don’t know if the damage I had on my album is widespread or if I’m just unlucky but look out for damage if you are buying new records.


The inner sleeve. You can see the damage if you look just under the credits.

Remember, you can recommend some albums for me to listen to! The whole point of me buying vinyl is to get me interested into new forms of music and new artists. I appreciate all recommendations and will look into all of them. I like spending time in the record store so the more I look for new stuff, the happier I am.

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